This essay examines Rebecca Harding Davis's resistance to the Civil War discourse in the Atlantic Monthly in order to complicate the relation between nineteenth-century racism and sentimental fiction. While much revisionary work has been done on nineteenth-century women'sfiction and how it reinforced racial ideologies, the misleading question often asked is whether white women did or did not participate in the public arena of race. Yet this initial framing of the question denies the alternative possibility: that white women might have engaged in their own gendered forms of racial activity, or in a "female racism" (to use Vron Ware's term), that did not correspond to or act in complicity with a racism that is by default seen as public and masculine. By imagining her heroine as a "woman from the border" in Waiting for the Verdict (1868), Davis works to oppose and overturn a particular regional and gender-based inscription of whiteness that was being disseminated amid the war crises as an emergent New England-based national identity. In contrast, Davis creates a particular feminine and liminal version of white racial power, or a "miscegenated whiteness." But this fantasy of an imagined national community based on the "white mulatto" finally undoes itself in the novel's moments of narrative crises about a free and open female sexuality, and Davis'snovel seeks to restore the white female body to its "purity."
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