Longing: Narratives of Nostalgia in the British Novel, 1740-1890

Longing: Narratives of Nostalgia in the British Novel, 1740-1890

Longing: Narratives of Nostalgia in the British Novel, 1740-1890

Longing: Narratives of Nostalgia in the British Novel, 1740-1890

Synopsis

Nostalgia formed an important cultural force in the formation of Western modernity, while the novel of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries at once reflected and influenced the changing definition of nostalgia as an emotion and way of remembering. Both were significant for a new understanding of personal feeling. Longing: Narratives of Nostalgia in the British Novel, 1740-1890 provides new insight into its creative attributes, while emphasizing its cultural contexts. In close readings of a range of clinical and literary texts, including novels by Jane, Austen, Charles Dickens, and Wilkie Collins as well as by such lesser-known novelists as Frances Sheridan, Charlotte Smith, and Charles Reade, it shows how nostalgia was transformed from a clinical condition into an emotional experience in late-eighteenth-century novels of sensibility, ridiculed after the genre's heyday, finally becoming a wistful memory in mid-Victorian fiction before it had to be defended against new pathologies of both longing and memory at the fin-de-siecle. Tamara S. Singapore where she teaches a course on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fiction.

Excerpt

Nostalgia is a central, potent, and most importantly, welcomed emotion in the late-eighteenth-century novel of sentiment or sensibility. As the genre developed its symptomatic aesthetics of affliction by combining moral discourses on distressed virtue with a relish in bodily details, it contributed significantly to ongoing redefinitions of nostalgia as well as of hypochondria and melancholia. Operating within bourgeois ideals of refinement that figured psychophysical diseases as the occupational ailments of the sensitive and the intellectual, it sold emotional display to a class-conscious readership. Its emphasis on the marketability of emotions, its often lurid exhibition of physical symptoms, and its deliberate titillations of the reader have revealingly been targets of the genre’s most persistent criticisms from its beginnings. That the emotions celebrated in it—nostalgia not the least prominent among them—have suffered with it is not at all unexpected and has indeed been crucial for the representation of emotions in subsequent fiction. The novel of sensibility has amply contributed to a general impatience with detailed descriptions of emotions and specifically idealized emotional distress. To a considerable extent, it was the genre’s exaggerations that have given the described emotions a bad name. A detailed analysis of the feelings that are described, or more often prescribed, in the novel of sensibility, however, promises to cast new light on its significance for nostalgia’s changing representations and functions.

Drawing on a wide range of examples, I hope to salvage the innovative elements of eighteenth-century literary sentimentalism from the syrupy emotionalism and the lapses into lachrymosity that form an undeniable aspect of sentimental fiction. In detailing the changing treatment of longing in late-eighteenthcentury “pre-Romantic” novels, I also aim to highlight their legacies for Romantic fiction and the post-Romantic British novel in general. As Clara Tuite has pointedly put it, during the 1790s “the novel genre was so strongly identified with the sentimental novel that the categories of novel and sentimental novel are to a large extent mutually definitional in this period.” Its excesses significantly influenced the treatment of feeling in fiction for the . . .

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