Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

English and American Literature


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Vivian Pollak


ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION Sentimental Ideology, Women's Pedagogy, and American Indian Women's Writing: 1815-1921 by Christine Renée Cavalier Washington University in St. Louis, 2011 Professor Vivian Pollak, Chairperson This dissertation examines how sentimental notions of respectable womanhood and refined education shaped the polished poetry and prose of four seminal female figures in the history of American Indian literature: Jane Johnston Schoolcraft: 1800-1842), the earliest American Indian female author recovered thus far; E. Pauline Johnson: 1861-1913), the most successful nineteenth-century Native writer who became Canada's iconic poetess and Native national symbol; S. Alice Callahan: 1868-1894), the first American Indian female novelist; and Zitkala-Sa: 1876-1938), the first American Indian woman to write and publish her memoirs without a white ghost-writer or other editorial "assistance." Sentimental ideology underwrote the disciplinary intimacy whereby genteel mixed-blood women achieved their effective literacy and was also inextricable from the bicultural nationalism being inculcated through the elite boarding school curriculum of Indian Territory. The federally funded off-reservation boarding schools of the Dawes Era, meanwhile, would regularly deploy the image of Native schoolgirls being transformed through sentimental social values and literature, although very few students would ever experience the genteel cultivation being promised. The poetry and prose composed by the Native recipients of sentimental female pedagogy, however, transcend any simple acts of parroting and, rather, critically engage with the gender, racial, and class prejudice inscribed within Anglo-American sympathy. Building off of sentimental tropes and narratives, these Native women conventionally testify to a marginalization that is both gendered and racial; seek psychological relief through reassuring domestic plotlines in which trials lead to reconstituted kinship ties and personal fulfillment; and imagine a spiritual transcendence of their present cultural dilemmas via the redemptive power of female sensibility and domestic virtue. Nevertheless, their oeuvres also express at various moments a skepticism towards sentimental casts of thought that is no less penetrating and frustrated than that expressed by twentieth- and twenty-first-century critics. When taken as a whole, the bicultural textuality of these four authors illustrates an invariable, programmatic conformity to none of the current interpretations of literary sentimentalism. Critiquing, ironizing, but also pressing against and expanding the ideological limitations underwriting the tropes of sensibility, domesticity, and sympathy, these Native women writers broaden the cross-cultural pertinence and apologetic potential of sentimental literature.


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