Seduced! Politics and Persuasion in Early American Literature
Can politicians (or lovers) sometimes make people “lose their heads”? How much faith may safely be placed in a person’s moral and political judgment? As Americans after the Revolution experimented with a new form of representative government, these were not idle theoretical questions. Future president John Adams once wrote, “Democracy is Lovelace and the people is Clarissa,” referring to characters in a popular novel British novel whose heroine suffers at the hands of tyrannical parents and an unscrupulous libertine. As Adams’s comparison demonstrates, Americans commonly thought about politics through narratives of sexual desire and consent—and the notions of gender and race that informed such narratives. Reading eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature alongside political and moral theories that resonate to this day, students will consider the language of deceit, desire and seduction that powerfully shapes our sense of modern politics. Readings will include Thomas Jefferson, Hannah Foster, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Herman Melville, Harriet Jacobs and Emily Dickinson.