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Slavery and Sentiment

The Politics of Feeling in Black Atlantic Antislavery Writing, 1770-1850

Christine Levecq

Publication Year: 2009

From the eighteenth century on, appeals to listeners' and readers' feelings about the sufferings of slaves were a predominant strategy of abolitionism. This book argues that expressions of feeling in those texts did not just appeal to individual readers' inclinations to sympathy but rather were inherently political. The authors of these texts made arguments from the social and political ideologies that grounded their moral and social lives.

Levecq examines liberalism and republicanism, the main Anglo-American political ideologies of the period, in the antislavery texts of a range of African-American and Afro-British authors. Disclosing the political content hitherto unexamined in this kind of writing, she shows that while the overall story is one of increased liberalization of ideology on both sides of the Atlantic, the republican ideal persisted, particularly among black authors with transatlantic connections.

Demonstrating that such writers as Phillis Wheatley, Ignatius Sancho, Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, and Mary Prince were men and women of their times, Levecq provides valuable new insight into the ideological world of black Atlantic writers and puts them, for the first time, on modernity's political map.

Published by: University of New Hampshire Press

Series: Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies


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pp. c-c

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book aims to show that the anglophone literature about slavery in the eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries made an important contribution to the history of emotion, and that black writers in particular pushed feeling’s ability to express a political vision. Texts on slavery, including...

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pp. xi-xiv

This book has benefited from the incisive comments of several readers, at both the proposal and manuscript stages. I am deeply grateful to Madhu Dubey, Kirsten Fermaglich, Rich Manderfield, Carine Mardorossian, Phillip Richards, John Saillant, Ned Watts. Many thanks also to my anonymous readers at the University Press of New England, as well as to...

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pp. 1-32

In February 1782, an African-born woman named Belinda addressed a petition to the Massachusetts legislature, appealing for her readers’ sympathy. In the petition she first describes a happy childhood in a paradisiacal African environment, suddenly interrupted by a brutal invasion...

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1 | Interiority, Aesthetics, and Antislavery Sentiment

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pp. 33-83

This chapter explores the simultaneous presence of the themes of interiority and aesthetics in the sentimental rhetoric of American and British antislavery appeals, and it reads them as respectively invoking different political ideas. Placing interiority and aesthetics at opposite angles may seem...

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2 | Trade, Sailors, National Agency, and World Citizenship

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pp. 84-138

Appeals to sentiment in antislavery texts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries reflected particular concepts of national and international identity, and these concepts in turn were strongly tied to political ideas. Liberalism and republicanism promote different emotional...

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3 | Brotherhood, Radicalism, and Antislavery

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pp. 139-189

The notion of brotherhood constitutes one specific cranny of the history of emotion in general, and it plays an important role in the literature of sentiment, as well as in antislavery literature. Its familial metaphor places it in a politically marginal space between interiority and exteriority, liberalism and republicanism, conservatism and radicalism,...

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4 | Blood, Bodies, and the Antebellum Slave Narrative

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pp. 190-225

The first half of the nineteenth century saw a significant development in the discourse on slavery, especially in the United States, as a major shift occurred toward the representation of bodily pain. As Elizabeth B. Clark points out, in antebellum America “the story of the suffering slave . . . began to play a crucial role in an unfolding language of individual...

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5 | The Case of Frederick Douglass

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pp. 226-240

Frederick Douglass’ 1845 Narrative shows some influence of his schooling in republicanism, from his familiarity with The Columbian Orator to his close collaboration with the Garrisonians in the years between his escape from Baltimore in 1838 and the moment he sat down to write it in 1844. It is true that, as William Andrews points out in Searlian terms,...

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Epilogue: Transnationalism and Black Studies

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pp. 241-248

In a thought-provoking essay, Ann duCille addresses the relative critical silence about William Wells Brown’s 1853 novel Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States, attributing this neglect to a dislike of the bourgeois politics of the book. She quotes Addison Gayle, who in...


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pp. 249-272

Works Cited

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pp. 273-292


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pp. 293-306

E-ISBN-13: 9781584658139
E-ISBN-10: 1584658134
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584657347

Page Count: 324
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies
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OCLC Number: 646807101
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Slavery and Sentiment

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Didactic fiction, American -- History and criticism.
  • Slavery in literature.
  • African Americans -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • Literature and society -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Antislavery movements in literature.
  • Antislavery movements -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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