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Love's Whipping Boy

Violence and Sentimentality in the American Imagination

Elizabeth Barnes

Publication Year: 2011

Literary historians have long debated the problems posed by a central plank in sentimentalism: that weakness, especially in feminine forms, confers ethical superiority. In this work, Barnes argues that critics have focused on the wrong player; we’ve been looking at the abused or the weak, when instead we should have focused on the aggressor. In this new model, violence becomes a site of redemptive possibility because salvation is gained when the powerful protagonist identifies with the person he harms. It is the very act of inflicting pain on others—not the weakness or any exemplary character of the one who is harmed—that undoes the powerful. To see how violence gets folded in to sentimentalism's egalitarian goals, she suggests, is to recognize the deep entrenchment of aggression into the empathetic structures of liberal, Christian U.S. culture. Barnes uses major 19th-c. works by Melville, Charles Brogden Brown, Douglass, and Alcott, among others, to show how violence and sensibility operate in tandem to generate the identifications that perpetuate, somewhat paradoxically, a notion of American character as exceptionally empathetic.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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pp. 1-1


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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-11

This book was long in the making, even as it grew shorter with each incarnation. Perhaps that is a sign of progress. In any case, I offer my thanks and gratitude to those who helped me think these ideas through—both intellectually and emotionally—along the way: Paula Blank, Bruce Burgett, Julie Ellison, Leah Fry, Tresa Grauer, ...

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pp. 1-23

For the past two decades, scholars of nineteenth-century U.S. literature have wrestled with the problems and possibilities presented by American sentimental culture. Alternately scorned as a superficial (and hypocritical) cure-all for social injustices and lauded as a radical intervention into the self-interested ...

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CHAPTER 1 Wieland, Familicide, and the Suffering Father

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pp. 25-50

When Mark Barton killed his wife, his eight-year-old daughter, and his twelve-year-old son with a hammer in July 1999 and then proceeded to shoot nine people at two different brokerage houses before shooting himself, his murderous “rampage” was attributed by the press to his newfound habit ...

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CHAPTER 2 Melville’s Fraternal Melancholies

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pp. 51-81

In his 1850 novel White-Jacket, or The World in a Man-Of-War, Herman Melville pursues a theme recurrent throughout his fiction: that of the suffering of politically, socially, and emotionally vulnerable white men. In White-Jacket, this idea is specifically ...

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CHAPTER 3 Fathers of Violence: Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and the Radical Reproduction of Sensibility

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pp. 83-121

In his infamous critique of northern capitalism, George Fitzhugh proposes southern slavery as evincing the most humane, most affectionate, and most liberating relationships to be found in the Western Hemisphere. Knowing their place in the hierarchy of human relations and protected by masters who act with the instinct ...

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CHAPTER 4 The Death of Boyhood and the Making of Little Women

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pp. 123-165

Written about the first major battle of the Civil War at Manassas, Virginia, Melville’s poem “The March into Virginia” comments with critical but resigned admiration on the reckless and glorious audacity of youth. The battle of Bull Run, as it was popularly known in the North, was fought between young ...

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pp. 167-174

This book grew out of a question: If, as one might safely say, nineteenth-century American culture distinguished itself by being tremendously sentimental and relentlessly violent at the same time, what was it about Christianity in particular—as the locus of both America’s national sense of justice and its commitment ...


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pp. 175-204


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pp. 205-211

E-ISBN-13: 9781469603346
E-ISBN-10: 1469603349
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807834565
Print-ISBN-10: 0807834564

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 703227281
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Love's Whipping Boy

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • American fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Violence in literature.
  • Empathy in literature.
  • Sentimentalism in literature.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
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