1st Edition

Political Prayer in Nineteenth-Century American Literature Petitioning Women

By Amy Dunham Strand Copyright 2024
    256 Pages
    by Routledge

    Political Prayer in Nineteenth-Century American Literature explores how white American women writers translated petitioning -- a political form for redress of grievances with religious resonance, or what Strand calls “political prayer” -- in their literary works. At a time when petitioning was historically transforming governments, mobilizing masses, and democratizing North America, women writers wrote “literary petitions” to advocate for others in social justice causes such as antiremoval, antislavery, and labor reform, to transform American literature and culture, and to articulate an ambivalent political agency. Petitioning Women introduces historic petitioning discourses into literary study as an overlooked but important new lens for reading nineteenth-century fiction and poetry. Understanding petitions in these literary works -- and these literary works as petitions -- also helps us to understand women’s political agency before their enfranchisement, to explain why scholars have long debated and inconsistently interpreted the works of well-anthologized women writers such as Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rebecca Harding Davis, and Emily Dickinson, and to see more clearly the multidimensional, coexisting, and often competing religious and political aspects of their writings.

    Introduction:  “Stretching Out the Supplicating Hand”: 

    Petitioning Women in Nineteenth-Century America

    Chapter One:  Petitioning’s “Humble Story”

    in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s The Linwoods


    Chapter Two:  Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Despairing Appeal”: 

    Uncle Tom’s Cabin as Literary Petition


    Chapter Three:  “What hope of answer or redress?”:

    Embodied Petitions in Rebecca Harding Davis’ Life in the Iron-Mills


    Chapter Four:  Poetic Petitions: 

    Emily Dickinson’s “Letters to the World”




    Amy Dunham Strand is Associate Professor and Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.