Slavery, philosophy, and American literature, 1830-1860


Slavery, philosophy, and American literature, 1830-1860

Maurice S. Lee

(Cambridge studies in American literature and culture, 148)

Cambridge University Press, 2010, c2005

  • : pbk

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"First paperback edition 2010"--T.p. verso

Paperback re-issue"--Backcover

Includes bibliographical references and index



Examining the literature of slavery and race before the Civil War, Maurice Lee, in this 2005 book, demonstrates how the slavery crisis became a crisis of philosophy that exposed the breakdown of national consensus and the limits of rational authority. Poe, Stowe, Douglass, Melville, and Emerson were among the antebellum authors who tried - and failed - to find rational solutions to the slavery conflict. Unable to mediate the slavery controversy as the nation moved toward war, their writings form an uneasy transition between the confident rationalism of the American Enlightenment and the more skeptical thought of the pragmatists. Lee draws on antebellum moral philosophy, political theory, and metaphysics, bringing a different perspective to the literature of slavery - one that synthesizes cultural studies and intellectual history to argue that romantic, sentimental, and black Atlantic writers all struggled with modernity when facing the slavery crisis.


  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1. Absolute Poe
  • 2. 'Lord, it's so hard to be good': affect and agency in Stowe
  • 3. Taking care of the philosophy: Douglass's common sense
  • 4. Melville and the state of war
  • 5. Toward a transcendental politics: Emerson's second thoughts
  • Epilogue: an unfinished and not unhappy ending
  • Index.

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