The Geography of Feeling: Christianity, the Nation-State, and the Labor of Love in Nineteenth-Century United States Literature
Recent scholarship on sentimental literature has stressed sentiment's ability to forge bonds between individuals. Less observed in the literature is the fact that these interpersonal bonds depend on detailed literary woridmakings. This dissertation traces the interdependence of sentimental fiction's emotions and antebellum evangelical Protestantism's landscapes. As they shaped their readers' emotions, antebellum sentimental literatures knitted the United States into intimate relation with evangelical spaces and times such as heaven and eternity. This process, I argue, used literary senthnent to stake out new territorial and temporal forms through which the nation could act in the world. In each of the novels that form my archive, characters feel the right emotions when they understand their material world as part of a larger religious landscape. Drawing on work in religious studies and anthropology that emphasizes "the places where faith and materiality commingle", as religious historian Leigh Eric Schmidt puts it, I position these Protestant geographies as important indexes to how readers learned to experience the objects, settings, and places that composed everyday life. Chapter one, on Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World (1850), follows the multiple settings -- earthly and otherworldly -- in which the novel's characters do the literal and metaphorical work of washing white clothes. Juxtaposing the spiritual and the material, Warner inducts middle-class white women in New England and their ambivalently white immigrant domestics into a joint responsibility to care for and cherish whiteness. Chapter two, on Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), analyzes the geographic and religious meanings that intertwine in Tom's death. Stowe's novel, I suggest, forms white sympathy out of Tom's comparative assertion that "Heaven is better than Kintuck". Chapter three, on Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Gates Ajar (1868), reads Phelps's novelistic rendering of a material heaven as a significant revision to the temporality of the nation form. Eternity, in Phelps's novel, becomes a constitutive part of everyday benevolence, a shift that renders national temporality curiously heterogeneous. Together, these chapters offer new perspective on the material and embodied experience of national affect in the antebellum United States.
dissertation or thesis