Reforming the World

Reforming the World : Social Activism and the Problem of Fiction in Nineteenth-century America

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"Reforming the World" considers the intricate relationship between social reform and spiritual elevation and the development of fiction in the antebellum United States. Arguing that novels of the era engaged with questions about the proper role of fiction taking place at the time, Maria Carla Sanchez illuminates the politically and socially motivated involvement of men and women in shaping ideas about the role of literature in debates about abolition, moral reform, temperance, and protest work. She concludes that, whereas American Puritans had viewed novels as risque and grotesque, antebellum reformers elevated them to the level of literature - functioning on a much higher intellectual and moral plane.In her informed and innovative work, Sanchez considers those authors both familiar (Lydia Maria Child, Harriet Jacobs, and Harriet Beecher Stowe) and those all but lost to history (Timothy Shay Arthur). Along the way, she refers to some of the most notable American writers in the period (Emerson, Thoreau, and Poe). Illuminating the intersection of reform and fiction, "Reforming the World" visits important questions about the very purpose of literature, telling the story of 'a revolution that never quite took place,' one that had no grandiose or even catchy name. But it did have numerous settings and participants: from the slums of New York, where prostitutes and the intemperate made their homes, to the offices of lawyers who charted the downward paths of broken men, to the tents for revival meetings, where land and souls alike were 'burned over' by the grace of God.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 232 pages
  • 152.4 x 241.3 x 22.86mm | 476.27g
  • University of Iowa Press
  • Iowa, United States
  • English
  • Revised.
  • 1587296942
  • 9781587296949

Review quote

Elegant, eloquent, engaging, and deeply informed, Maria Carla Sanchez s "Reforming the World "is an exploration of a literary history that is too often either overlooked or dismissed. Whether the literature she addresses is radical or conservative, passionately moral or amorally passionate, Sanchez draws us always to imagine a possible nation in which literature can be a contentious and productive forum for working out the challenges and failures of an always imperfect union. From start to finish driven by strong convictions, this book reminds us that reading literary scholarship can be a pure pleasure. John Ernest, West Virginia University With verve, erudition, and style, Maria Sanchez s "Reforming the World "offers an exemplary study of the productive if sometimes uneasy marriage between reform and fiction in the antebellum United States. Sanchez s authors central questions, 'What kind of nation do we wish to be?' and 'What is the proper role of the writer in a troubled country?' resonate equally strongly today. Everyone interested in American cultural history should read this book. Karen L. Kilcup, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and president of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers"show more

About Maria Carla Sanchez

Maria Carla Sanchez is an assistant professor in the departments of English and American Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the coeditor (with Linda Schlossberg) of Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Politics.show more

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