Grief and Genre in American Literature, 1790-1870: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Grief and Genre in American Literature, 1790-1870

1st Edition

By Desirée Henderson


200 pages

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Focusing on the role of genre in the formation of dominant conceptions of death and dying, Desirée Henderson examines literary texts and social spaces devoted to death and mourning in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. Henderson shows how William Hill Brown, Susanna Rowson, and Hannah Webster borrowed from and challenged funeral sermon conventions in their novelistic portrayals of the deaths of fallen women; contrasts the eulogies for George Washington with William Apess's "Eulogy for King Philip" to expose conflicts between national ideology and indigenous history; examines Frederick Douglass's use of the slave cemetery to represent the costs of slavery for African American families; suggests that the ideas about democracy materialized in Civil War cemeteries and monuments influenced Walt Whitman's war elegies; and offers new contexts for analyzing Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Gates Ajar and Emily Dickinson's poetry as works that explore the consequences of female writers claiming authority over the mourning process. Informed by extensive archival research, Henderson's study eloquently speaks to the ways in which authors adopted, revised, or rejected the conventions of memorial literature, choices that disclose their location within decisive debates about appropriate gender roles and sexual practices, national identity and citizenship, the consequences of slavery, the nature of democratic representation, and structures of authorship and literary authority.


'Desirée Henderson's Grief and Genre in American Literature, 1790-1870 presents a series of lucid and carefully crafted case studies of the intersection of mourning and genre in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American literary texts. While drawing intelligently on non-literary materials, such as nineteenth-century mourners manuals and the history and design of cemeteries and public monuments, each chapter ultimately results in novel and compelling close readings of key literary texts. A must read for scholars and teachers of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American literature.' Melissa J. Homestead, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA 'Using literary terminology to describe cultural phenomena, Henderson cleverly allows herself to interpret them as if they were works of literature. She chooses apt examples of many so-called genres and then provides what amounts to a New Critical explication de texte for each.' Notes and Queries 'Henderson’s well researched, clearly written work is rich with information and includes an afterword on the modern genres of grief, 11 black and white illustrations, a 21-page bibliography, and an index.' Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: grief and genre; The imperfect dead: funeral sermons, fallen women, and the early American novel; American eulogy: William Apess and national mourning; Geographies of loss: Frederick Douglass and the slave cemetery; Lincoln's unrest: Walt Whitman and the Civil War cemetery; Mourning books: the conduct literature of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and Emily Dickinson; Afterword; the modern genres of grief; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Desirée Henderson is Associate Professor of English and Interim Director of Women's Studies at University of Texas Arlington, where she specializes in early American and women's literature.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Comparative Literature