Sense and Sensibility: Ethics and Emotions in the 18th Century
Sense and Sensibility:
Ethics and Emotions in the 18th Century
German 590/ English 524
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, J.J. Rousseau, Mary Wollstonecraft) and purveyors of sentiment (G.E. Lessing, Laurence Sterne, Sophie de La Roche, J.M.R. Lenz, Hannah Foster, Jane Austen). 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.
On the first day of class, we will finalize the syllabus together and discuss a variety of assignment possibilities (including a traditional seminar paper or the organization of a conference panel) in order to determine what fits best with student interests and needs.
The following texts will certainly feature in our readings for seminar discussions:
- Moses Mendelssohn, Letters on the Sentiments (Briefe über die Empfindungen, 1755)
- G.E. Lessing, Miss Sara Sampson (1755)
- Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759, sel.)
- Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey (1765)
- Mary Wollstonecraft, Justification of the Rights of Women (1792)
- Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (1811)
This basic syllabus will be complemented by further texts focusing on a critical or generic issue in the performance of emotions (e.g., bourgeois tragedy; Sturm und Drang; interiority; gender; sexuality). Depending on the specific trajectory chosen together with students on the first day of class, we will add a couple works from (but not limited to) the following list: Lessing, Mendelssohn, Nicolai, Correspondence on Tragedy (Briefwechsel über das Trauerspiel, 1756-7); Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757); Denis Diderot, Le fils naturel (1757); J.J. Rousseau, Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761); Sophie de la Roche, Fräulein von Sternheim (1771); Goethe, lyric poems and/or The Sufferings of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werther, 1774); J.M.R. Lenz, The Tutor (Der Hofmeister, 1774) or The Hermit (Der Waldbruder, 1776); Hannah Webster Foster, The Coquette (1797); Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria: or the Wrongs of Woman (1798); Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818).
In conjunction with the primary texts, we will discuss recent scholarship in affect theory and literary studies by scholars such as Eve Sedgwick, Ruth Leys, Martha Nussbaum, and others.