By Kevin Pelletier
targeting more than a few vital anti-slavery figures, together with David Walker, Nat Turner, Maria Stewart, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism illustrates how antislavery discourse labored to redefine violence and vengeance because the final expression (rather than denial) of affection and sympathy. on the sametime, those warnings of apocalyptic retribution enabled antislavery writers to specific, albeit ultimately, fantasies of brutal violence opposed to slaveholders. What begun as a sentimental procedure speedy turned an incendiary gesture, with antislavery reformers envisioning the whole annihilation of slaveholders and defenders of slavery.
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Additional info for Apocalyptic Sentimentalism: Love and Fear in U.S. Antebellum Literature
The bleeding heart is a sympathetic heart, and redressing slavery begins for Walker as it will begin for so many antislavery reformers who adopt sentimental conventions: with appeals to emotion and calls for the reformation of the heart. Walker believes that white and black Americans can learn to live together harmoniously, provided a proper affective bond between them can be constituted. Indeed, his ultimate goal in the Appeal is a racially integrated nation in which blacks enjoy the same respect and rights as citizens that whites enjoy.
Following his insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia, Turner comes to stand as the very symbol of religious violence, a form of violence that surprisingly becomes sentimentalized throughout the antebellum period. Turner represents his rebellious actions to Thomas Gray through an apocalyptic idiom, and it is this discursive mode that writers like Stowe will incorporate in sentimental works of antislavery fiction. In Dred, for example, slave insurrection becomes part of a sentimental strategy, so that the panic produced by the threat of rebellion emboldens sentimental pleas for love.
With the onset of the Civil War, the style of sentimentality I chart in this book is no longer possible; apocalyptic sentimentalism, having played such an important role in the debates leading up to this conflict, comes to an end. It is Abraham Lincoln who announces the end of apocalyptic sentimentalism, with the Second Inaugural serving as its obituary. I close this book with a coda exploring the dénouement of this rhetorical mode with a look at Lincoln’s inaugural speech, a text that invokes apocalyptic sentimentality even as it calls for new forms of discourse that are meant to heal the nation rather than divide it further.