Introduction: The Forgotten Language
See in particular Sigourney's "The Unspoken Language," in which she lays
out the superiority of this language of sentiment to later, learned, verbal
languages. (For a full discussion of this poem see chapter 6.) This is one of
several poems in which Sigourney articulates a theory of sentimental com-
munication. Another is "Eve," in which Sigourney engages in a critique of
sentimentality's limitations even as she deploys them. The work of Sigourney
suggests a greater consciousness of the cultural and literary ramifications of
her aesthetic choices than has been conventionally granted to sentimental-
ists. (Quotations here follow the 1860 edition of her Illustrated Poems cited by
poem title and line number.)
2 In this study I am interested in producing what Clifford Geertz in The Inter-
Cultures calls a "thick description," one that will foreground what
the "symbolic action" of sentimentality "has to say about itself" (27).
3 As I discuss more fully later, it has been a characteristic of twentieth-century
approaches to American sentimentality to focus on narrative rather than
poetry. This is not to say that sentimental poetry was not considered an em-
barrassment to the American literary tradition, but that the ground of the
debate over the role of sentimentality in American culture was established in
discussions of the American novel such as Herbert Ross Brown's 1940 The Sen-
timental Novel in America and James Baldwin's 1949 essay on Uncle Tom's Cabin
entitled "Everybody's Protest Novel."
4 At the same time as describing nineteenth-century poetry as "inconsequen-
tial" to the development of later American poetry, Lawrence Buell's survey
of New England literary history calls for the kind of aesthetic and cultural
reevaluation that the nineteenth-century sentimental or domestic novel has
been receiving since the late 1970s. I am indebted to Professor Buell for his
encouragement on this project. Recent revisions of major teaching antholo-
gies such as the Heath Anthology
American Literature or the Norton Anthology
American Literature contain larger selections of the "fireside" poets as well as
more selections from the women poets of the last century. This trend suggests
that the perception of the place, or rather non-place, of popular nineteenth-
century American poetry is beginning to change as the repercussions of the
Previous Page Next Page