Sentimental Borders: Genre and Geography in the Literature of Civil War and Reconstruction
Silk, Emily Marie
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CitationSilk, Emily Marie. 2020. Sentimental Borders: Genre and Geography in the Literature of Civil War and Reconstruction. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation resituates four popular antebellum sentimental novelists—Maria Cummins, Mary Jane Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Susan Warner—as novelists of Civil War and Reconstruction. Turning from their well-known novels of the 1850s to their less-studied works of the 1860s and 1870s, I argue that these novelists experimented with genre and geography to address—and sometimes, to avoid—the moral, political, and ideological underpinnings of the Civil War. While their popular first books were foundational to the evolution of the sentimental novel during the 1850s, their later novels enable a more precise account of how popular mid-century sentimentalists grappled with the enormous historical and cultural shifts of this period.
On one level, the dissertation argues that these novelists experimented with the generic boundaries of the sentimental novel to produce narrative accounts of the Civil War and Reconstruction that do not fit neatly into the categories of their earlier works. In Chapter 1, I illustrate how Cummins manipulated the conventions of the murder mystery and the historical romance to enter an ongoing national debate about the legality of secession; in Chapter 2, how Holmes manipulated the conventions of the realist novel to depict the brutality of Civil War combat; and in Chapter 3, how Stowe and Warner adopted the conventions of the travel narrative to imagine fantasies of laborless agricultural production in postbellum Florida. In Chapter 4, meanwhile, I examine the migration Bleeding Kansas—a pre-Civil War conflict over the possible expansion of slavery into Kansas territory—from anti-slavery sentimental discourse in the 1850s to historical romance in the 1880s and 1890s.
On another level, I argue that these authors also responded to the challenges of representing Civil War and Reconstruction by displacing them to unexpected geographic and chronological borderlands—including rural New Jersey during the War of 1812, Florida orange groves in the 1870s, a deserted Caribbean island, and Kansas territory in the 1850s. Chapters 3 and 4, in particular, filter the story of Civil War and Reconstruction through two states on the “borders” of the major conflict: Florida and Kansas. At these geographic edges, I uncover regionalized alternatives to familiar reconciliation narratives in the war’s aftermath.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365920
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