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"Sentimentalism and Pornography: Two 18th Century Genres as Discursive Models of
Gender Identity"

PD Dr. Franz Meier
(TU Braunschweig)

The 18th century is still widely associated with an ill-conceived identification of enlightenment with a monopoly of reason. This chiché of cultual history can hardly be reconciled with the fact that the very period saw the birth of two cultural phenomena which, despite their obvious antagonisms, converge in their common opposition to rationalism: pornography and the cult of sensibility.

The rise of both phenomena is, in England at least, closely linked to that of the realist novel, which in turn (as Ian Watt has famously shown) is intricately related to the development of subjectivism, individualsm and the formation of a middle class identity. In literary terms this connection manifests itself in the alsmost simultaneous birth of two narrative sub-genres, the sentimental and the pornoraphic novel, prototypes of which are Richardsons Pamela (1740) (later on also Sternes Sentimental Journey [1768] and Mackenzies Man of Feeling [1771]) on the one hand, and Clelands Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill) (1749)* (as well as, later on in France, the writings of the Marquis de Sade) on the other.

In the light of such convergences (and of the fact that even Richardson’s contemporaries recognized Pamela’s pornographic subtexts) it is surprising, that academic scholarship, despite its avid treatment of the pornographic and the sentimental novel in isolation, hardly ever tackles the question of their interconnection.**

The project here described will try to fill this gap with special focus on the aspect of gender identities. Its theoretical scope will combine gender studies with reader response criticism while generally subscribing to the larger framework of new historicism. The primary interest will be in representations of femininity and masculinity in the respective genres and on the discursive functions of these representations in their cultural and historical context. Furthermore, questions will be raised as to the roles theses genres play in the formation and construction of gender identities in contemporary readers. In this context, as far as possible, empirical investigations will compare historical reader behaviour in men and women.

More stress, however, will be laid on the semiotic possibilities of the literary texts themselves, their offers to readers in terms of gendered identification and identity constructions. One of the working hypotheses of this project is that the seemingly obvious difference between sensibility and pornography hides a deep-seated similarity with respect to their semiotic structures and their cultural effects. These similarities in turn suggest a further one that concerns the function of both genres for the construction of gender identites.
* Cf. also the almost simultaneously published French novel Thérèse Philosophe of 1748 (ascribed to Jean-Baptiste Boyer d'Argens).
**Most scholarship in the field concentrates on  the works of the Marquis de Sade and their subversive relation to the sentimental novel. Cf. e.g. R. F. Brissenden, Virtue in Distress: Studies in the Novel of Sentiment from Richardson to Sade (London: Macmillan, 1974); or more recently Katherine Astbury, “The Marquis de Sade and the Sentimental Tale: Les Crimes de l’amour as a Subversion of Sensibility,“ Australian Journal of French Studies 39.1 (2002): 47-59.


0 Entries found.



PD Dr. Franz Meier (* 1958)

Studied English and German at the University of Regensburg.

PhD in 1990 with a thesis on the early poetry of W. C. Williams (Die frühe Ding-Lyrik William Carlos Williams’: Genese und Poetologie. Frankfurt/M.: Peter Lang, 1991).

Habilitation in 1997 with a thesis on sexuality and death in English literature and culture (Sexualität und Tod: Eine Themenverknüpfung in der englischen Schauer- und Sensationsliteratur und ihrem sozio-kulturellen Kontext, 1764–1897. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 2002).

Taught English Literature and Culture at the University of Regensburg, University of Cedar Falls, IA (U.S.A.), Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University at Frankfurt/Main and Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich.

Currently holds the position of professor of English and American Literature and Culture at the University of Braunschweig.

Numerous Publications in various fields ranging from 19th century gothic fiction to modernist poetry, from gender studies to intermediality and popular culture.


