Sentimental Confessions
Spiritual Narratives of Nineteenth-Century African American Women

Joycelyn Moody

How black holy women, through their narratives, subverted an America determined to silence them


"Jocelyn Moody makes an extremely important contribution to the study of spiritual narratives by offering a new theoretical framework that focuses much more self-consciously on theological dimensions. . . . By carefully detailing the formal, ideological, and theological complexities of spiritual narratives, Moody provides a richly historicized analysis of the difficulties that confronted women during slavery and its aftermath."
American Literature

"[A] rewarding and captivating body of work. Moody forced me to grieve for my colonial Victorian ancestors and applaud them as they transcended racism and patriarchal restrictions. Her writing brought alive the overwhelming hardships and passions of these women."
Black Issues Book Review

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Sentimental Confessions is a groundbreaking study of evangelicalism, sentimentalism, and nationalism in early African American holy women’s autobiography. At its core are analyses of the life writings of six women—Maria Stewart, Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw, Nancy Prince, Mattie J. Jackson, and Julia Foote—all of which appeared in the mid-nineteenth century.

Joycelyn Moody shows how these authors appropriated white-sanctioned literary conventions to assert their voices and to protest the racism, patriarchy, and other forces that created and sustained their poverty and enslavement. In doing so, Moody also reveals the wealth of insights that could be gained from these kinds of writings if we were to acknowledge the spiritual convictions of their authors—if we read them because (not although) they are holy texts. The deeply held, passionately expressed beliefs of these women, says Moody, should not be brushed aside by scholars who may be tempted to view them as naïve or as indicative only of the racial, class, and gender oppressions these women suffered. In addition, Moody promotes new ways of looking at dictated narratives without relegating them to a status below self-authored texts.

Helping to recover a neglected chapter of American literary history, Sentimental Confessions is filled with insights into the state of the nation in the nineteenth century.

Page count: 216 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $25.95

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Joycelyn Moody is an associate professor of English at the University of Washington.