Shame and Sensibility: Jane Austen's humiliated heroines.
"OUGHT SENSIBILITY TO BE CHERISHED OR REPRESSED?" THIS QUESTION, starkly framed as the title of an October 1796 Monthly Magazine article, reflects a widespread sense at the end of the eighteenth century that the cult of sensibility was becoming increasingly embarrassing, even shameful. "There was a time," the unsigned article declares, "when sensibility was taken under the patronage of that powerful arbiter of manners--fashion. Then, height of breeding was measured by delicacy of feeling, and no fine lady, or gentleman, was ashamed to be seen sighing over a pathetic story, or weeping at a deep-wrought tragedy." (1) Wielding shame against an excessive "degree of softness, that soon became ridiculous," the article echoes the moves of even novelists like Ann Radcliffe, who, though she might seem to have an irrepressible flair for emotional indulgence, also pits shame against sensibility. (2) In a speech on the "dangers of sensibility" in The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), a wise father warns his daughter, who is about to embark on sensational gothic adventures, "Sentiment is a disgrace, instead of an ornament, unless it lead us to good actions." (3) According to this cautionary lecture, sensibility's potential disgrace stems from its "dangerous quality, which is continually extracting the excess of misery, or delight, from every surrounding circumstance" so that "we become the victim of our feelings, unless we can in some degree command them." (4) Yet such a warning is significantly tempered by the equally pressing need to avoid callous overcorrection: "I would not teach you to become insensible, if I could; I would only warn you of the evils of susceptibility, and point out how you may avoid them." (5) The Monthly Magazine similarly brandishes shame against both sensibility's "ridiculous" excesses and the "contrary extreme of affected insensibility," a "freezing air of indifference" constituting "a rude and vulgar kind of stoicism, of which Zeno would have been ashamed." (6) Affective indulgence or "affected insensibility"--either, it would seem, invariably leads to shame.
Such was the general mood as Jane Austen drafted early versions of Northanger Abbey (begun in 1798, posthumously published in 1818) and other of her major works. Faced with the perilous extremes of a sensibility culturally degraded as feminized irrationality and passive susceptibility, and an insensibility cast as frigid and austere, Austen also engages shame. She invokes shame, however, not just to broach but to reframe the question of whether sensibility "[o]ught ... to be cherished or repressed." Across her novels, Austen fashions shame as a valuable mediator between sentimental absorption and what she terms, in Northanger Abbey, "affected indifference." (7) Rather than repress or disavow sensibility in order to avoid its shame, Austen revises the emotional intensities and investments of sensibility through shame, and especially through innovative novelistic displays of shame. In tracing the revisionary, mediating role of shame in the frequent spectacle of Austen's humiliated heroines, my aim is to show how shame functioned as an increasingly important alternative to sensibility in shaping the novel's shifting cultural status and form. And although Austen confronts a historically specific formulation of repressive shame as it comes into contact with sensibility, by reading shame's productive role in Austen's negotiations of sensibility I further intend to challenge a common equation of shame and repression in current critical approaches to Austen's work. Finally, I want to suggest that Austen's use of shame to navigate past conceptions of emotional engagement can help us continue to rethink the divide, more generally, between critical detachment and emotional absorption--and, more specifically, between seemingly critical and uncritical reading practices--by providing one possible affective stance for enhanced literary interpretation that crosses and complicates that divide.
Before considering the shameful attachments of some of Austen's more notable humiliated heroines, it is useful to cast a glance at one who might easily be overlooked, but who illuminates the contours and stakes of shame in Austen's work. She appears in a passage that has garnered much notice: Austen's defense of the novel in the fifth chapter of Northanger Abbey? Embedded at the heart of this defense is a tableau of shame that positions the humiliated young woman as a novel reader, one whose affective posture has a significant place in the history of the novel. For in shame, Austen faces an emotion persistently yoked with sensibility, but also the novel, an emerging genre often dismissed as excessively feminine, emotional, and commercial. It is not surprising, then, that she explicitly addresses shame in her defense of the novel; perhaps more unexpected is that her defense itself employs shame. Austen's narrator begins this defense with a seemingly firm disavowal of shame, refusing to participate in injurious shaming practices directed at novel writers and readers: "I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding" (22). As the defense of the novel continues, however, Austen stages her own alternative scene of shame. Within the "common cant" of readers "decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist" ("I am no novel reader--I seldom look into novels--Do not imagine that I often read novels--It is really very well for a novel") she focuses on a specific female reader (22). Imagining this reader confronted with the aggressive question "And what are you reading, Miss--?" Austen ventriloquizes, through the "young lady," a reply that gives way to the narrator's own adamant praise of the novel form:
"Oh, it is only a novel!" replies the young lady; while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame.--"It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda"; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language. (22-23)
Here Austen gestures at a shame very different from "degrading" or "contemptuous censure," positioning "momentary shame" as a promising alternative to firm repudiation for a woman caught in the act of absorbed reading, who thus "lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame." One alternative to emotional absorption--"affected indifference"--implies that the posture of indifference to an enthralling novel must be a false pose. Another alternative to absorption--"momentary shame"--sits as a possible renaming of "affected indifference," but is syntactically positioned more as a hinge between "affected indifference" and enthusiastic praise of novels like Cecilia, Camilla, or Belinda. "[M]omentary shame" appears to facilitate a movement between critical distance and impassioned investment, while constituting a movement away from the "contemptuous" shaming that would seek to put the novelist and novel reader in their place. These affective possibilities take shape in a formal movement between the quoted voice of a reading heroine and that of a narrator speaking as a novelist and also exposing herself as a reader--one who appears to have lovingly, closely, yet also critically read not just Frances Burney and Maria Edgeworth but numerous gothic and sentimental novelists.
This brief scene of shameful reading offers a suggestive precis of shame's place in Austen's oeuvre, as well as the complex effects of voice she develops to tease out shame's productive dimensions. Austen introduces a heroine--a "young lady"--who might negotiate the extremes of overwhelming absorption and "affected indifference" through "momentary shame," and this negotiation of sensibility's extremes is vivified by Austen's formal experimentation with a structure of variously condemning and absolving voices that keep shame present but in play. The scene thus condenses the fraught cultural status of the novel that gives such a form of shame particular immediacy for Austen. For as the story of Catherine Morland that envelops this tableau makes especially clear, the young woman surprised and shamed out of absorbed reading is likely caught up in a gothic novel, and ensnared more broadly in the crisis of sensibility often focused on the genre of the novel, which was widely feared to be seducing its feminized readers into sensibility's over-identifications, emotional extravagances, irrationality, and susceptibility. Throughout Northanger Abbey, as in its defense of the novel, the momentary shame of the "young lady" is explicitly that of a novel reader, and is also linked to that of the novelist. Austen's "young lady" can look up from her book in shame without disdainfully flinging it away, while the narrator-novelist, it appears, can achieve some critical distance from the perceived emotional excesses of the novel--and particularly the gothic and sentimental novel--yet without breaking all emotional ties to the genre.
