After decades of interrogation, questions about how to evaluate sentimental culture remain potent. Does sentimentality count as part of literary culture? Or do the adaptations of sentimental affect to various goals force it to stand in a subsidiary relationship as the softer form of feelings? That sentimental affect has been used for political and religious purposes has enhanced the suspicion that it plays a supporting role in determining action rather than a primary role in determining identity. So what has kept the energy and the critical attention going for so many decades?

The Altar at Home and Apocalyptic Sentimentalism promote these questions. The first initially appears more conventional, introducing itself with a colorized engraving of a mother and child praying together, lifted from an 1868 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, on the dust jacket. The second monograph emphasizes fear and the...

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