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Sentimental Figures of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France

Lynn Festa

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In this ambitious and original study, Lynn Festa examines how and why sentimental fiction became one of the primary ways of representing British and French relations with colonial populations in the eighteenth century. Drawing from novels, poetry, travel narratives, commerce manuals, and philosophical writings, Festa shows how sentimentality shaped communal and personal assertions of identity in an age of empire.

Read in isolation, sentimental texts can be made to tell a simple story about the emergence of the modern psychological self. Placed in conversation with empire, however…

In this ambitious and original study, Lynn Festa examines how and why sentimental fiction became one of the primary ways of representing British and French relations with colonial populations in the eighteenth century. Drawing from novels, poetry, travel narratives, commerce manuals, and philosophical writings, Festa shows how sentimentality shaped communal and personal assertions of identity in an age of empire.

Read in isolation, sentimental texts can be made to tell a simple story about the emergence of the modern psychological self. Placed in conversation with empire, however, sentimentality invites both psychological and cultural readings of the encounter between self and other. Sentimental texts, Festa claims, enabled readers to create powerful imagined relations to distant people. Yet these emotional bonds simultaneously threatened the boundaries between self and other, civilized and savage, colonizer and colonized. Festa argues that sentimental tropes and figures allowed readers to feel for others, while maintaining the particularity of the individual self. Sentimental identification thus operated as a form of differentiation as well as consolidation.

Festa contends that global reach increasingly outstripped imaginative grasp during this era. Sentimentality became an important tool for writers on empire, allowing conquest to be portrayed as commerce and scenes of violence and exploitation to be converted into displays of benevolence and pity. Above all, sentimental texts used emotion as an important form of social and cultural distinction, as the attribution of sentience and feeling helped to define who would be recognized as human.

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Reviews

Reviews

Thoroughly researched and densely annotated, this is a book for scholars of 18th century literature, culture, society, and ideas.

Festa's supple prose serves her well... She is capable both of the judicious concession... and the head-on confrontation.

Engaging and erudite book.

There is great originality in this book, and even where we find what oft was thought, it’s rarely so well expressed.

As a comparative cultural history, Professor Festa’s study offers a sound and especially persuasive argument for researching from the early modern era the emerging social relationships between the self and the objectified other in relation to empire, whether in the sentimental novel or elsewhere.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
312
ISBN
9780801884306
Illustration Description
3 halftones
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Great World Without
1. The Distinction of Sentimental Feeling
Sentimental Babel
Hume, Smith, and the Property of Feeling
French Sympathy and the Model of the Human
The

Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Great World Without
1. The Distinction of Sentimental Feeling
Sentimental Babel
Hume, Smith, and the Property of Feeling
French Sympathy and the Model of the Human
The Sentimental Wealth of Nations
Romance, Epic, and the Sentimental Rewriting of Eighteenth-Century Empire
2. Sterne's Snuffbox
Yorick's Snuffbox and the Paradox of the Sentimental Commodity
Emotions in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Tristram Shandy and the Befetish'd Word
The Sentimental Deficit and the Journal to Eliza
3. Tales Told by Things
The People Things Make
The Commodity's Soliloquy
Thinking Through Things
Subject and Object in Olaudah Equiano's Life
4. Making Humans Human
Of Price and Men
Day, Cowper, Wedgwood, and the Tropes of Redundant Personification
Discriminating Figures in Janet Schaw's Journal
Political Sympathies and the Sympathetic Misfire
Usurpation and Empathy in Parliamentary Debates
Reversible Figures
5. Global Commerce in Raynal's Histoire des deux Indes
Commerce as the Motor of the World
Lachrymose Intolerance
Human Interest
Coda: The Peripheral Vision of the Enlightenment
Notes
Works Cited
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Lynn Festa

Lynn Festa is the Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of English at Harvard University.