In her other works, Austen pursues her interest in a "young lady" poised between overwhelming absorption and "affected indifference," continuing to evoke and more subtly signal the heroine's affective possibilities as representative of those of the novelist and novel reader and experimenting with the mediating function and formal features of "momentary shame" that arise in Northanger Abbeys defense of the novel. In what follows, I will turn first to Catherine Morland, then to Austen's perhaps most famous humiliated heroine, Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet, encountering each heroine in scenes of shame that are also--as is often the case in Austen--scenes of reading. Such scenes, I argue, reveal how the Austen heroine who is consistently mortified but also insistently reading enacts less a repressive than a revisionary readerly stance, a shame-infused stance that blends affective investment and critical distance while resisting too comfortably settling into either approach. Considered in this light, Austen's work helps to establish a central role for shame, as much as sensibility, in the development of the British novel--a role that, to the extent that emotional immersion in a text continues to be culturally constructed as somehow shameful, addresses ongoing questions about the possibilities for impassioned critical insights in our contemporary interpretive practices.
"Most Grievously Was She Humbled": Northanger Abbey
The persistent spectacle of the humiliated heroine has troubled Jane Austen scholarship. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick suggestively articulates part of this trouble, though she does not frame it in relation to shame specifically, when she points out the prevalence of the Austenian spectacle of the "Girl Being Taught a Lesson." Sedgwick locates the challenges posed by this spectacle partially in the texts themselves--in "the chains of reader relations constructed by the punishing, girl-centered moral pedagogy and erotics of Austen's novels"--but much more so in the relations that readers have tended to impose on their encounter with the spectacle when accessing it through limiting conceptual frameworks shaped by the repressive hypothesis. (8) Sedgwick sees the limitations of the repressive hypothesis in the eager critical insistence that heroines must repress certain qualities and desires to access mature subjectivity, but also in the "avowedly an ("repressive" readings that replace the heroine with Austen herself as the "girl" being taught a lesson about her own repression--readings that depend on "the forcible exaction from her manifest text of what can only be the barest confession of a self-pleasuring sexuality." (9)
When critics have specifically addressed the role of shame in the spectacle of the "Girl Being Taught a Lesson," they have found it particularly hard to see something other than repression. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar take the influential stance of reading a pattern of Austen's heroines being "mortified, humiliated, even bullied into sense" as the "necessary accompaniment of the surrender of self-responsibility and definition." (10) Austen's shame can only be salvaged, for Gilbert and Gubar, by unearthing an entirely different emotion: a "subversive strain," lurking beneath this "cover story," in Austen's "representations of a series of extremely powerful women each of whom acts out the rebellious anger so successfully repressed by the heroine and the author." (11) Other readers refuse to salvage a "cover story" of shame, making it the story. Marilyn Butler, for example, rests much of her assertion of Austen's conservatism on her two plots: on the one hand, the plot of "the Heroine who is Right, [who] acts as a spokesman for conservative orthodoxy"; on the other, that of "the Heroine who is Wrong," and is righted through "self-discovery and self-abasement" in "the typical moment of eclaircissement towards which all the Austen action tends, the moment when a key character abandons her error and humbly submits to objective reality." (12) Susan Fraiman indicts shameful submission with similar vigor, focusing on the humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet as a disempowering castration that forces her to "largely relinquish" her "intellectual confidence and authority." (13) In such characterizations, the narrator, in league with the reader, often mercilessly exposes the heroine as a sight of overwhelming shame.
We can rethink the problem of Austen's humiliated heroine, however, if we consider the pleasurable dimensions of shame that appear across Austen's work. Austen's eroticized dynamic of shame brings the positions of fixated, shaming viewer and self-absorbed spectacle into the inferiority of one character--the heroine herself. For Austen's heroine is often both the creator of and primary audience for the hyperbolic spectacle of her own previous emotional absorption. This spectacle of absorption finds its counterpart in another, concurrent spectacle that the heroine emphasizes and seems to relish: that of her searing shame over her previous naivete. The points of identification for the reader are thus not cleanly split between a detached, punishing viewer and shameful spectacle, but collapsed into the subjectivity of a single character who appears simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by her various selves.
This private spectacle of shame departs from, yet recalls, the somatic displays of embarrassment on which Mary Ann O'Farrell focuses in her account of the blush in Pride and Prejudice. In emphasizing the blush, O'Farrell usefully illuminates the novel's "erotics of mortification" that is especially an erotics of the body on social display. (14) I find a complementary but variant strand of shame in those passages in Austen in which a heroine-reader is alone with her own shame that is palpably but very privately on display within the confines of her imagination. Such spectacles of shame thrive on an autoerotics of shameful interiority, one involving a configuration of simultaneous privacy and exposure especially akin to the novel reader's own proximities to shame. (15)
In the recurring humiliations of Catherine Morland, which culminate in her "awaken[ing]" through "humbl[ing]," we can see how shame offers Austen a way to stage an eroticized revision--rather than mere repression--of past errors and indulgences within her heroine's interiority as she undergoes an emotional education (136). And this internal drama of shame is also self-consciously staged as a way for novel writers and readers to reanimate their literary investments without requiring a complete affective break from the feminized literary tradition of the novel, steeped in seemingly overwhelming sensibility and intractable shame. For Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine Morland's love affair with Henry Tilney, but also with the gothic novel. Catherine thus opens herself up to the "contemptuous censure" and "degradation]" that, Austen warns, confronts any devotee of the novel, and is only exacerbated by her proclivity for those in the sentimental vein (22). The fear that "gothic novels were the unlicensed indulgence of an amoral imagination" contributed to their "significant part in late eighteenth-century debates over the moral dangers of reading." (16) As a gothic enthusiast, Catherine evokes such concerns about the gothic mode, but her heart lies with Radcliffe, especially The Mysteries of Udolpho--a book that Patricia Meyer Spacks notes "can plausibly be called either Gothic novel or novel of sensibility" and that serves as Janet Todd's example of "sentimental novelists claim[ing] not to be writing sentimental novels" when the novel became the brunt of "contemporary abuse of sensibility" in the 1780s and 1790s. (17) Without collapsing gothic fiction, sentimental fiction, and sensibility more generally, then, I approach Catherine's reading habits as a means for Austen to interrogate continuities between these modes, especially as modes of emotional intensification that threaten overwhelming immersion and identification. Indeed, Catherine's fixation on the lurid remains of women's suffering--on the prospect of "Laurentina's skeleton" behind "the dreadful black veil!" or "some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun" (26, 96)--locates her investments in a particular site of affective incitement--the woman in distress-that critics, recently, have also posited as a potent link between the gothic and sentimental modes. (18) While Catherine's reading often threatens an encroaching absorption into unreflective over-identification, it also constantly confronts shame, and through such shaming Austen conceives a heroine whose brushes with humiliation create new pleasures, rather than merely limiting the heroine's desire, or the reader's engagement, to the extremes of either sentimental absorption or "affected indifference."
