English | Romantic Literature
L741 | 23602 | Williams

L741  23602 WILLIAMS (#3)
Romantic Literature

1:00p – 4:00p T


Although emotional experience has been an object of study since at
least the time of Aristotle (as “the passions”), a good case can be
made for the “Romantic century” (from roughly the mid-18th to the
mid-19th century) as a key period for thinking on the topic.
Evidence for this centrality abounds:  Hume’s derivation of moral
principles from sentiment rather than reason; the emergence of the
discourse of aesthetics, in Burke and elsewhere, grounding complex
judgments of value in sensations of pain and pleasure; Adam Smith’s
model of sympathetic moral feeling; the emerging literature of
sensibility; and, later still, Wordsworth’s elevation of feeling
over action in poetry.  The stakes of feeling and the questions
raised by it, in these discourses and elsewhere, are considerable:
Can feeling serve as the basis for social and national cohesion, at
a time when traditional grounds for collective identity were
beginning to erode?  Or, conversely, is feeling (as “enthusiasm,”
for instance) a threat to social stability?  Does feeling allow for
special access to the experience of others or is it, in naming what
is most one’s own, essentially isolating?  More fundamentally still,
is feeling owned by the subject or a contagion passing promiscuously
from person to person?

We’ll survey the key philosophical discussions of feeling mentioned
above, and then turn to literary treatments of the topic, including
examples of the literature of sensibility, in both prose and verse,
but also ranging beyond it.  My efforts to think through this topic
according to separate emotions have seemed somewhat strained, but
suffice it to say that we’ll touch on (at least) pity, anger,
terror, desire and nostalgia (something for everyone).  For novels,
I have in mind Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling, Mary Hays’
Memoirs of Emma Courtney, Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, William Godwin’s
Fleetwood, or the New Man of Feeling, Jane Austen’s Sense and
Sensibility and Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering.  We’ll also look at
Joanna Baillie’s project of “Plays on the Passions,” including her
Introductory Discourse on the Passions, and De Quincey’s
aesthetisizing  of terror in the Essays “On Murder Considered as one
of the Fine Arts.”  I also want to consider the relation between
some sensibility poets (the Della Cruscan group, for instance) and
the more canonical project regarding feeling in Wordsworth and
Coleridge, which will lead us to think about connections between
feeling and mood, as well as those between the Wordsworthean
categories of “gross and violent stimulation” (to be avoided) and
the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling” (to be sought).
Critics who will accompany us in our discussions include Adela
Pinch, Thomas Pfau, Jerome McGann, Jon Mee, Claudia Johnson, Charles
Altieri and David Marshall.  Work for the class will include a
seminar length (20-25 pp.) paper, with prospectus, and a class