Writing Pain in the Nineteenth-Century United States

ISBN : 9780192855596

Thomas Constantinesco
224 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Jan 2022
Oxford Studies in American Literary History
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Writing Pain in the Nineteenth-Century United States examines how pain is represented in a range of literary texts and genres from the nineteenth-century United States. It considers the aesthetic, philosophical, and ethical implications of pain across the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Jacobs, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and Alice James, as the national culture of pain progressively transformed in the wake of the invention of anesthesia. Through examining the work of nineteenth-century writers, Constantinesco argues that pain, while undeniably destructive, also generates language and identities, and demonstrates how literature participates in theorizing the problems of mind and body that undergird the deep chasms of selfhood, sociality, gender, and race of a formative period in American history. Writing Pain in the Nineteenth-Century United States considers first Emerson's philosophy of compensation, which promises to convert pain into gain. It explores the limitations of this model, showing how Jacobs contests the division of body and mind that underwrites it and how Dickinson challenges its alleged universalism by foregrounding the unshareability of pain as a paradoxical measure of togetherness. I t then investigates next the concurrent economies of affects in which pain was implicated during and after the Civil War and argues, through the example of James and Phelps, for queer sociality as a response to the heteronormative violence of sentimentalism. The last chapter on Alice James extends the critique of sentimental sympathy while returning to the book's premise that pain is generative and the site of thought. By linking literary formalism with individual and social formation, Writing Pain in the Nineteenth-Century United States eventually claims close reading as a method to recover the theoretical work of literature.


1 Emerson's Economy of Pain
2 Willing Pain in Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
3 Emily Dickinson and the High Perogative of Pain
4 Henry James, Invisible Wounds, and the Civil War
5 The Pedagogy of Pain in Elizabeth Stuart Phelp's The Gates Ajar
6 Pain, Will, and Writing in the Diary of Alice James

About the author: 

Thomas Constantinesco is Professor of American Literature at Sorbonne Universite, France. He also taught at Yale, Oxford, and Universite de Paris. Between 2014 and 2019, he was a Junior Fellow at the Institut Universitaire de France and, in 2019-2021, a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at Oxford. He is the author of Ralph Waldo Emerson: L'Amerique a l'essai (Editions Rue d'Ulm, 2012). He has published essays on nineteenth-century American literature in such venues as The New England Quarterly, ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance, American Periodicals, and Textual Practice. With Sophie Laniel-Musitelli, he co-edited Romanticism and Philosophy: Thinking with Literature (Routledge, 2015).

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