Catherine's visit to Northanger Abbey, where she expects to find gothic thrills, showcases the possibilities of the shame that she instead encounters. Her numerous unsuccessful attempts to impose gothic conventions on the abbey's architecture, objects, and inhabitants involve a recurring movement between absorbing interest and shame. Catherine repeatedly feels she is approaching the re-creation of the affective intensity of gothic novels in the world surrounding her, only to be flustered by the unrelenting banality of her true surroundings--a repeated rebuff that immerses her in shameful realizations of her misguided expectations. One might view this constant shaming as simply a repression of Catherine's desire to translate her novelistic investments into a heightened way of experiencing the world. But we can better account for shame, here, as an alternative form of affective intensification. Sensations of shame are used by Catherine--and also by Austen--as a valuable way of redirecting attention away from gothic delusions to more accessible sources of strong feeling. Each time Catherine breathlessly approaches an expected unveiling of gothic horror another emotive spectacle unfolds instead, as she recognizes her mistake with intense shame. (19)
Catherine's humiliation reaches its climax after she is discovered by Henry Tilney in his mother's room looking for evidence of Mrs. Tilney's murder. Catherine flees the room in "tears of shame," but she then lingers on the humiliations of this encounter (136). Like Catherine, I would like to linger on this climactic humiliation and its shame-fueled interplay between emotional absorption and critical distance. The scene entertains the prospect of an absolute end to Catherine's gothic investments while, in fact, it enacts a shameful transformation of them. The scene begins with an apparently stark reprimand: "The visions of romance were over. Catherine was completely awakened" (136). But as the passage continues, Catherine's humiliating failure to uncover a victim of a villainous husband's violence is transformed into an autoerotic, self-fashioned spectacle of her own extreme shameful exposure, as she redirects many of the gothic elements that have entranced her into a hyperbolic perception of her own shame. When she dramatically decries "this fatal morning," in which "[h]er folly, which now seemed even criminal, was all exposed to [Henry], and he must despise her for ever," the "visions of romance," it seems, are not quite over (136-37)
Turning to the passage in its entirety, and tracing the modulations of voice as it progresses, we can see how Austen's innovative style amplifies the revisionary possibilities of shame. Free indirect discourse, with its layering of voices, contributes to the depiction of a seemingly absolute, punitive "awaken[ing]" that becomes the very material of continued pleasures and interpretive confidence:
The visions of romance were over. Catherine was completely awakened. Henry's address, short as it had been, had more thoroughly opened her eyes to the extravagance of her late fancies than all their several disappointments had done. Most grievously was she humbled. Most bitterly did she cry. It was not only with herself that she was sunk--but with Henry. Her folly, which now seemed even criminal, was all exposed to him, and he must despise her for ever. The liberty which her imagination had dared to take with the character of his father, could he ever forgive it? The absurdity of her curiosity and her fears, could they ever be forgotten? She hated herself more than she could express. (136--37)
"The visions of romance were over" appears at first the unambiguous statement of oppressive narrative fact. But the lines that immediately follow register increasingly distinctive features of Catherine's, rather than the narrator's, voice. The overwrought inflection of "Most grievously was she humbled. Most bitterly did she cry" seems firmly located in Catherine's inferiority, which, though visions of romance are ostensibly over, seems not to have lost any of its emotive edge. Instead, Catherine extravagantly laments the "extravagance of her late fancies." The ambiguity of voice that characterizes free indirect discourse thus creates an ambiguity over who has violently pronounced the "visions" "over," Catherine or the narrator. Extreme statements of violent ends and complete awakenings oscillate, through the contextual effects of free indirect discourse, between a punitive shaming voiced by the narrator and a shameful reworking of Catherine's gothic "extravagance" in her own voice. The interpretive demands made by the ambiguity of voice, here, ask the reader to distinguish and straddle these positions, as we are invited both to identify and variously and unstably to identify with the shamer and the shamed.
On display here is less an oppressively alienating version of shame than one that might productively, even pleasurably, engage disrupted identifications--those of Austen's heroine-reader but also the novel's own readers. Catherine may feel "all exposed" in her shame (137), but the presence of the narrator's voice helps to construct a personal voice for Catherine that invites rapt attention through a "quality of now-you-see-it, now-you-don't" that, as Dorrit Cohn aptly describes, "exerts a special fascination" because the "dubious attribution of language to the figural mind" combined with the "fusion of narratorial and figural language charge[s] it with ambiguity." (20) By incorporating the "special fascination" of free indirect discourse into her spectacle of shame, Austen heightens the compelling quality of her emotional set-piece, while she also veils her heroine's appealing voice, flirtatiously enfolding it in the narrator's own. As the seeming scenario of a definitive humiliation takes shape, the degree of Catherine's shame wavers along with the swells and ebbs of her idiolect to create a spectacle of a shamed interiority that is vividly but incompletely exposed and defined, enticing readers to look closely and think critically as they negotiate ambiguous attributions of shame that might reverberate onto their own interpretive practices.
