The Social Passions: Benevolence and Sentimentality

  • R. S. White


An unexpected bridge linking philosophy, politics and romantic literature is the body of eighteenth-century works known to literary historians as ‘sentimental’. Indeed, it is hard to underestimate the importance of sentimentality in its eighteenth-century literary guise for the rise of romanticism, although the links relating to natural rights have not often been drawn. It is equally important to acknowledge that at least one strand of sentimentality had a strong connection with a general political stance, what G. J. Barker-Benfield calls ‘A Culture of Reform’, associated particularly with the articulation of women’s consciousness.2 Because the 1790s did not occur in an historical vacuum, this chapter looks backwards to the eighteenth century and forwards to the younger romantics, tracing the changes which increasing consciousness of reform under the pressure of a demand for natural rights, made to the genre.


Eighteenth Century Invisible Hand French Revolution Moral Sentiment Woman Writer 
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© R. S. White 2005

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