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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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(p.1) Introduction
Sentiment and Sociability

John Mullan

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on three very different writers whose works all chronicle peculiarly intimate relationships between the texts they produced and the social lives for which they also became known: David Hume, Samuel Richardson, and Laurence Sterne. From the perspective of sentimentalism, all were committed to the resources of a language of feeling for the purpose of representing necessary social bonds; all discovered in their writings a sociability which was dependent upon the communication of passions and sentiments. It is this discovery which was formative of that fashion of 18th-century fiction now called ‘sentimental’. For these authors, the conception of harmonious sociability was dramatized not only in the books they produced, but also in their self-conscious efforts actually to live out models of social being. A biography of any of them records the attempt to make exemplary a social life. It might seem a trivial occupation, as the novelistic vogue of sentiment can appear a facile indulgence; both, however, are historically significant, bespeaking the difficulty which a polite culture was having in imagining the nature of social relations.

Keywords:   David Hume, Samuel Richardson, Laurence Sterne, sentimentalism, 18th-century fiction, sentiment, sociability, social bonds, social relations

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