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In this book, Glenn Hendler explores what he calls the logic of sympathy in vels by Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, T.S. Arthur, Martin Delany, Horatio Alger, Fanny Fern, Nathaniel Parker Willis, Henry James, Mark Twain, and William Dean Howells. For these 19th-century writers, he argues, sympathetic identification was t strictly an individual, feminizing, and private feeling but the quintessentially public sentiment - a transformative emotion with the power to shape social institutions and political movements. Uniting scholarship on gender in 19th-century American culture with theoretical and historical debates on the definition of the public sphere in the period, Hendler shows how vels taught diverse readers to feel right , to experience their identities as male or female, black or white, middle or working class, through a sentimental, emotionally based structure of feeling. He links vels with such wide-ranging cultural and political discourses as the temperance movement, feminism, and black nationalism. Public Sentiments demonstrates that, whether published for commercial reasons or for higher moral and aesthetic purposes, the 19th century American vel was conceived of as a public instrument designed to play in a sentimental key.
Glenn Hendler, assistant professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, is coeditor of Sentimental Men: Masculimity and the Politics of Affect in American Culture.