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Theses Doctoral

Novel Feelings: Emotion, Duration, and the Form of the Eighteenth-Century British Novel

Cunard, Candace

One of the first features of the eighteenth-century novel to strike the modern reader is its sheer length, and yet critics have argued that these novels prioritize emotional experiences that are essentially fleeting. “Novel Feelings” corrects this imbalance by attending to ongoing emotional experiences like suspense, familiarization, frustration, and hope—both as they are represented in novels and as they characterize readerly response to novels. In so doing, I demonstrate the centrality of such protracted emotional experiences to debates about the ethics of feeling in eighteenth-century Britain. Scholarship on the sentimental novel and the literature of sensibility tends to locates the ethical work of novel feeling in short, self-contained depictions of a character’s sympathetic response to another’s suffering. Such readings often rely on texts like Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling or Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, short works composed out of even shorter, often disjointed scenes in which the focal characters encounter and respond emotionally to the distresses of others. And yet, these fragmentary productions which deliberately deemphasize narrative connection between scenes do not provide ideal models for approaching the complex large-scale plotting of many eighteenth-century novels. Through my attention to larger-scale formal techniques for provoking and sustaining feeling throughout the duration of reading a lengthy novel, I demonstrate how writers from Samuel Richardson to Jane Austen taught readers to linger with feelings, particularly ones that might initially produce pain or discomfort. By challenging readers to remain within a feeling that refuses to be over, these novels demand a vision of ethical action that would be similarly lasting—moving beyond the comfortable closure of a judgment passed or a sympathetic tear shed to imagine a continuous, open-ended attention to others.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Davidson, Jenny M.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 2, 2018