This semester, I taught the “Sentimental Fragments” collection in my American Literature survey course through 1865. Initially, I was a had a little trepidation about teaching these fragments in the course, specifically since I do no incorporate much sentimental fiction into the syllabus. As well, I do not have any fiction texts before the 1820s, Since it is a survey course, I use the Penguin anthology, and the earliest fiction text is Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle.” When teaching “Sentimental Fragments,” this aspect of the anthology causes a problem because I do not have students read authors such as Susanna Rowson, Hannah Webster Foster, William Hill Brown, and others.
Every time I read Lydia Maria Child’s work, new thoughts and paths emerge. Discussing “Chocura’s Curse” and “Slavery’s Pleasant Homes” this semester, my classes explored the ways that Child address the Cult of Domesticity. In the above stories, Child does not necessarily address each of the four pillars of the Cult of Domesticity–piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. Notably, she addresses the pillars of domesticity and purity within the stories, and she even highlights the fact that the Cult of Domesticity, and its promise of “womanhood” to all who followed it, did no apply to enslaved individuals.
Last post, I wrote about William J. Wilson’s motivation for writing the “Afric-American Picture Gallery (1859). Today, I want to expand on that conversation some and show how Wilson, under the pen-name Ethiop, challenges the master narratives of American history in much the same ways that David Walker, John Russwurm, Samuel Cornsih, Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, and others did during the early to mid-nineteenth century. Specifically, I want to look at Ethiop’s depiction of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and how that depiction calls upon readers to actively challenge the ways they think about the past. At the conclusion of this post, I want to briefly mention a couple of ideas I have been thinking about for when I teach this text again.