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Sentiment and SociabilityThe Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century$
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John Mullan

Print publication date: 1990

Print ISBN-13: 9780198122524

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198122524.001.0001

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Richardson: Sentiment and the Construction of Femininity

Richardson: Sentiment and the Construction of Femininity

(p.57) 2 Richardson: Sentiment and the Construction of Femininity
Sentiment and Sociability

John Mullan

Oxford University Press

Throughout the 18th century, those who extolled Samuel Richardson's novels as paragons of their form emphasized two things: these texts inculcated virtue, and they staged exquisite scenes of feeling and distress. The relationship between these two capacities of the novels, a relationship which continually preoccupied both Richardson and his readers, distinguishes the texts ‘sentimentalism’. If Richardson's writings have become in some ways alien or inaccessible to us, one reason is that their moral didacticism and their indulgence in cameos of lachrymose emotion together invite a practice of reading now forgotten. These preoccupations of the narratives have become foreign, or even embarrassing; for Samuel Johnson and for Richardson's other supporters, however, they raised the texts above the normal level of the novel's aspirations. They lent the form a new moral and stylistic density. Women are bound together — in Richardson's extraordinary version of femininity — in sighs, in tears, in postures, and in movements instantly understood. This is his version of essential sociability.

Keywords:   Samuel Richardson, Samuel Johnson, novels, virtue, feeling, distress, sentimentalism, femininity, sociability

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