19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, No 4 (2007)

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Feeling Dickensian Feeling

Emma Mason


‘Feeling Dickensian feeling' asks why modern literary criticism, notably that inflected by new historicism, is so intent on stripping sentimentalism of its sentimental feeling. The essay suggests that the reader encounters experiential problems when feelings are separated from critical practice and also outlines the specific issues at stake when critics translate immaterial subjects, like feeling or belief, into external, material events. Thus Dickensian sentiment is often critically analysed for its historical content despite the emotional pleasure many readers purport to enjoy in experiencing its expression. I suggest that Dickens's ‘A Christmas Carol' (1842) embodies some of these tensions by presenting Ebenezer Scrooge as a cautionary figure who begins by quantifying the world and ends by feeling it. I also build on modernity's aversion to feeling through the work of Wendy Wheeler and Teresa Brennan to forward a model of reading for feeling. This model, I argue, works through a sense-based form of close reading that privileges specificity and particularity in the reading process, both of words and sentences but also of readers' responses.

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