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Performance, Embodiment, and Nervous Sympathy in Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington

Bundock, Christopher (2021) 'Performance, Embodiment, and Nervous Sympathy in Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington.' ELH: English Literary History, 88 (2). pp. 497-524. ISSN 0013-8304

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In eighteenth-century moral philosophy sympathy underwrites sociality by ascribing authentic reality to others. Critics have discussed how this sympathy can, however, backfire by misleading reason. It might also intensify into invasive obsession. What remains understudied, though, is sympathy’s physiological dimension. Physicians in the period posit a form of nervous communication that operates intra- and intersubjectively, bypassing consciousness and—problematically—moral will. Maria Edgeworth’s novel Harrington (1817) brings these different forms of sympathy into productive conflict. Her story of a reformed anti-Semite turns on modes of nervous imagination (or affect) that fail to align with emotion. Hence, affects such as anxiety and disgust generate (and haunt) love and desire. Sensibility in the novel becomes “morbid”: instead of resolving questions of identity and reality, excessive, embodied feeling sponsors a play of simulation woven together at the level of nervous anatomy.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: sympathy; performance; antisemitism; affect
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities
Faculty of Humanities > Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, Department of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2020 16:12
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2022 16:46

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