Semblances of Affect in the Early English Novel: Narrating Intensity

  • Joel P. Sodano
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Affect Theory and Literary Criticism book series (PSATLC)


This chapter re-reads the rise of the novel by discerning resonances of contemporary affect theory within eighteenth-century discourses of sensibility. Such resonances, the chapter argues, indicate a need to renegotiate the early novel’s relationship to both empiricist epistemology and the formal realism that is supposed to be its aesthetic doppelganger. Close readings of Richardson’s Pamela (1740) and Austen’s Emma (1813) exemplify early attempts to articulate the virtuality of emotional experience in the present tense and provide a critical lens for interpreting key features of the novel’s aesthetic: epistolary narration and free indirect discourse. In this way affect functions not only as the thematic focus of sentimental fiction but also as a theoretical problematic that catalyzed formal developments of the novel genre.


  1. Ahern, Stephen. 2007. Affected Sensibilities: Romantic Excess and the Genealogy of the Novel, 1680–1810. New York: AMS Press.Google Scholar
  2. ———. 2017. Nothing More Than Feelings? Affect Theory Reads the Age of Sensibility. The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 58 (3): 281–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armstrong, Nancy, and Leonard Tennenhouse. 2006. A Mind for Passion: Locke and Hutcheson on Desire. In Politics and the Passions: 1500–1850, ed. Victoria Kahn, Neil Saccamano, and Daniela Coli, 131–150. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Austen, Jane. 1813 [2005]. Emma. Ed. Richard Cronin and Dorothy McMillan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Behn, Aphra. 1992. On Desire. The Works of Aphra Behn, vol. 1, Poetry, ed. Janet Todd. London: William Pickering, 281–284.Google Scholar
  6. Berlant, Lauren Gail. 2008. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. de Man, Paul. 1986. The Resistance to Theory. In The Resistance to Theory, 3–20. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  8. Deleuze, Gilles. 1953 [1990]. Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. Trans. Constantin V. Boundas. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  9. ———. 1969 [1990]. The Logic of Sense. Trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. London: Athlone Press.Google Scholar
  10. Dixon, Thomas. 2003. From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. ———. 2012. ‘Emotion’: The History of a Keyword in Crisis. Emotion Review 4 (4): 338–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Doody, Margaret. 1976. A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. ———. 1985. Saying ‘No,’ Saying ‘Yes’: The Novels of Samuel Richardson. In The First English Novelists: Essays in Understanding, ed. J.M. Armistead, 67–108. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.Google Scholar
  14. Grossberg, Lawrence. 2010. Affect’s Future: Rediscovering the Virtual in the Actual. Interview with Gregory J. Seigworth and Melissa Gregg, 309–338. In The Affect Theory Reader, ed. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kames, Henry Home, Lord. 1762 [2005]. Elements of Criticism. Ed. Peter Jones. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
  16. Keiser, Jess. 2017. ‘The Passion for the New’ in Anniversary Roundtable: The New Eighteenth Century at Thirty. Eighteenth-Century Studies 50 (3): 337–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Maoli, Roger. 2016. Empiricism and the Early Theory of the Novel: Fielding to Austen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Massumi, Brian. 1995. The Autonomy of Affect. Cultural Critique 31: 83–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. ———. 2002. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  20. ———. 2011. Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  21. McKenzie, Alan. 1990. Certain, Lively Episodes: The Articulation of Passion in Eighteenth-Century Prose. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar
  22. McKeon, Michael. 1987. The Origins of the English Novel, 1600–1740. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Noggle, James. 2015. Unfelt Affect. In Beyond Sense and Sensibility: Moral Formation and the Literary Imagination from Johnson to Wordsworth, ed. Peggy Thompson, 125–144. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Nussbaum, Martha C. 1990. Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Nussbaum, Felicity, and Laura Brown. 1987. The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature. New York: Methuen.Google Scholar
  26. Pinch, Adela. 1996. Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Richardson, Rebecca. 2014. Dramatizing Intimacy: Confessions and Free Indirect Discourse in Sense and Sensibility. English Literary History 81 (1): 225–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Richardson, Samuel. 1740 [2011]. Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded. Volume 2 of The Cambridge Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Albert J. Rivero. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Rowner, Ilai. 2015. The Event: Literature and Theory. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Seager, Nicholas. 2012. The Rise of the Novel: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sill, Geoffrey. 2001. The Cure of the Passions and the Origins of the English Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Watt, Ian. 1957. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel P. Sodano
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishKeele UniversityStoke-on-TrentUK

Personalised recommendations