Liberation and consumption: disease, imperialism, and the conversion of the heathen in Hemans, Sigourney and Stowe

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This essay takes its cue from a brief discussion of Felicia Hemans’ ‘Edith. A Tale of the Woods’ in my Consumption and Literature: The Making of the Romantic Disease (2006). In it I argued that Hemans’ poem used consumption – the index of white, Christian spiritual supremacy – as a not-so-covert means of converting the heathen American-Indian to Christian and British ideology, thus naturalizing the violent processes of empire. Consumption serves to ‘liberate’ into Christianity and imperial destiny – via a dying white heroine – the Indian Other. Here I wish to extend this argument further into transatlantic Romanticism by discussing an apparent contradiction to the phenomenon of the redemptive consumption of the white Christian heroine in the American Lydia Sigourney’s poem on the “Indian Girl’s Burial”, a more traditional rendition in Sigourney’s “The Consumptive Girl”, and, by way of a brief look beyond the Romantics, the archetypal Victorian example of Little Eva in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This essay addresses – at least in passing – some of the categories, like gender, race and Romantic medicine, outlined by Joel Pace in his agenda for the development of transatlantic Romanticism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLiberating Medicine, 1720-1835
EditorsTristanne Connolly, Steve Clark
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPickering and Chatto
ISBN (Print)978-1851966325
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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