Emotion in abolitionist literature during the British slavery debate, 1770-1833

Westwood, Nicola (2023). Emotion in abolitionist literature during the British slavery debate, 1770-1833. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Emotive rhetoric was a significant element of British abolitionist literature in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Abolitionists argued that Black and White people experienced the same emotions, though differences emerged in the way that those emotions were expressed, which was somewhat dictated by contemporary social norms. The argument of emotional equality aimed to encourage the British public to sympathise with the emotional – rather than just the physical – suffering endured by enslaved individuals, in the hope that this would inspire abolitionist action. In this thesis, I argue that emotive rhetoric was used not only to portray the humanity of enslaved individuals, but also to encourage British readers to demonstrate their own humanity, emotional sensibility, and morality by campaigning to abolish first the slave trade and then slavery. Existing scholarship on the use of emotions in British abolitionist literature tends to explore each emotion separately, particularly sorrow. This study expands upon such scholarship by exploring the relationships between the different emotions that feature in abolitionist literature: specifically joy, happiness, sorrow, anger, fear, shame and guilt. It also explores White and Black writers alongside one another, as well as males and females from different class and religious backgrounds, in order to reflect the diversity of the abolitionist movement in line with recent debates about ‘Black Romanticism’ and ‘transatlantic romanticisms’. The diverse nature of the abolitionist movement meant that a number of different approaches to emotive rhetoric emerged. Whilst most abolitionists advocated emotional equality between different races, they did not all believe that this racial equality extended to intellectual capabilities. This thesis shall consider these complex nuances within the abolitionist movement, and explore the extent to which abolitionist literature challenged – or upheld – the racial hierarchy of White supremacy. Despite these differences, abolition was predominantly depicted as an act of national self-interest, rather than just an act of benevolent philanthropy. This thesis shall therefore argue that abolitionists used emotive rhetoric to argue that abolition would benefit not only the enslaved, but also their enslavers, and the entire British nation, as abolition would allow Britain and its citizens to redeem themselves from the sins of slavery, and thereby re-establish its sense of morality.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Birmingham Doctoral Scholarship
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/13261


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