Apocalyptic Sentimentalism: Love and Fear in U.S. Antebellum by Kevin Pelletier

By Kevin Pelletier

In distinction to the present scholarly con-sensus that is aware sentimentality to be grounded on a good judgment of affection and sympathy, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism demonstrates that during order for sentimentality to paintings as an antislavery engine, it had to be associated with its seeming opposite—fear, in particular the phobia of God’s wrath. so much antislavery reformers famous that demands love and sympathy or the illustration of pain slaves wouldn't lead an viewers to “feel correct” or to actively oppose slavery. the specter of God’s apocalyptic vengeance—and the fear that this possibility inspired—functioned in the culture of abolitionist sentimentality as an important goad for sympathy and love. Fear,then, was once on the middle of nineteenth-century sentimental ideas for inciting antislavery reform, bolstering love while love faltered, and working as a strong mechanism for setting up interracial sympathy. Depictions of God’s apocalyptic vengeance constituted the best method for antislavery writers to generate a feeling of terror of their audience.

concentrating on 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 precise, albeit ultimately, fantasies of brutal violence opposed to slaveholders. What begun as a sentimental method fast turned an incendiary gesture, with antislavery reformers envisioning the full annihilation of slaveholders and defenders of slavery.

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Hearts do not necessarily sympathize on their own but instead require some reason to feel. Walker’s Appeal outlines how the threat of God’s retributive wrath, and the fear that this threat engenders, might be used to motivate whites to feel and perhaps even learn to care for black slaves. His argument is predicated on a sympathetic connection rooted in deeply felt emotion; but unlike scholarly claims that understand love and sympathy to be autogenic, Walker positions fear as a necessary inspiration for sympathetic affection.

52 Similarly grounded in Protestant beliefs, the representations of the apocalypse that I consider were often used obliquely to express fantasies of violence. One wonders, in light of Noble’s analysis, how much the apocalyptic contributes to the masochistic pleasures generated by certain forms of sentimental narration. 53 In Apocalyptic Sentimentalism, however, I pursue a line of inquiry that is distinct from these scholarly works by interrogating examples of religious violence that are used to challenge the racial structures which organized antebellum society.

Much like the example of paulus with which I opened this book, where God’s vengeance is understood to be a clear indication of his love for the oppressed, John Brown’s violence in Virginia (and in Kansas) is seen to be the true sign of his loving heart and the reason he can be so easily regarded by supporters as a sentimental figure. At the same time that John Brown constitutes the apotheosis of apocalyptic sentimentalism, his actions also precipitated the erosion of this discourse as well, as some supporters struggled to balance his violent acts with his loving words.

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