Monday, July 31, 2006

Henderson, Desirée. “The Imperfect Dead: Mourning Women in Eighteenth-Century Oratory and Fiction.” Early American Literature 39.3 (2004): 487-509.

Henderson looks at the way that fallen women were eulogized in the early republic. She discussed the form and function of the funeral sermon arguing that the sentimental novel stepped in and eulogized women who the spiritual leaders of the time could not.

Henderson does this by looking at the shift in Puritan influence. The moving ideas toward an embracing of individualism that came after the Revolution. She lays out the style and content of the religious funeral sermon of the time, then moves to Brown, Rowson, and Foster as examples of novels that, she argues, debates with what can be said about fallen and disgraced women. The seduction novel becomes the antithesis to the funeral sermon. Where women are told to imitate the pious women of the sermon, they are told never to be like the women of the novels. Yet, it also allows the reader to mourn in, where as the sermon allows no mourning for a woman who is going on to a wonderful reward. As the pious woman funeral sermon dies away, the sentimental novel continues to gain readers.

The author has a strong argument, looking at the emotional and “car wreck” appeal of the seduction novel to show how it replaced the funeral sermon as a place where women could gain and debate their own ideas of womanhood.

Bib of Note:

Elliot, Emory. "The Development of the Puritan Funeral Sermon and Elegy: 1660-1750." Early American Literature 15.2 (Fall 1980) 151-64.

Engebretsen, Terry. "Being Dead She Yet Lives: The Rhetorical Work of America's First Funeral Sermon." Studies in Puritan American Spirituality 6 (Dec. 1997): 25-43.


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