Feeling Wrong: Postbellum Adaptations of Sentimental Literary Conventions (09/30/10; NeMLA, 4/8/11 - 4/11/11)

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Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
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42nd Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 8-11, 2010
New Brunswick, New Jersey

Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous exhortation to her readers to "feel right" in order to end slavery stands at the juncture of a number of cultural, religious, and literary conventions that shaped the lives and reading habits of antebellum women. Between the end of the Civil War and the start of the First World War, a number of authors challenge the belief that the cultural capital of women is primarily emotional, even as these authors adopt many of the literary conventions of Sentimental fiction. Authors as varied as Elizabeth Stuart Phelps – whose Aunt Winifred insists God must be reasonable as well as powerful – Hannah Whitall Smith – who insists simultaneously on the importance of the will of the believer and of Jesus' "mother heart" – and Jane Addams – who moves to a "house" in Chicago to apply her Pragmatist principles – use the tools of Sentimentalism to argue that reason, logic, and practicality are actually the keys to women's cultural agency. This combination of postbellum ideas and antebellum conventions produces an interesting and productive tension that challenges our understanding of dichotomies related to masculine and feminine roles, intellectual and emotional understanding, material and sacred culture, and public and private lives. Examining this literature helps us interrogate the process of change in a culture negotiating the move from one century to the next.

This panel examines ways in which postbellum authors adapt the conventions of Sentimentalism to challenge assumptions central to antebellum Sentimental culture. Papers might address individual postbellum authors, particular literary conventions, changes in assumptions toward the end of the 19th or start of the 20th century, or other conflicts of message and medium in postbellum writing that works with and against Sentimental conventions.

Email 300 to 500 word abstracts to Michael Cadwallader at cadwallader@unc.edu by 30 September 2010.

See the entire NeMLA 42nd Convention CFP at