The narrative form of this shameful spectacle--designed to disrupt identification without rupturing affective investments, and in fact producing distinctly strong feeling--resonates with a quality of shame itself that has been of particular interest to recent writers on the affect. In Touching Feeling, Sedgwick explores a reparative potential for shame in its quality of palpably interrupted identification--its look down that is not a complete look away. As she describes it, shame can be "a disruptive moment, in a circuit of identity-constituting identificatory communication." (21) This potent moment is thus infused with the energy of disrupted--not ruptured-identification that can constitute its own sort of charged affective investment. Sedgwick evokes shame's distinct emotional pull by drawing on Silvan Tomkins's definition of shame as "the incomplete reduction of interest or joy," a formulation that usefully stresses a dynamic continuum between interest and shame. (22) Shame can allow one to establish connection with something else--something found "strange" in Tomkins's account-without merging with or completely rejecting it: the very precariousness of the connection can lend a flirtatious frisson to the encounter. This dynamic rests on the perception of something as not wholly repulsive or inviting, but "strange"--with all the ambivalence and affective intensity that entails. (23)
For Tomkins and Sedgwick this "strange" something can be anything-a person, an object, a place, a book. Or it could be oneself, suddenly rendered a fascinating stranger. Following Tomkins and Sedgwick, I view shame as a disrupted interest or enjoyment felt as piercing self-exposure. Connections beyond the self feel precarious, and the exposed self is, itself, deeply disrupted: shame, as Elspeth Probyn observes, "attacks your sense of self: the entrails of who you thought you were are suddenly displayed for all to judge." (24) If the self is under attack, though, the spoils are uncertain: defeat, debasement, and alienation war within, but also the peculiar possibilities of a self now unsettled and newly strange. This strangeness of shame especially illuminates the erotics of Catherine's "momentary shame," as well as that of Austen's other heroines. Catherine performs a dramatically disrupted over-identification with the gothic novel, the sentimental heroine, and ultimately herself. What Austen's humiliated heroine models--and what the form of her shameful spectacle further invites in the reader--is shame as a highly charged movement away from, but also recognition and relishing of, the strange spectacle of one's own excessive absorptions.
"She Again Began the Mortifying Perusal": Pride and Prejudice
If Catherine is finally cured of the lure of the gothic, then, it seems to be through her initiation into greater sensitivity to a shame that can imaginatively revise aspects of sentimental absorption and excess. And through this process Catherine--and Austen--in effect picks back up the sentimental text she has had to drop not long before. In much of Northanger Abbey the autobiographical fragment marks the focal point of sensibility, not least when Henry Tilney playfully narrates how Catherine's adventures at the abbey will surely land on the "memoirs of the wretched Matilda," which address, "Oh! thou--whomsoever thou mayst be" (109). A knowing nod to the conventional centrality of the autobiographical epistle to sentimental incitement, these "memoirs" also condense its many varieties--from the found manuscripts that punctuate the gothic novels of Radcliffe and her contemporaries, to the memoir-letters of Sophia Lee's historical gothic The Recess (1783--8$), to the epistolary appeals of novels of sensibility chronicling the likes of a wretched Clarissa. (25) Austen's earlier defense of the novel centers on a "young lady" caught up in her reading who "lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame," and Catherine's explorations of the abbey reenact and round out this tableau with a textual sign emphasizing literary sensibility, when she believes she has unearthed something like the coveted "memoirs" in her bedroom cabinet (22, 109). The scene of discovery begins with Catherine making a show of "a most happy indifference," which is negated by a "parting glance round the room" that lands on a promising cabinet, and then a "precious manuscript" hidden inside (115, 116). Catherine, in fact, drops this "precious manuscript" twice. The first instance suggests an overwhelming sensibility: when the candle blows out, "Catherine trembled from head to foot," "[a] cold sweat stood on her forehead," and "the manuscript fell from her hand" (117). The second instance indicates a most unhappy indifference; when Catherine discovers the now "detestable papers" are actually devoid of any emotionally engaging content, a mere bundle of dry housekeeping records, she accordingly " return [s] them to the same spot within the cabinet, with a very hearty wish that no untoward accident might ever bring them forward again, to disgrace her even with herself" (118). Catherine strains to renounce her shame as much as assume her indifference when she lays down these disappointingly worthless papers, but, as we have seen, her subsequent reveling in her "disgrace," after being discovered by Henry in his mother's room, reignites the avidly sought spectacle of a woman who, if not grieving, is "[m]ost grievously ... humbled" (136).
While Northanger Abbey figuratively revives the discarded sentimental letter through Catherine's shaming, other novels follow in a more literal strain. Across Austen's work, the material letter often functions as the sign of a problematic sensibility that the narrative registers but cannot let go. (26) Northanger Abbey highlights a particularly explicit linking of shame to the conventions of sensibility--epistolary and otherwise--that becomes more muted across Austen's career; but in novels such as Pride and Prejudice (1813) characters resist and reconnect with letters on shifting affective terms, as Austen continues to pursue the possibilities of a "momentary shame" that can negotiate extremes of sentimental absorption or "affected indifference."
By attending to a pronounced entanglement of shame and sensibility that connects Northanger Abbey to Pride and Prejudice and other of Austen's novels, I hope to counter the critical commonplace of considering shame as repression in Austen's work, while also complicating the approach of critics such as D. A. Miller who have insightfully explored a more productive role for shame in Austen's style. For Miller, the great achievement of "Austen Style" is an "anonymous, impersonal, universal narration" that thrives on "catch[ing] ... out" its characters "in an embarrassing peculiarity from which it is, by its very status, free." (27) Miller thus reads Austen's narration as a vital form of shame management--especially of her "failed, or refused, but in any case shameful relation to the conjugal imperative"--but it is a management that relies on eradicating signs of shame in the realm of narration and keeping them firmly fixed to characters who perform the social constraints and inevitable humiliations of personhood, particularly that of a female person. (28) Northanger Abbey is positioned, in Miller's argument, as a rough patch on the road to a style most perfected in Emma: "but even here, where it has not yet attained the full purity of its impersonality," Miller writes, "Austen Style is already decidedly neuter, as though it were on an exemption from 'sex'--in the old-fashioned sense (appropriate for the epoch) of both gender and sexuality--that this impersonality is most crucially founded, developed, secured." (29)
What Miller's account leaves out, however, and what Northanger Abbey can particularly help to retrieve, is how Austen's narration might eschew most social markers of "Woman," but still persistently announce and affiliate itself with a potentially shameful femininity in the form itself. Austen's style, by accentuating its implication in the shame of a culturally feminized novel form, and more particularly that of increasingly denigrated literary conventions of sensibility, consistently reworks while refusing to renounce its "embarrassing peculiarity" of gendered style. Treating Northanger Abbey as an exemplary starting point, we can recognize in Austen's many scenes of shameful letter reading and writing less a neuter style than one where narrator and character each insistently inhabit, in order to rehabilitate, forms of feminized shame. (30)
Perhaps the most memorable scene of shameful reading in Austen's oeuvre--if not the British novel--is Elizabeth Bennet's "mortifying perusal" of Darcy's letter in Pride and Prejudice, (31) Here we find a young female reader whose fraught moment of shame in fact offers a welcome alternative to greater risks of either emotional indulgence or excessive detachment. If Catherine Morland is a heroine of sensibility to rival the likes of Sense and Sensibility's Marianne Dashwood, prone to affective extravagance, Austen approaches through Elizabeth the other extreme--that of "affected indifference." For like Elinor Dashwood before her, Elizabeth is a heroine of avowed sense over sensibility: she possesses a quick wit and "liveliness of ... mind" (248), but she also evinces Elinor's brand of "coolness of judgment" that risks verging on the "[c]old-hearted." (32) In interpreting correspondence, Elizabeth proves herself especially attuned to--and repulsed by--false emotional notes: when she hears the "high flown expressions" of Caroline Bingley's letter to Jane, for example, the declarations of "the pain of separation" requiring "a very frequent and most unreserved correspondence" only yield, in the shrewd heroine, "all the insensibility of distrust" (79-80). Such ready "insensibility" might be well adopted in Caroline's case, but Austen explores in Pride and Prejudice the affective and indeed intellectual dangers of erecting an overly severe guard against emotional vulnerability.
