John William De Forest's Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty was written from 1864 to 1867, when Reconstruction still had a chance of changing the face of American reality. It could be called the only U.S. realist novel that reports to us from within this moment of tremendous potential, an imaginative hiatus between the Civil War's derealization of the national culture and the post-Reconstruction emergence of a powerful nation-state. The novel foreshadows contemporary debates about cultural nationalism versus liberal, rights-based citizenship as it works through compelling counternarratives to constitutional patriotism, models of local attachment that De Forest recognizes as the political sensibility of “geographical morality.” Geographical morality implies allegiance to a prediscursive and so-called natural state whose limits are set by climate and human biology. Like Walt Whitman, who was also fascinated by the erotics of patriotism, De Forest explores the durability of local passions, of sectionalism and sex, in the face of constitutional idealism, the Unionism that became the hegemonic feeling-state decided by the Civil War. Through discussion of Miss Ravenel alongside Whitman's Specimen Days and De Forest's short fiction, essays, and later novels, this essay explores the larger question of how literature has attempted to make the “social passion” of patriotism available to the senses.
Research Article|September 01 2009
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Stephanie LeMenager; “Geographical Morality”: Place and the Problem of Patriotism in John W. De Forest's Civil War Realism. American Literature 1 September 2009; 81 (3): 555–582. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2009-026
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