Sense and Sensibility: Ethics and Emotions in the 18th Century
Sense and Sensibility:
Ethics and Emotions in the 18th Century
German 590/ English 524
"Empfindsam zu schreiben, dazu ist mehr nötig als Tränen und Mondschein."
"To write sentimentally you need more than tears and moonshine."
--Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
The Age of Reason and the Age of Sentimentality find their latter-day representatives in Elinor and Marianne, two sisters in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811). In this course, we will trace the development of the “cult of feeling” from its Enlightenment roots to Austen’s wry skewering. This era saw a dramatic shift in conceptions of emotions, from the external showiness of Baroque passions to the internal expressiveness of sentimentalist feelings. Despite this shift toward interiority, emotions—even in their narrative representation—continue to be inflected through performative and theatrical categories.
We will explore the theory and practice of affect in the 18th century, reading philosophers of feeling (Moses Mendelssohn, Adam Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Friedrich Schiller) and purveyors of sentiment (G.E. Lessing, Laurence Sterne, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley). How are emotions constructed in art and in moral philosophy? How do feelings manifest in bodies? Can feelings be shared? If morality has its foundation in the senses, what consequences does that have for art and for life? These and related questions are no less urgent today than they were in the 18th century. We will also read important recent scholarship in affect theory and the history of the emotions.
All readings available in translation. Discussion in English.
- George Lillo, The London Merchant (1731)
- G.E. Lessing, Miss Sara Sampson (1755)
- Moses Mendelssohn, G.E. Lessing, & F. Nicolai, Correspondence on Tragedy (1756-7)
- Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759, sel.)
- Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey (1765)
- Mary Wollstonecraft, Justification of the Rights of Woman (1792)
- Charlotte Smith & J.W. Goethe, selected lyric poetry
- Friedrich Schiller, "On Naive and Sentimental Poetry" (1795)
- Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (1811)
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)