It is Elizabeth's determination to sustain "all the insensibility of distrust" toward Darcy early in their acquaintance that especially gets her into interpretive trouble. Initially the force of shame only aggravates the problem. Even when Darcy's proposal and his subsequent letter begin to chip away at her adamant impassivity, Elizabeth resists any sympathetic inclinations, and she does so especially by refusing to see in Darcy anything but shame. When reflecting on Darcy's "gratifying" declaration of love after his first, failed proposal, Elizabeth bolsters herself against nascent "pity" by dwelling on the unremitting culpability she has mistakenly assigned to him: "But his pride, his abominable pride, his shameless avowal of what he had done with respect to Jane, his unpardonable assurance in acknowledging, though he could not justify it, and the unfeeling manner in which he had mentioned Mr. Wickham, his cruelty toward whom he had not attempted to deny, soon overcame the pity which the consideration of his attachment had for a moment excited" (128). In trying to ward off the mortification of finding herself duped, Elizabeth affects a detachment that, Austen suggests, actually fixates on keeping all shame firmly pinned on the "shameless" and "unpardonable" Darcy, while rejecting any that should rightly land on herself. When Elizabeth is next confronted with Darcy's letter and its undeniable impact--the "contrariety of emotion [it] excited"--she again employs the tactic of trying to reduce Darcy's words to a text of his thoroughgoing shame: "steadfastly was she persuaded that he could have no explanation to give, which a just sense of shame would not conceal" (134). In her detailed presentation of the rereadings and reassessments of the letter that follow, however, Austen revises her heroine's aversion to shame, suggesting that it is not a rebuff but a redistribution of shame that can enable a savvy reader like Elizabeth to better achieve the critical insight and authority she seeks.
Elizabeth's barrier of "insensibility" to Darcy's letter first breaks down, though, not through her own shame, but instead through a sharp stab of emotional pain. During her first reading of the letter, as she proceeds from Darcy's discussion of Jane to that of Wickham, Elizabeth ricochets from a determined cultivation of indifference into extreme suffering: "her feelings were yet more acutely painful and more difficult of definition. Astonishment, apprehension, and even horror, oppressed her" (135). Such "acutely painful" feelings might jolt Elizabeth out of an unjust implacability toward Darcy, but at the risk of "oppressing]" and overwhelming her. The narration further evokes the threat of its own overwhelming here, as it conveys Elizabeth's pain by broaching a variety of sentimental cliche that Austen herself had pointedly derided in Sense and Sensibility (1811). Late in Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby, Marianne's fallen paragon of sensibility, tries to muster a redemptive display of feeling by describing his true earlier response to Marianne's heartfelt letters; instead he merely fumbles to find the right words:
"When the first of her's reached me, (as it immediately did, for I was in town the whole time,) what I felt is--in the common phrase, not to be expressed; in a more simple one--perhaps too simple to raise any emotion--my feelings were very, very painful.--Every line, every word was--in the hackneyed metaphor which their dear writer, were she here, would forbid--a dagger to my heart. To know that Marianne was in town was--in the same language--a thunderbolt.--Thunderbolts and daggers!--what a reproof she would have given me!" (33)
Always canny about sentimental convention, Willoughby overcompensates where he was once found wanting, straining here to guarantee his sensibility. The source of Willoughby's impoverished vocabulary appears partly its overuse; but it is also his self-defeating sentimental investment in its absolute clarity and impact, which instead limits him to trite ("too simple to raise any emotion") formulations like "my feelings were very, very painful" or to cliched (too "common") variations like "what I felt is ... not to be expressed." When, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth finds her "feelings were yet more acutely painful and more difficult of definition" in response to a letter of her own, the wording echoes Willoughby's floundering display of sensibility, loosely repeating phrasing that was already a tired sentimental retread. Attempting to infuse new emotion into the narrative, as much as the heroine, Austen's style registers anxiety that this form of emotional pain could imperil not just the character's rational agency, but her own distinctive narrative voice. Austen, as much as Elizabeth, appears eager to resist succumbing to "acutely painful" feelings by quickly pushing the letter out of sight: "She wished to discredit it entirely ... and when she had gone through the whole letter, though scarcely knowing any thing of the last page or two, put it hastily away, protesting that she would not regard it, that she would never look in it again" (135).
Yet following the pattern of the "young lady" who "lays down her book with affected indifference" established in Northanger Abbey, the forcefully discarded letter does not stay put for long, and shame prompts its resuscitation. Here the attempt to spurn the letter is particularly short-lived, for "it would not do; in half a minute the letter was unfolded again, and collecting herself as well as she could, she again began the mortifying perusal of all that related to Wickham, and commanded herself so far as to examine the meaning of every sentence" (135). As mortification edges out acute pain as her dominant response, Elizabeth emerges from "oppression]" to a developing, if incomplete, "command" of her still highly emotional analysis of the letter. Elizabeth's increasing vulnerability to her own shame constantly recalibrates her perspectives on the letter's content and the characters of those with which it is concerned; the "mortifying perusal" circulates the shame once affixed to Darcy now to herself as well as Wickham, as she recognizes her implication in the emotional and analytic inflexibility of "the insensibility of distrust."
If Elizabeth's growing sense of shame puts her feelings about others into a productive flux, it also verges, at points, on fixing herself in their place. The "mortifying perusal" of Darcy's letter risks ending in a retraction of her excessive condemnation of him, only to plant it too "absolutely" on herself: "She grew absolutely ashamed of herself.--Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd" (137). However, when these thoroughly "mortifying" feelings appear poised to "oppress" the heroine as much as her earlier "acutely painful" ones, the narration suddenly shifts into a style that once again announces an affinity to sentimental convention, but in a much less anxious vein. The bulk of the narration of Elizabeth's varied responses to Darcy's letter takes third-person omniscient form; when Austen reaches the height of Elizabeth's shame, though, she renders it in a first-person voice that comes closest to sentimental epistolary form:
"How despicably have I acted!" she cried.--"I, who have prided myself on my discernment!--I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust.--How humiliating is this discovery!--Yet, how just a humiliation!--Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly.--Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself." (137)
While the form of passionate self-narration privileged by the novel of sensibility is invoked, the insistent repetition of Elizabeth's "I" stages a structure of interiority where parts of a mutable self can be brought into productive relation through shame. Rather than neatly adopting the familiar position of the heroine of sensibility, bemoaning a self violently splintered or decimated by shame, Elizabeth can proclaim at her "moment" of mortification "Till this moment, I never knew myself."
