‘Suffering, Sentiment, and the Rise of Humanitarian Literature’: New SouthHem Publication

The Cambridge Nineteenth-Century Literature in Transition: The 1830s edited by John Gardner and David Stewart has just been published. Congratulations to John and David!

Porscha Fermanis has written a chapter in the collection entitled ‘Suffering, Sentiment, and the Rise of Humanitarian Literature in the 1830s’. The chapter focusses on humanitarian literature relating to the southern hemisphere settler colonies of Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa in the 1830s, when humanitarian concerns about the treatment of Indigenous peoples coincided with the abolition of chattel slavery and the proliferation of coerced and indentured labour. It examines how travel writing and poetry of witness encouraged humanitarian intervention on colonial frontiers, often by ventriloquising the voices of Indigenous peoples in the aftermath of violent massacres. It considers, too, the wider networks and print media in which humanitarian literatures originated, such as open letters, religious tracts, treaties, and petitions. The chapter argues for the importance of a sentimentalised aesthetics of eyewitness immediatism drawn from abolitionist literature in shaping (and distorting) attitudes towards Indigenous peoples. It assesses what the framework of humanitarianism can tell us about the literary culture of the 1830s and about the period’s cultural politics of emotion, as metropolitan social commentators sought to redirect sympathetic norms away from distant suffering and towards white poverty at home.

Porscha Fermanis, ‘Suffering, Sentiment, and the Rise of Humanitarian Literature in the 1830s’, in Nineteenth-Century Literature in Transition: The 1830s, ed.John Gardner and David Stewart (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2024), 147-169.

The collection more generally provides an innovative reconsideration of a decade that was ‘the central pivot of the nineteenth century’ as well as being ‘as technologically transitional as it was eventful on a global scale’.

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