42 Entries found.

    Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. Oxford: UP, 1987
    Barker-Benfield, G. J. The Culture of Sensiblity: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992
    Benedict, Barbara M. Framing Feeling: Sentiment and Style in English Prose Fiction 1745-1800. New York: AMS, 1994
    Bredvold, Louis I. The Natural History of Sensibility. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1962
    Brewer, John. The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century. London: HarperCollins, 1997
    Brissenden, R. F. Virtue in Distress: Studies in the Novel of Sentiment from Richardson to Sade. London: Macmillan, 1974
    Conger, Sydney McMillen (Ed.). Sensibility in Transformation: Creative Resistance to Sentiment from the Augustans to the Romantics: Essays in Honor of Jean H. Hagstrum. London: Associated University Press, 1990
    Dwyer, John. Virtuous Discourse: Sensibility and Community in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1987
    Ellis, Markman. The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel. Cambridge: UP, 1996
    Erämetsä, E. "A Study of the Word ‘Sentimental’ and of Other Linguistic Characteristics of Eighteenth-Century Sentimentalism in England. Suomalaisen Tiedeakatemian Toimituskia [=Annales Academiae Scientarum Fennicae]. Helsinki, Tom. 74.1, 1951
    Goldberg, Rita. Sex and Enlightenment: Women in Richardson and Diderot. Cambridge: UP, 1984
    Hagstrum, Jean Howard. Sex and Sensibility: Ideal and Erotic Love from Milton to Mozart. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980
    Harvey, Karen. Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture. Cambridge: UP, 2004
    Hilles, Frederick Whiley, and Harold Bloom (Eds.). From Sensibility to Romanticism. New York: Oxford UP, 1965
    Johnson, Claudia L. Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s: Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995
    Jones, Chris. Radical Sensibility: Literature and ldeas in the 1790s. London: Routedge, 1993
    Jones, Vivien (Ed.). Women and Literature in Britain, 1700-1800. Cambridge: UP, 2000
    Jones, Vivien (Ed.). Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity. London: Routledge, 1990
    Markley, Robert. "Sentimentality as Performance: Shaftesbury, Sternel and the Theatrics of Virtue". The New Eighteenth Century, Theory, Politics,English Literature. Ed(s). Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown. New York: Methuen, 1987. 210-230.
    McGann, Jerome. The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style. Oxford: Clarendon, 1998
    Mullan, John. Sentiment and Socialbility: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988
    Nünning, Vera. "Die Kultur der Empfindsamkeit: Eine mentalitätsgeschichtliche Skizze". Eine andere Geschichte der englischen Literatur: Epochen, Gattungen und Teilgebiete im Überblick. Ed(s). Ansgar Nünning. Trier: wvt, 1998. 107-126.
    Porter, Roy. Pleasure in the Eighteenth Century. London: Macmillan, 1996
    Rawson, Claude J. Satire and Sentiment, 1660-1830. Cambridge: UP, 1994
    Roberts, T. A. The Concept of Benevolence: Aspects of Eighteenth-Century Moral Philosophy. London: Macmillan, 1973
    Rousseau, George S. (Ed.). The Languages of Psyche: Mind and Body in Enlightenment Thought. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990
    Todd, Janet. Sensibility: An Introduction. London: Methuen, 1986
    Van Sant, Ann Jessie. Eighteenth Century Sensibility and the Novel: The Senses in Social Context. Cambridge: UP, 1993
    Wegmann, Nikolaus. Diskurse der Empfindsamkeit: Zur Geschichte eines Gefühls in der Literatur des 18. Jahrhunderts. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1988
    Meier, Franz. "Sexualität und Tod: Eine Themenverknüpfung in der englischen Schauer- und Sensationsliteratur und ihrem soziokulturellen Kontext (1764-1897)". Buchreihe der Anglia. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 2002. 36
Journal Articles
    Castle, Terry J. "P/B: Pamela as Sexual Fiction". Studies in English Literature, 22 (1982). 469-89.
    Fiering, Norman S. "Irresistible Compassion: An Aspect of Eighteenth-Century Sympathy and Humanitarianism". Journal of the History of ldeas, 37 (1976). 195-218.
    Frye, Northrop. "Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility. English Literary History, 23 (1956). 144-152.
    Halttunen, Karen. "Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture. American Historical Review, 100.2 (1995). 303-334.
    Hansen, Klaus P. "Neue Literatur zur Empfindsamkeit. Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte, 64 (1990). 514-528.
    Maurer, Shawn Lisa. "The Female (as) ReaderSex, Sensibility, and the Maternal in Wollstonecraft's Fictions. Essays in Literature, 19 (Spring 1992). 36-54.
    Spacks, Patricia Meyer. "Oscillations of Sensibility. New Literary History, 25.3 (1994). 505-520.
    Wolf, Werner. "Schauerroman und Empfindsamkeit: Zur Beziehung zwischen Gothic novel und empfindsamem Roman in England". Anglia, 107 (1989). Jan 33.
    Wright, Walter Francis. "Sensibility in English Prose Fiction, 1760-1814. Illinois Studies in Language and Literature: A Reinterpretation. Urbana/IL: U of Illinois P, 22.03.2004, 1937
Book Articles
    Friedman, Arthur. "Aspects of Sentimentalism in Eighteenth-Century Literature. The Augustan Milieu: Essays Presented to Louis A. Landa. Ed(s). Henry Knight Miller. Oxford: Eric Rothstein and George S. Rousseau, 1970. 247-261.
    Rousseau, George S. (Ed.). "Nerves, Spirits, and Fibres: Towards Defining the Origins of Sensibility". Studies in the Eighteenth-Century III: Papers Presented at the Third David Nichol Smith Memorial Seminar. Ed(s). R. F. Brissenden and John C. Eade. Canberra: Australian National UP, 1976. 137-158.
    Meier, Franz. "(Pro-)Creation and Social Bonding: Conflicting Sexualities in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein". Alternative Romanticisms: Proceedings of the Gimma Conference 2001. Hgg. Werner Huber und Marie-Luise Egbert. Studien zur Englischen Romantik!. Essen: Die Blaue Eule, 2003. 123-36.

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