The Plight of Feeling: Sympathy and Dissent in the Early American Novel

Front Cover
University of Chicago Press, 1997 M11 24 - 306 pages
American novels written in the wake of the Revolution overflow with self-conscious theatricality and impassioned excess. In The Plight of Feeling, Julia A. Stern shows that these sentimental, melodramatic, and gothic works can be read as an emotional history of the early republic, reflecting the hate, anger, fear, and grief that tormented the Federalist era.

Stern argues that these novels gave voice to a collective mourning over the violence of the Revolution and the foreclosure of liberty for the nation's noncitizens—women, the poor, Native and African Americans. Properly placed in the context of late eighteenth-century thought, the republican novel emerges as essentially political, offering its audience gothic and feminized counternarratives to read against the dominant male-authored accounts of national legitimation.

Drawing upon insights from cultural history and gender studies as well as psychoanalytic, narrative, and genre theory, Stern convincingly exposes the foundation of the republic as an unquiet crypt housing those invisible Americans who contributed to its construction.


The Plight of Feeling
Working through the Frame The Dream of Transparency in Charlotte Temple
Beyond A Play about Words Tyrannies of Voice in The Coquette
A Lady Who Sheds No Tears Liberty Contagion and the Demise of Fraternity in Ormond

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 282 - The very idea of the fabrication of a new government is enough to fill us with disgust and horror. We wished at the period of the revolution, and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance from our forefathers.

About the author (1997)

Julia A. Stern is Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence and professor of English at Northwestern University. She is the author of The Plight of Feeling: Sympathy and Dissent in the Early American Novel and Mary Chesnut's Civil War Epic, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

Bibliographic information