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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: May 2009

1 - Sentiment and sensibility

from Part I - The Ends of Enlightenment
In the eighteenth century the language of feeling, with its key terms of sentiment, sympathy and sensibility, was central to the discussion of man and society, manners, ethics and aesthetics. This chapter shows how sensibility was figured both as a universal human attribute and as the particular feature of modern, late eighteenth-century society. It discusses the ways in which a whole range of genres used sentimentalism to excite sympathy and assess the implications of these strategies for notions of authorship, readership and the public. The chapter focuses on the sensibility in its shifting manifestations between the 1770s, when it first became a generalized object of concern, and the politicized discussion in the French Revolution. Sensationalist philosophers, physiologists and physicians constructed the foundations on which theories of sensibility were built. The authorial, editorial and reading techniques of literary sentimentalism, identified and analysed by critics in the 1750s and 1760s, spread with astonishing swiftness in the third quarter of the century.
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The Cambridge History of English Romantic Literature
  • Online ISBN: 9781139055970
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Claudia L. Johnson , Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s: Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Mark Salber Phillips , Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740–1820, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.