Periodizing Authorship, Characterizing Genre: Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Benevolent Literacy Narratives

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he favored class of society," wrote Catharine Maria Sedgwick in 1848, "owe an immense debt to Providence, which can only be discharged by attempting to rescue the vicious and ignorant from misery and degradation." Casting herself as a patrician with benevolent obligations, Sedgwick provides a key not only to her intentions for much of her work at mid-career but also to the shortage of scholarship on these didactic texts of the 1830s and 1840s. Despite our likely discomfort today with Sedgwick's class-based agenda for social reform, the narratives from the middle of her career deserve attention for what they reveal about the intersection of literature and the literacy-based educational programs of uplift that many antebellum women writers helped to establish during this time. These writers intended to shape cross-class relationships while promoting literacy-based educational programs as central to American literary culture.