Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Wednesday, September 02, 2020 12:33 am by M. in ,    No comments
A recent scholar book with Brontë-related content:
Vicarious Narratives: A Literary History of Sympathy, 1750-1850
Jeanne M. Britton
Oxford University Press
October 2019
ISBN-13: 9780198846697

In 1759, Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments defines sympathy as a series of shifts in perspective by which one sees from a different point of view. British and French novels published over the following century redefine sympathy through narrative form—shifting perspectives or “stories within stories” in which one character adopts the voice and perspective of another. Fiction follows Smith’s emphasis on sympathy’s shifting perspectives, but this formal echo coincides with a challenge. For Smith and other Enlightenment philosophers, the experience of sympathy relies on human resemblance. In novels, by contrast, characters who are separated by nationality, race, or species experience a version of sympathy that struggles to accommodate such differences. Encounters between these characters produce shifts in perspective or framed tales as one character sympathizes with another and begins to tell his story, echoing Smith’s definition of sympathy in their form while challenging Enlightenment philosophy’s insistence on human resemblance. Works of sentimental and gothic fiction published between 1750 and 1850 generate a novelistic version of sympathy by manipulating traditional narrative forms (epistolary fiction, embedded tales) and new publication practices (the anthology, the novelistic extract). Second-hand stories transform the vocal mobility, emotional immediacy, and multiple perspectives associated with the declining genre of epistolary fiction into the narrative levels and shifting speakers of nineteenth-century frame tales. Vicarious Narratives argues that fiction redefines sympathy as the struggle to overcome difference through the active engagement with narrative—by listening to, retelling, and transcribing the stories of others.
The book includes the chapter:
Wuthering Heights and the Relics of the Epistolary Novel

This chapter argues that a novelistic version of sympathy negotiates transitions between oral, written, and printed texts in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. The mode of vicarious narration that earlier chapters locate in the decline of epistolary fiction culminates in a logic of epistolarity that justifies this novel’s narrative form. Brontë’s novel also transforms Enlightenment conceptions of sympathy through the shared identity between Heathcliff and Catherine, which returns to the extremes of familial proximity and racial difference that trouble Enlightenment notions of sympathy: Heathcliff could just as easily be Catherine’s brother or a racial “other.” After explaining that she has “watched and felt” Heathcliff’s sorrows, Catherine declares “I am Heathcliff.” This assertion suggests an assimilation of radical otherness or a complete mirroring of the self in the familial other, as if to annihilate, through the experience of shared suffering, the boundary that separates sibling from stranger.

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