Arguing in Prose: Abolitionist Letters and Novels

  • Brycchan Carey
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


Sentimental rhetoric operated in two spheres: the literary and the political. Both were interested in persuasion, both made use of sentimental heroes, diversion, argument, and parables, both denounced false sensibility, and both made use of the emotional subversion of the intellect. Where they differed was in their details: literary sentimental rhetoric was predominantly fictional while political rhetoric at least purported to be factual. They agreed, however, in the reception that they demanded. Both aimed at alerting their audiences to suffering, and both were written in the hope that their readers would be spurred into action to relieve the suffering which the author had highlighted. In the late eighteenth century, slavery was increasingly recognised as a source of widespread human suffering and this view was expounded in numerous political writings and many imaginative writings including some plays, a considerable number of novels, and a very large number of poems. In this and the following chapter, I examine a small selection of these literary texts, starting here with novels and letters, to consider how these imaginative writings used sentimental rhetoric to promote the idea of antislavery, and to examine how abolitionist literature itself contributed to the development of a rhetoric of sensibility. This relationship, I argue, is central both to the development of antislavery and to the development of sentimental rhetoric.


Eighteenth Century False Sensibility Slave Trade Negro Girl Emotional Appeal 
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© Brycchan Carey 2005

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  • Brycchan Carey

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