Cambridge University Press
0521865395 - The Making of Racial Sentiment - Slavery and the Birth of the Frontier Romance - by Ezra Tawil


The frontier romance, an enormously popular genre of American fiction born in the 1820s, helped redefine “race” for an emerging national culture. The novels of James Fenimore Cooper, Lydia Maria Child, Catharine Maria Sedgwick and others described the “races” in terms of emotional rather than physical characteristics. By doing so they produced the idea of “racial sentiment”: the notion that different races feel different things, and feel things differently. Ezra Tawil argues that the novel of white-Indian conflict provided authors and readers with an apt analogy for the problem of slavery. By uncovering the sentimental aspects of the frontier romance, Tawil redraws the lines of influence between the “Indian novel” of the 1820s and the sentimental novel of slavery, demonstrating how Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin ought to be reconsidered in this light. This study reveals how American literature of the 1820s helped form modern ideas about racial differences.

EZRA TAWIL is Assistant Professor of English at Columbia University.

Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture


Ross Posnock, New York University

Founding Editor

Albert Gelpi, Stanford University

Advisory Board

Alfred Bendixen, Texas A&M University

Sacvan Bercovitch, Harvard University

Ronald Bush, St. John's College, University of Oxford

Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University

Albert Gelpi, Stanford University

Gordon Hutner, University of Kentucky

Walter Benn Michaels, University of Illinois, Chicago

Kenneth Warren, University of Chicago

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Slavery, Philosophy, and American Literature, 1830–1860

Family, Kinship and Sympathy in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Correspondence and American Literature, 1770–1865

Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere

Gender and the Poetics of Reception in Poe's Circle

The Making of Racial Sentiment
Slavery and the Birth of the Frontier Romance

Ezra Tawil

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© Ezra Tawil 2006

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and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2006

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data
Tawil, Ezra, 1967–
The making of racial sentiment : slavery and the birth of the frontier romance / Ezra Tawil. – (Cambridge studies in American literature and culture; 151.)
Includes index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-521-86539-5
ISBN-10: 0-521-86539-5
1. American fiction – 19th century – History and criticism. 2. Race in
literature. 3. Emotions in literature. 4. Frontier and pioneer life in
literature. 5. Indians in literature. 6. Slavery in literature.
7. Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851 – Criticism and interpretation.
8. Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811 – 1896 – Criticism and interpretation.
I. Title. II. Series.
PS374.R32T39 2006
813'. 3093552 – dc22 2005036008

ISBN-13 978-0-521-86539-5 hardback
ISBN-10 0-521-86539-5 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For Sally Tawil and Fred Tawil


Acknowledgments page viii
Introduction: Toward a literary history of racial sentiment 1
1 The politics of slavery and the discourse of race, 1787–1840 26
2 Remaking natural rights: race and slavery in James Fenimore Cooper's early writings 69
3 Domestic frontier romance, or, how the sentimental heroine became white 92
4 “Homely legends”: the uses of sentiment in Cooper's The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish 129
5 Stowe's vanishing Americans: “negro” interiority, captivity, and homecoming in Uncle Tom's Cabin 152
Conclusion: Captain Babo's cabin: racial sentiment and the politics of misreading in Benito Cereno 191
Notes 209
Index 239


It has been a great pleasure to work at Columbia these past few years while this book took shape, influenced, I hope, by the proximity of brilliant colleagues. I owe a great debt in particular to Jonathan Arac, Marcellus Blount, Andrew Delbanco and Ann Douglas for substantial advice on the manuscript, and in many cases interventions at a critical stage of its development. I am grateful to the readers chosen by Cambridge University Press, one of whom is Cindy Weinstein, for such rigorous and thoughtful responses to the manuscript, and for making suggestions that were as satisfying as they were challenging to implement. I am especially thankful to Ray Ryan at the Press, and to Ross Posnock, editor of this series, for their steady support in shepherding this project along. Thanks as well to Maartje Scheltens and Elizabeth Davey at Cambridge University Press for their editorial and production assistance, and to James Woodhouse for copy-editing the manuscript. The Columbia University Council for Research in the Humanities supported my work with summer grants in 2002 and 2004.

I owe an incalculable debt to my teachers during the earliest stages of this project: Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, who shaped my thinking and exhaustively critiqued my writing, and James Egan and Philip Gould, who also advised and encouraged my work. All of them provided inspiring models of scholarship. During that period, I received the financial support of Brown University's Graduate Council Dissertation Fellowship and a Grand Army of the Republic Fellowship. My brief time as a Lecturer in History and Literature at Harvard University gave me the opportunity to work on the book while surrounded by esteemed scholars and wonderful colleagues. For their help and colleagueship during that period I would like in particular to thank Steven Biel, Ruth Feldstein, Stephen Greenblatt, Daniel Itzkovitz, Philip Joseph, Jeanne Follansbee Quinn and Bryan Waterman.

I wish to thank several other people with whom I have discussed my work or who commented on or otherwise supported aspects of this project at various stages: Rachel Adams, Christopher Amirault, Joyce Chaplin, Mark Cooper, Jenny Davidson, Robert Ferguson, Sandra Gustafson, Bob Hanning, Sharon Harris, Saul Kotzubei, Karl Kroeber, Kirsten Lentz, Sharon Marcus, Melani McAlister, Edward Mendelson, Carla Mulford, Bob O'Meally, Lloyd Pratt, Bruce Robbins, Gordon Sayre, Ivy Schweitzer, Jim Shapiro, Richard Slotkin, Fred Tawil, and Jennifer Ting. The staff of the English and Comparative Literature Department, particularly Joy Hayton, Michael Mallick, Isabel Thompson, Maia Bernstein, and Yulanda Denoon, helped with various matters critical to the completion of this project. Nick Chase and Nikil Saval conducted research for me in the closing stages of revision.

Parts of the book were presented to meetings of the American Literature Association, the Society of Early Americanists, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, The Modern Language Association, and the James Fenimore Cooper Society. I would like to thank everyone who gave me comments and suggestions on those occasions. A special thanks to Stephen Greenblatt for organizing a Harvard faculty-works-in-progress colloquium in which an earlier version of Chapter Four benefited from discussion and critique. A version of Chapter Three appears in Novel: A Forum on Fiction 32:1 (Fall 1998), 99 – 125. My thanks to the board for permission to reprint that material here.

My deepest debts are those closest to home, with the family and friends who have supported me as I worked on this book: Adrienne Tawil, Joyce Tawil, Robin Bogart, Ira Bogart, Justin Bogart, Daniel Bogart, and Benjamin Bogart. For their inspiration and encouragement, I also wish to mention Allan Ashear, Saul Kassin, and Saul Kotzubei. Kirsten Lentz in particular has lived with this project daily, and has made countless suggestions to improve it conceptually, structurally, and rhetorically. This book is dedicated to my parents, Sally Tawil and Fred Tawil, for introducing me to the pleasures of the intellect and then supporting my impractical bid to exercise it for a living.

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