Dr. Pennington 3 credits
What happens when we read Jane Eyre’s impassioned cry, “Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt!” Do we extend our sympathy and compassion to Jane, as she seems to be offering hers to us? And what makes such narrative attempts at shared feeling so striking? This semester we will try to answer these and other questions as we explore the pervasiveness and diversity of such gestures of sympathy in the novels of the British nineteenth century. In this class, we’ll explore the themes and structures of sympathy that preoccupied our selected authors and their audiences, paying close attention to the social and historical conditions and technological transformations that characterized the nineteenth century. As we read novels by Austen, C. Brontë, Gaskell, Eliot, and Hardy, we will ask what it means to cultivate sympathy through fiction; we’ll explore how and why authors attempted to do so; we’ll ask what the features of and limits to fellow feeling might be. Perhaps most importantly, we’ll try to articulate what these novels suggest about the potential ethical impact of literary narratives on the real world.
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