Misfit Forms: Paths Not Taken by the British Novel

By Lorri G. Nandrea | Go to book overview

1.
Typing Feeling
Sympathy, Sensibility, and Sentimentality

History has left its residue in punctuation marks, and it is history,
far more than meaning or grammatical function, that looks out at
us, rigidified and trembling slightly, from every mark of
punctuation.

Theodor Adorno, “Punctuation Marks”

This is one of those moments when I get to say, “HA!” (Please
quote me on that accurately, with “Ha” being capitalized, italicized
and followed by an exclamation point.)

—Interview with Mark Danielewski (McCaffery and Gregory 117)

Over the past decade, scholarly interest in the history of books and printing has risen markedly, possibly as a result of the resonances between an age in which print was new and our own age of new electronic media.1 An upsurge of interest in the novel of sensibility dates back a bit further; as Markman Ellis notes, the new critical approaches that became available in the 1980s led critics to reappraise the genre’s formal qualities and yielded a new set of historical, political, and cultural questions: “There is a sense in which the sentimental novel is ‘readable’ again now for the first time since the eighteenth century, after nearly two centuries of being perceived as of marginal interest and negligible importance” (Ellis 3). Yet while scholars of this genre regularly acknowledge the typographical play found in novels of sensibility, on the whole typography has been perceived as, to borrow Ellis’s phrase, “of marginal interest and negligible importance.”2 In fact, the dearth of studies of typographical practices—especially of typographical norms and the reasons why norms changed over time—has sometimes led critics to imply

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