Twentieth-Century Sentimentalism, Twentieth-Century Sentimentalism, 081356297X, 0-8135-6297-X, 978-0-8135-6297-1, 9780813562971, , The American Literatures Initiative, Twentieth-Century Sentimentalism, 0813562988, 0-8135-6298-8, 978-0-8135-6298-8, 9780813562988, , The American Literatures Initiative, Twentieth-Century Sentimentalism, 0813562996, 0-8135-6299-6, 978-0-8135-6299-5, 9780813562995, , The American Literatures Initiative, Twentieth-Century Sentimentalism, 081357059X, 0-8135-7059-X, 978-0-8135-705
Twentieth-Century Sentimentalism

Narrative Appropriation in American Literature
Jennifer A. Williamson (Author)
246 pages, 6 x 9
Paper, December 2013 $29.95   ADD TO CART
Cloth, December 2013 $83.00   ADD TO CART
Web PDF, December 2013 $29.95   EBOOK VERSION AVAILABLE
epub, December 2013 $29.95   EBOOK VERSION AVAILABLE
Series: The American Literatures Initiative
Subject Area:
African American Studies, Literary Studies, American Studies


Today’s critical establishment assumes that sentimentalism is an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary mode that all but disappeared by the twentieth century. In this book, Jennifer Williamson argues that sentimentalism is alive and well in the modern era. By examining working-class literature that adopts the rhetoric of “feeling right” in order to promote a proletarian or humanist ideology as well as neo-slave narratives that wrestle with the legacy of slavery and cultural definitions of African American families, she explores the ways contemporary authors engage with familiar sentimental clichés and ideals.

Williamson covers new ground by examining authors who are not generally read for their sentimental narrative practices, considering the proletarian novels of Grace Lumpkin, Josephine Johnson, and John Steinbeck alongside neo-slave narratives written by Margaret Walker, Octavia Butler, and Toni Morrison. Through careful close readings, Williamson argues that the appropriation of sentimental modes enables both sympathetic thought and systemic action in the proletarian and neo-slave novels under discussion. She contrasts appropriations that facilitate such cultural work with those that do not, including Kathryn Stockett’s novel and film The Help. The book outlines how sentimentalism remains a viable and important means of promoting social justice while simultaneously recognizing and exploring how sentimentality can further white privilege.

Sentimentalism is not only alive in the twentieth century. It is a flourishing rhetorical practice among a range of twentieth-century authors who use sentimental tactics in order to appeal to their readers about a range of social justice issues. This book demonstrates that at stake in their appeals is who is inside and outside of the American family and nation.


“Compellingly juxtaposing proletarian and neo-slave novels, Jennifer Williamson's book breaks important new ground in redefining and reevaluating the sentimental tradition within literary and American studies of the twentieth century.”
—Kristin J. Jacobson, author of Neodomestic American Fiction

"Jennifer Williamson writes with unusual range. Drawing concepts from the nineteenth century, she gives excellent readings of twentieth century texts, inclusive of gender, race, and traditions. Twentieth-Century Sentimentalism is an important book."
—Linda Wagner-Martin, author of "Favored Strangers": Gertrude Stein and Her Family

"A helpful addition to the literature of sentimentalism. Recommended."

Author / Editor Bio

JENNIFER A. WILLIAMSON, PhD, is the author of numerous articles, including “‘His home is not the land’: Caretaking, Domesticity, and Gender in The Grapes of Wrath,” and editor of Sentimentalism and the Anti-Sentimental in 20th and 21st Century America.

Table Of Contents


1. Introduction
2. Grace Lumpkin's To Make My Bread: Standing Together, Side by Side
3. Josephine Johnson's Now in November: Not Plough-Shares but People
4. Caretaking, Domesticity, and Gender in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath: "His Home Is Not the Land"
5. Margaret Walker's Jubilee: "Forged in a Crucible of Suffering"
6. Octavia Butler's Kindred: "My Face Was Too Wet with Tears"
7. Toni Morrison's Beloved: "Feeling How It Must Have Felt to Her Mother"
8. Conclusion

Works Cited


Shadowed Dreams
Maureen Honey
Writing America
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Envisioning the Faculty for the Twenty-First Centu
Adrianna Kezar, Daniel Maxey
Honor Bound
David Leverenz