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SENTIMENTAL TYPES AND SOCIAL REFORM IN UNCLE TOMS CABfN Christopher Diller Berry College Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe is usually described as a writer in the sentimental literary tradition, but this view is complicated by her abiding religious beliefs. Take, for example, a remarkable passage in her third novel, The Minister's Wooing (1859), a novel critical of Calvinist theological institutions, where death infuses sentimental keepsakes with transcendent significance: So we go, dear reader,—so long as we have a body and a soul. Two worlds must mingle,—the great and the little, the solemn and the trivial, wreathing in and out, like the grotesque carvings on a Gothic shrine;—only, did we know it rightly, nothing is trivial; since the human soul, with its awful shadow, makes all things sacred. Have not ribbons, cast-off flowers, soiled bits of gauze, trivial, trashy fragments of millinery, sometimes had an awful meaning, and deadly power, when they belonged to one who should wear them no more? For so sacred and individual is a human being, that, of all the million-peopled earth, no one form ever restores another. The mold of each mortal type is broken at the grave; and never, never, though you look through all the faces on earth, shall the exact form you mourn ever meet your eyes again! Like the novel in which it appears, this passage interweaves the sentimental and the spiritual to create a moving meditation on the transience of daily life. The true significance of everyday affections and artifacts is known only when the death of their owners invests them with "an awful meaning, a deadly power."1 In contrast to the Calvinist's "second sight" that stemmed from the unequivocal acceptance of original sin, this passage suggests that to see things truly is to see them categorically in the context of loss, not depravity. That is to say, Stowe is far more invested in the full range of human emotion and social life than her Calvinist predecessors even as she draws from their theological lexicon—"The mold of each mortal type is broken at the grave"—to develop her observation. In Puritan Biblical exegesis, the type was a jealously guarded category to be strictly distinguished from arbitrary tropes (such as allegories, metaphors, similes, and so forth) that were the frail product of the 22ChristopherDiller human imagination. In this orthodox view, the exegetical type is not a trope at all but rather a divinely sanctioned and real institution, event, or individual of the Old Testament whose full historical and spiritual significance is revealed through a parallel "antitype" in the New Testament . As Perry Miller put it some time ago, "In the type there is a rigorous correspondence, which is not a chance resemblance, between the representation and the antitype; in the trope there is correspondence only between the thing and the associations it happens to excite in the impressionable . . . senses of men."2 Stowe draws upon and revises this exegetical tradition when she views sentimental artifacts, affections, and individuals as types and suggests that they are "known rightly" only when seen through the "awful shadow" of the soul that invests "all things" with sacrality. If, as Sacvan Bercovitch has influentially argued, a writer like Emerson fused "Romantic naturalism and Puritan hermeneutics" in a "model of spiritual growth . . . that eliminated the tension between [temporal] process and [spiritual] fulfillment," this tension remains for Stowe but has been reconstituted upon sentimental coordinates.3 Like Emerson, though, Stowe would reveal the presence of the transcendent in the everydaythrough the absolute singularity ofthe individual. For Stowe, individuals are unique not because they are different from one another but paradoxically because they are alike in being unique types of the same subsuming spiritual truth.4 What is at stake in Stowe's sentimental type, then, is a taxonomic view of the individual—the self whose personal emotions articulate universal truths and moral claims—that stems from a complex (and often contradictory) nexus of social, religious, and political discourses. For the cultural category of the "type" had become extremely pliable by 1850, with at least three interdependent meanings: first, in theology , the increasingly residual sense described above; second, in philosophy and the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 21-48
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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