"Suffragettes of the Harem": The Evolution of Sympathy and the Afterlives of Sentimentality in American Feminist Orientalism, 1865-1920

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2016

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Wald, Priscilla

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Abstract

This project examines narrative encounters in space identified as “harem,” produced by authors with biographical ties to the vanguard of the American Suffrage Movement. I regard these feminists’ circulations East, to the domestic space of the Other, as a hitherto unstudied, yet critical component of transnationalism in the history of U.S. Suffrage. This literary record also crucially reveals the extent to which sentimentality was plotted as a potential force for the reform of other cultures. An urge to sympathize denied in the space of the harem illustrates the colonial anxieties that subtended sentimentality’s prospective deployment beyond national borders. In five chapters on the work of Anna Leonowens, Susan Elston Wallace, Demetra Vaka Brown, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Edith Wharton, I examine how Suffrage-minded authors writing the harem strategically abandon an activist praxis of fellow feeling. Such a reluctance to transform sentimental literature into a colonial literature consequently informs that genre’s postbellum decline. The sentiments that run dry for American feminists in the harem additionally foreground the costly failures of Wilsonian Idealism, a doctrine that appropriated a discourse of sentimentality in order to script the United States’ expanded involvement in global affairs.

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Hunt, William Radler (2016). "Suffragettes of the Harem": The Evolution of Sympathy and the Afterlives of Sentimentality in American Feminist Orientalism, 1865-1920. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/12117.

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