This famous phrase encapsulates the particular form of shame that Austen embraces across her oeuvre as a mode of self-knowledge, rather than debilitating self-abasement--a form of shame that distinguishes between aspects of the self without severing them from each other. Austen conveys this form of shame through Elizabeth's pairing of a present-tense "I," emerging from a dawning sense of shame, with a "myself" of the past that is now revealed to have been devoid of shame until this enlightening "moment." The passage's culminating assertion of an "I" with newfound knowledge of "myself," to which that past self was "never" privy, marks the final incarnation of this formal strategy of placing the present "I" next to--neither fully identical with nor alienated from--the temporally and affectively receding version of "myself." Through the interplay of these selves, Austen creates a formal space of self-examination where the shamed and shameless versions of the self coexist, so that neither is ever fully fixed as absolutely shameful. Turning her critical eye from others onto herself, Elizabeth's shamed "I" casts "myself" as something of an other, and her first inclination is to adamantly pronounce herself "despicable." As the incriminating evidence unfolds, however, the real culprit becomes harder to define. Elizabeth's "I," on the one hand, is distanced from shame even as it catalogues its many "humiliating" faults, for in so doing the "I" starts to display a "discernment" over which it might now justifiably show some "pride," and "abilities" on which it might now properly place some "value." If the emerging "I" is thus strangely shielded from some of the circulating shame by its very recognition of it, Elizabeth's once-shameless "myself" might, on the other hand, appear positioned to now take more of shame's brunt. But to the extent that the excesses of "myself" invite a long-overdue shaming, they also offer a sort of protection from it. As Elizabeth lingers on an overly "gratified ... vanity" and a complete "prepossession and ignorance" rendered truly shameless by being kept intact and impervious to shame for so long, she embeds within the "moment" of intense shame the vivid memory of parts of "myself" particularly resistant to its force.
The form of Elizabeth's shame thus enables a critical detachment that recognizes and addresses her past "folly" without ushering in the "oppression" of fixed shame or overwhelming alienation from oneself and others. "[T]his moment" of "humiliation," which allows Elizabeth to continue gleaning "knowledge" from her "folly," along with some of its cherished indulgences, evokes a structure of enhanced memory that Philip Fisher also finds in the rich moment of shame. In his work on the vehement passions, Fisher focuses on shame's common role as a "successor passion," the "aftermath of an impassioned state": while the shameless self-absorption involved in many impassioned states gives one "an almost theatrical visibility to any and all who happen to be nearby," the "aftermath" moment of shame is also distinctly--if differently--spectacular. (34) "The feeling of shame," Fisher writes, "occurs in the moment of becoming aware of others, the moment of a return to social consciousness in which, after a time in which it was forgotten, we remember how we look at this moment to those around us who are observers of our condition." (35) Shame forces one to remember the demands of others and the restrictions of "social consciousness" more generally, while also allowing one to vividly remember what it was like--and what it looks like--briefly to forget them. Shame thus contains a "moment" of potentially pleasurable yet distanced retrospection that also exposes a solipsistic spectacle of the past self--a spectacle made newly conspicuous, for the shamed individual at least, at the instant that its fascinating self-absorption dissipates into shameful self-consciousness. In staging such a "moment" for Elizabeth, Austen especially emphasizes the autoerotic frisson of not just knowing but seeing "myself" anew through the illuminating hindsight of shame. For only at the instant of shameful recognition does Elizabeth fully apprehend the "prepossession and ignorance" she had unwittingly, yet assiduously "courted" as she had "driven reason away" like an unwanted suitor. The imagery treats Elizabeth's past "vanity," now fully exposed, as something of a lost "love" toward which she casts a longing, departing look.
Far from a last look, however, Darcy's letter and the versions of past selves refracted through it are reviewed once again by Elizabeth and Darcy at the successful end of their courtship. At the point of the novel's romantic closure, when Elizabeth finally accepts Darcy's marriage proposal, the narrative also revives the "mortifying" letter as a source of pleasurable indulgence as much as shameful memory. From Darcy's perspective the resurgent letter looks like an intractable memento of "unpardonable" words and "conduct" that are "inexpressibly painful" for him to recall: "I hope you have destroyed the letter," he declares (239, 240). While Elizabeth concurs that she is "most heartily ashamed" of events surrounding the letter, she does not concede to Darcy's solution (240). After facetiously answering that "[t]he letter shall certainly be burnt," she counters with a proposal for its deliberate revision rather than destruction:
"But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it, ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure." (240)
At first a seemingly grand gesture of purging the past of "every unpleasant circumstance" by completely erasing memories of pain and shame, Elizabeth's "philosophy" in fact imagines a form of "remembrance" in which the traces of shame are part of what "gives ... pleasure." Elizabeth's previous "moment" of shame has checked, yet still sustained self-indulgent extravagance by refusing to forget its possibility entirely; this "philosophy" of pleasure further loosens the hold of shame itself, while clinging to the memory of possible shame that animates the very intensity of present pleasure. Insofar as Elizabeth's conjuring of pleasurable "remembrance" thrives on recognizing differences--on detailing how "[t]he feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then"--the differentiating force of shame is key to this pleasure, even if the distance to be marked is from an excessively shameless version of the self and one overly susceptible to shame. (36) Rather than desiring to return to her previous state of blissfully shameless "blind[ness]" and "ignorance," Elizabeth knowingly delights in the imaginative agency of a self-conscious and willful, and hence necessarily partial, fantasy of forgetting "every unpleasant circumstance" that could impinge on the authority of the self. Indeed the letter appears to be reintroduced and further revised at this late point in the narrative to signal how far one can come from the prospect of an overpowering, destructive humiliation without losing connection to its form--a self-conscious novelistic remaking of shame that for Austen has implications for novelist and novel reader, "[t]he feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it."
By the novel's end, the "mortifying" letter takes on quite malleable and encompassing contours. And Austen, as much as Elizabeth, seems unwilling to give such a letter a fond last look. In the novels that follow, the heroines of Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion similarly work through shame that surrounds--and produces--deeply gratifying letters. Of all of Austen's scenes of shameful renarrating and rereading, though, Pride and Prejudice's late revival of the expansive letter, enlivened by fluctuating shame, pain, and "pleasure," best captures the dynamics of her novelistic spectacle of shame. In scope it takes in the ostensible subject of shame, the humiliated protagonist, and through this spectacle opens onto others--her readers, her literary predecessors and contemporaries, and even herself; in form it reimagines the bounds of sensibility to transmute the absorbingly, "inexpressibly painful" and the merely indifferent into not an "unpardonable," but a fleeting and reanimating encounter with "momentary shame."
