The Afterlife of Sympathy
Reading American Literary Realism in the Wake of "Uncle Tom’s Cabin"
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
Literary realism rose to prominence in postbellum America with what the realists heralded as artful and accurate depictions of the world. Realism is thought to have replaced sentimentality—an earlier mode of writing the realists disparaged, which has often been seen as antithetical to realism. Literary scholar Faye Halpern challenges this apparent binary by uncovering how and why William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, Henry James, Constance Fenimore Woolson, and Charles Chesnutt incorporated sentimental elements into their most famous works.
With its distinctively narratological approach, The Afterlife of Sympathy offers a more rhetorical way to understand sentimentality and assess the ethical complexity of sympathy. Halpern demonstrates how sentimentality enables authors to form intimate relationships between their characters and readers to supplement the critical distance that realist writers otherwise celebrate and that has remained a key value in literary studies today. In reassessing American literary realism, Halpern seeks not only to understand why these writers adopted sentimental techniques but to provide insight into contemporary arguments in literary studies about critical distance and sympathetic identification.
“Halpern makes a very compelling argument. Her close attention to the forms of narration in all the works she examines is highly rewarding, yielding fascinating juxtapositions and new angles in each text.”—Glenn Hendler, author of Public Sentiments: Structures of Feeling in Nineteenth-Century American Literature