At the turn of the nineteenth century, writers arguing for the abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of those in bondage used the language of sentiment and the political ideals of the Enlightenment to make their case. This collection investigates the rhetorical features and political complexities of the culture of sentimentality as it grappled with the material realities of transatlantic slavery. Are the politics of sentimental representation progressive or conservative? What dynamics are in play at the site of suffering? What is the relationship of the spectator to the spectacle of the body in pain? The contributors take up these and related questions in essays that examine poetry, plays, petitions, treatises and life-writing that engaged with contemporary debates about abolition.
’This volume is well edited, has a good index, and a useful selected bibliography. The footnotes to the chapters also contain valuable references …a valuable contribution to the consideration of a problem of representation which is still very much with us today.’ -BARS Review
’… these essays represent a serious progression of ongoing debates surrounding eighteenth-century sensibility and its relationships to slavery, abolition, empire and race. Scholars familiar with monographs on these topics … will certainly be interested in the fascinating case studies presented here. For those approaching the subject for the first time, Ahern’s lively introduction and the balanced scope of perspectives on offer will inspire many new and fruitful areas of enquiry.’
-Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
'One of the great strengths of [this book], a collection of essays exploring sentimental rhetoric in writing about slavery, is that it hangs together very well: all the essays address, in one way or another, the paradoxes that the editor Stephen Ahern sets out in his excellent and substantial introduction.' -SHARP News
Contents: Introduction: The bonds of sentiment, Stephen Ahern; Part 1 Sympathy’s Empire: Capitalism and slavery, once again with feeling, George Boulukos; Acts of sympathy: abolitionist poetry and transatlantic identification, Tobias Menely. Part 2 Nation, Narration, Emancipation: Commerce, sentiment, and free air: contradictions of abolitionist rhetoric, Anthony John Harding; Sympathy, nerve physiology, and national degeneration in Anna Letitia Barbauld’s Epistle to William Wilberforce, Mary A. Waters. Part 3 Spectacles of Suffering: To force a tear: British abolitionism and the 18th-century stage, Brycchan Carey; ’Pity for the poor Africans’: William Cowper and the limits of abolitionist affect, Joanne Tong; ’We beg Your Excellency’: the sentimental politics of abolitionist petitions in the late 18th century, Christine Levecq. Part 4 Sentimental Bondage: The contradictions of racialized sensibility: gender, slavery and the limits of sympathy, Jamie Rosenthal; The cruelty of slavery, the cruelty of freedom: colonization and the politics of humaneness in the early republic, Margaret Abruzzo; Selected bibliography; Index.