For Austen's humiliated heroines, the landscape of shameful memory is also the terrain of literary history. Yet while novels like Austen's now come with more cultural cache than "contemptuous censure," and "sensibility" evokes an affective mode firmly located in the past, the prospect of being found overly, shamefully, immersed in a novel remains a familiar--if differently constructed--view, one onto which Austen's shameful spectacles can give us a distinct vantage. Austen's scenes of mortified reading illuminate the various roles shame can play in the still pressing quandary of reconciling critical and emotionally invested forms of literary engagement.37 To be sure, shame functions for some novelists as a way of absolutely imposing critical distance on those who over-identify or who misread--including the novel's own readers. Yet for other novelists--and Austen is an exemplary instance--shame proves central to imagining a more fluid relation between emotional absorption and detachment, an interplay that is posited as necessary for complete, competent, and pleasurable interpretation.
Alliston, April. Virtue's Faults: Correspondences in Eighteenth-Century British and French Women's Fiction. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996.
Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. Edited by Susan Fraiman. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.
--. Pride and Prejudice. 3rd ed. Edited by Donald Gray. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.
--. Sense and Sensibility. Edited by Claudia L. Johnson. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.
Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Canuel, Mark. The Shadow of Death: Literature, Romanticism, and the Subject of Punishment. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.
Cohn, Dorrit. Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
Dames, Nicholas. Amnesiac Selves: Nostalgia, Forgetting, and British Fiction, 1810-1870. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Ellis, Markman. The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Favret, Mary. Romantic Correspondence: Women, Politics and the Fiction of Letters. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Fisher, Philip. The Vehement Passions. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
Fraiman, Susan. Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.
Johnson, Claudia L. "A 'Sweet Face as White as Death': Jane Austen and the Politics of Female Sensibility." Novel 22, no. 2 (Winter 1989): 159-74
Kelly, Gary. English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789--1830. New York: Longman, 1989.
Kilgour, Maggie. The Rise of the Gothic Novel. 1995 rpt. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013.
Miller, D. A. Jane Austen, or, The Secret of Style. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.
O'Farrell, Mary Ann. Telling Complexions: The Nineteenth-Century English Novel and the Blush. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.
Probyn, Elspeth. Blush: Faces of Shame. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
"Question: Ought Sensibility to be Cherished or Repressed?" The Monthly Magazine 2 (October 1796): 706-709.
Radcliffe, Ann. The Mysteries of Udolpho. Edited by Bonamy Dobree. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
--. The Romance of the Forest. Edited by Chloe Chard. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Rowland, Ann Wierda. "Sentimental Fiction." In The Cambridge Companion to Fiction in the Romantic Period, edited by Richard Maxwell and Katie Trampener, 191-206. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl." In Tendencies, 109--29. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.
--. "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading; or, You're So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Introduction Is About You." In Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction, edited by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, 1--37. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.
--. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.
Shaw, Narelle. "Free Indirect Speech and Jane Austen's 1816 Revision of Northanger Abbey.'" Studies in English Literature, 1500--1900 30, no. 4 (Autumn 1990): 591--601.
Spacks, Patricia Meyer. "Ambiguous Practices." In Eighteenth-Century Genre and Culture: Serious Reflections on Occasional Forms. Essays in Honor of J. Paul Hunter, edited by Dennis Todd and Cynthia Wall, 150-64. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001.
Todd, Janet. Sensibility: An Introduction. New York: Methuen, 1986.
Tomkins, Silvan S. Affect, Imagery, Consciousness: The Complete Edition. Vol. 2: The Negative Affects. New York: Springer, 2008.
Warner, Michael. "Uncritical Reading." In Polemic: Critical or Uncritical, edited by Jane Gallop, 13-38. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Watson, Nicola. Revolution and the Form of the British Novel, 1790--1825: Intercepted Letters, Interrupted Seductions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
I would like to thank Ellis Hanson, Laura Brown, Harry E. Shaw, Chad Bennett, and the anonymous readers for Studies in Romanticism for their comments and advice on drafts of this essay.
(1.) "Question: Ought Sensibility to be Cherished or Repressed?" The Monthly Magazine 2 (October 1796): 706. For a useful contextualization of this article in relation to debates on sensibility in the popular press, novels, and other discourses, see Markman Ellis's "Sensibility, History and the Novel," in The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
(2.) "Question," 706.
(3.) Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, ed. Bonamy Dobree (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 80.
(4.) Radcliffe, Mysteries of Udolpho, 79-80.
(5.) Radcliffe, Mysteries of Udolpho, 80.
(6.) "Question," 706.
(7.) Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, ed. Susan Fraiman (New York: Norton, 2004), 22. Subsequent page numbers in parentheses in the text refer to this edition.
(8.) Sedgwick, "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl," in Tendencies (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 125
(9.) Sedgwick, "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl," 126.
(10.) Gilbert and Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 159, 163.
(11.) Gilbert and Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic, 112, 169.
(12.) Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 166, 176.
(13.) Fraiman, Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 63.
(14.) O'Farrell, Telling Complexions: The Nineteenth-Century English Novel and the Blush (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), 9.
(15.) For another account of the pleasures and benefits an Austen heroine finds in error and its punishment, see Mark Canuel's "Jane Austen, the Romantic Novel, and the Importance of Being Wrong," in The Shadow of Death: Literature, Romanticism, and the Subject of Punishment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). Canuel's analysis of Austen's "rigorously utilitarian" approach to penalty in Mansfield Park, considered in the context of Romantic debates on penal reform and capital punishment, emphasizes the value derived from the public exposure of error, which grants social position, recognition, and distinction to a heroine like Fanny Price (who "spends much of her time in the novel in a state of mortification from actual or potential offenses," yet "the chastisement and suffering she endures nonetheless guarantee her visibility and social value" ).
(16.) Maggie Kilgour, The Rise of the Gothic Novel (Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013), 6-7.
(17.) Spacks, "Ambiguous Practices," in Eighteenth-Century Genre and Culture: Serious Reflections on Occasional Forms: Essays in Honor of J. Paul Hunter, eds. Dennis Todd and Cynthia Wall (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001), 150; Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction (New York: Methuen, 1986), 144.
