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date: 04 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The Victorians were clear that emotions matter in relation to literature and art. This chapter examines that conviction in relation to debates about sentiment and sentimentalism during the period. The moral value of emotional responses to literature was contested, with opponents of sentimentalism worried that far from being a moral good, sentiment was at best self-indulgent and at worst dangerous—especially for groups considered less likely to control their emotions. The essay then turns to assess the impact of scientific and psychological theories of emotion in the latter half of the century, arguing that new ways of understanding emotion often retained elements of more traditional views. These include both issues of emotional authenticity and models of hierarchy whereby emotions must be controlled by reason and intellect. As evolutionary thinking collapsed distance between humans and other creatures, the value of aesthetic emotion was intensively debated and contested.

Keywords: emotion, sentimentalism, aesthetics, moral value, sympathy, empathy, science, psychology

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