Beyond Sense and Sensibility: Moral Formation and the Literary Imagination from Johnson to Wordsworth (Transits: Literature, Thought & Culture, 1650–1850)

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9781611486407: Beyond Sense and Sensibility: Moral Formation and the Literary Imagination from Johnson to Wordsworth (Transits: Literature, Thought & Culture, 1650–1850)

During the last half of the eighteenth century, sensibility and its less celebrated corollary sense were subject to constant variation, critique, and contestation in ways that raise profound questions about the formation of moral identities and communities. Beyond Sense and Sensibility addresses those questions. What authority does reason retain as a moral faculty in an age of sensibility? How reliable or desirable is feeling as a moral guide or a test of character? How does such a focus contribute to moral isolation and elitism or, conversely, social connectedness and inclusion? How can we distinguish between that connectedness and a disciplinary socialization? How do insensible processes contribute to our moral formation and action? What alternatives lie beyond the anthropomorphism implied by sense and sensibility?

Drawing extensively on philosophical thought from the eighteenth century as well as conceptual frameworks developed in the twenty-first century, this volume of essays examines moral formation represented in or implicitly produced by a range of texts, including Boswell’s literary criticism, Fergusson’s poetry, Burney’s novels, Doddridge’s biography, Smollett’s novels, Charlotte Smith’s children’s books, Johnson’s essays, Gibbon’s history, and Wordsworth’s poetry. The distinctive conceptual and textual breadth of Beyond Sense and Sensibility yields a rich reassessment and augmentation of the two perspectives summarized by the terms sense and sensibility in later eighteenth-century Britain.

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About the Author:

Peggy Thompson is Ellen Douglass Leyburn Professor of English at Agnes Scott College.

Review:

The nine essays published here are presented as a Festschrift for the great bibliographer and Smollett scholar O. M. Brack . . . The essays themselves range widely in subject: Adam Rounce explores James Boswell’s distancing of himself from the less sentimental Dr. Johnson, who (as Mrs. Thrase said) always 'hated a feeler'; Heather King traces Frances Burney’s persistent argument that the same 'sensibility' that makes female suffering morally educative to men takes a terrible toll on women themselves. Perhaps the best essays in the collection come in the last section, 'Reframing the Question': the editor’s own discussion of Johnson’s fear of nonrational 'habit' and James Noggle on the curious fondness during the 'age of sensibility' for the word insensibly (most of all in Gibbon) . . . Every essay in it [the collection] is clear, thoughtful, interesting, and informative. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above. (CHOICE)

Drawing on philosophical thought from the eighteenth century as well as conceptual frameworks developed in the twenty-first century, the essays in Beyond Sense and Sensibility examine moral formation as represented in or implicitly produced by literary works of later eighteenth-century British authors including Boswell, Fergusson, Burney, Doddridge, Smollett, Charlotte Smith, Johnson, Gibbon, and Wordsworth.

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