Global Sympathy: Representing Nineteenth-Century Americans' Foreign Relations

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Sillin, Sarah
Levine, Robert S
Over the past two decades, scholars have established sympathy's key role in nineteenth-century literary culture and the development of U.S. nationalism. While examining the bonds that feeling forges among citizens, however, critics have largely neglected the question of how sympathy also links Americans to the larger world. Representations of global sympathy--wherein characters from different cultures share one another's joy and pain--pervade nineteenth-century U.S. literature. My project analyzes how authors narrativized the nation's political, territorial, and cultural changes, while underscoring the persistent importance of feeling in defining America's global role. "Global Sympathy" tells a story about what happens when writers imagine Americans as the kith and kin of foreign peoples. Beginning in the early national period, the first chapter explores how James Fenimore Cooper employs tropes of foreign friendship to establish Americans' equality to the British, inviting readers to re-imagine the British Empire as a valuable trading partner. My second chapter considers the importance of Christianity to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Maria Cummins, whose Protestant American heroines become metaphorical sisters to people in Italy and Syria, respectively. Read together, these pre-Civil War writers evoke confidence in Americans' ability to navigate foreign relations amidst political instability. Yet with increasing U.S. expansion, writers in the second half of the nineteenth-century expressed growing concern about America's foreign influence. Chapters three and four center on minority writers who employ sentiment to criticize the effects of imperialism on "foreign" peoples both within and outside the nation. María Amparo Ruiz de Burton participates in Gilded Age literary critiques of America as unfeeling and undemocratic, and develops an international courtship narrative to convey U.S. oppression of both "native" Californios and foreign nations like Mexico. Pauline Hopkins's turn-of-the-century fiction constitutes part of a broader body of literary responses to the Spanish-American War. Hopkins questions U.S. imperialism and racism by imagining the world, rather than the nation, as a family. More broadly, this project analyzes how Hopkins and all of the writers I study translate foreign politics into intimate terms and--by depicting U.S. citizens' affective ties to diverse peoples--insist on America's obligations to the international sphere.