Romantic Sensibility

Romantic Sensibility

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In life as well as literature, some sought to display their sensibility by weeping and fainting and blushing and reacting extravagantly to scenes of poverty or illness. Sensibility was understood as a capacity intimately connected with the physical nature of nerves. Essential to its existence was its operation on the body as well as the mind. Thus a propensity to blush and weep might be taken as evidence that the weepers, full of sensibility, loved their neighbours as themselves. (Spacks 141)

During the Romantic period, the Sensibility movement began: as a result, the "conduct of private affections, charity, education, sympathy, genius, honour, and even the use of reason…became political statements" (Jones 13). Romantic Sensibility essentially moralized the enactment of sensitivity towards others (Spacks 127), arguing that empathetically-based relationships bring individuals together to form a unified, respectful, and moral social sphere. Key characteristics of the movement's literary adaptation include "anti-rationalism, a focus on emotional response and somatized reactions (tears, swoons, deathly pallor), a prevailing mood of melancholy, fragmentation of form, and set-piece scenes of virtue in distress" (Manning 81). The relationship between the novel of Romantic Sensibility and the Gothic novel is worth further academic inquiry as, similar to the genre of the Gothic, there is often a tendency in novels of Romantic Sensibility to "play with excess and arousal (with all the connotations of uncontrollable sexual excitation implied)" (Manning 90).

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Works Cited:
Jones, Chris. Radical Sensibility: Literature and ideas in the 1790s. London: Routledge, 1993.
Manning, Susan. "Sensibility." The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1740-1830. Eds. Thomas Keymer and Jon Mee. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Spacks, Patricia Meyer. Novel Beginnings: Experiments in Eighteenth-Century English Fiction. London: Yale University Press, 2006.
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