(18.) For example, Ann Wierda Rowland suggests that "Gothic must be seen as a significant branch of sentimental culture, one which explores its interest in the affective work of fiction as well as exposing its dubious fascination with scenes of suffering and forms of misery." See "Sentimental Fiction," in The Cambridge Companion to Fiction in the Romantic Period, eds. Richard Maxwell and Katie Trumpener (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 196. See also Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, 30; Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction, 9, 148; Gary Kelly, English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789-1830 (New York: Longman, 1989), 43.
(19.) A rich body of critical work has explored Austen's relationship to sensibility as a cultural phenomenon and a set of literary conventions. Particularly useful for my thinking about Austen's engagement with sensibility has been Claudia Johnson's "A 'Sweet Face as White as Death': Jane Austen and the Politics of Female Sensibility," Novel 22, no. 2 (1989): 159-74. Johnson persuasively argues that Austen actively resists and critiques sentimental fiction's affective centerpiece of an extreme female suffering that often ends in the heroine's inevitable death. What Johnson casts as Austen's stark rejection of conventional sensibility, though, I wish to inflect more as a form of revision, one that reworks the emotional pull of the spectacle of absolute female suffering with that of a "momentary shame" that is fleeting and psychological, as opposed to permanently physicalized.
(20.) Cohn, Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 107.
(21.) Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 36.
(22.) Tomkins, Affect, Imagery, Consciousness: The Complete Edition (New York: Springer, 2008), 353; my emphasis.
(23.) Tomkins, Affect, Imagery, Consciousness, 354. Sedgwick notes in Touching Feeling that "Tomkins's emphasis in this account on the strange rather than on the prohibited or disapproved was congenial with a motivating intuition that the phenomenon of shame might offer new ways of short-circuiting the seemingly near inescapable habits of thought that Foucault groups together under the name of the 'repressive hypothesis'" (97--98).
(24.) Probyn, Blush: Faces of Shame (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), xii.
(25.) April Alliston observes how "Lee's Matilda [in The Recess] makes exactly the entreaty Henry makes to Catherine as she bequeaths her manuscript to her young reader," and reads the parallel as part of "Austen's gently mocking yet sympathetic turn away from the device of invoking the reader's sympathy." See Virtue's Faults: Correspondences in Eighteenth-Century British and French Women's Fiction (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 235. Henry's phrasing also evokes the moldering manuscript Adeline discovers in Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest, penned by a "wretched writer" who pleads, "O! ye, who may hereafter read what I now write, give a tear to my sufferings: I have wept often for the distresses of my fellow creatures!" (Ann Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest, ed. Chloe Chard [New York: Oxford University Press, 1986], 132).
(26.) A number of scholars have explored Austen's relationship to epistolary form, and I draw here especially on the work of those critics who consider the letter a potent sign of Austen's stance toward sensibility and sentimental epistolary forms, even as they diverge widely in their assessment of that stance. Mary Favret, for example, locates much of Austen's innovation in her repurposing of the letter for uses other than the sentimental. For Favret, such repurposing is brought into relief by the insistent remnants of the failed sentimental letter, especially in Austen's earlier novels, which make way for letters that "draw attention away from the individual woman and throw light onto social convention, public image and the realm of exchange that creates them" (138). In Nicola Watson's account, the letter maintains, throughout Austen's career, greater potential as a conduit of sentimental subjectivity and feeling, but one that Austen treats with such suspicion that she undertakes varied strategies to "reif[y] the letter in order to suspend the subversive power of sentiment"; it is not until Persuasion that Austen "reharnesses sentimentalism and the letter" and, "rather than containing or erasing them, she recuperates them" (73, 108). My reading views the letter, across Austen's career, as a persistently viable vehicle for intense emotional expression and contact, one through which Austen self-consciously gauges the affective contours of her own narrative techniques. See Favret, Romantic Correspondence: Women, Politics and the Fiction of Letters (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and Watson, Revolution and the Form of the British Novel, 1790--1825: Intercepted Letters, Interrupted Seductions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
(27.) Miller, Jane Austen, or, The Secret of Style (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 27
(28.) Miller, Secret of Style, 28.
(29.) Miller, Secret of Style, 33; emphases in original.
(30.) In advancing this trajectory of Austen's work, I treat Northanger Abbey as something of a first and last novel. Its involved publication and revision history--begun in 1798, posthumously published with Persuasion in 1817, and revised to a critically contested extent at various dates along the way--might justify such treatment. Narelle Shaw, for example, provides a detailed account of Northanger Abbey's publication history and the critical debates over it and makes a compelling argument for dating substantial revision involving free indirect speech as late as 1816 in "Free Indirect Speech and Jane Austen's 1816 Revision of Northanger Abbey," Studies in English Literature, 1500-igoo 30, no. 4 (1990): 591-601. Rather than make firm claims for the dates and types of revision, though, I simply wish to emphasize how Northanger Abbey highlights a particularly explicit linking of shame to the novelistic conventions of sensibility that becomes more muted as Austen's career continues, while it also gestures at the centrality of free indirect discourse to effects of "momentary shame" also characteristic of Austen's late novels such as Emma.
(31.) Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 3rd ed., ed. Donald Gray (New York: Norton, 2000), 135. Subsequent page numbers in parentheses in the text refer to this edition.
(32.) Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, ed. Claudia L. Johnson (New York: Norton, 2001), 8, 18
(33.) Austen, Sense and Sensibility, 230.
(34.) Fisher, The Vehement Passions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 65, 58.
(35.) Fisher, Vehement Passions, 67.
(36.) I draw on Nicholas Dames's reading of this moment in seeing the crux of its "philosophy" of pleasure as the bold "assertion of discontinuity" between the present and the past (26). While for Dames such discontinuity is geared toward disconnection--a central tenet, in his account, of Austen's construction of nostalgia as "a form of memory that acknowledges the past obliquely, only to register our complete disconnection from it" (23)--I want to emphasize the investment in shameful memory that can highlight disrupted continuities between past and present selves without severing affective ties. See Dames, Amnesiac Selves: Nostalgia, Forgetting, and British Fiction, 1810-1870 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).
(37.) Sedgwick's exploration (particularly in Novel Gazing and Touching Feeling) of a mode of "reparative reading" that might counter critical trends toward "paranoid reading" has generated much recent interest in possible forms of emotionally invested literary analysis. One notable example is Michael Warner's "Uncritical Reading," which responds to Sedgwick's claim that "dominant modes of academic criticism have drifted into an essentially paranoid suspicion of textual attachment" and proposes that we reconsider the norms of "critical reading" and seek to "recognize rival modes of reading and reflection on reading as something other than pretheoretically uncritical" (16). See Sedgwick, Touching Feeling; Sedgwick, "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading; or, You're So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Introduction Is About You," in Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction, ed. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997); and Warner, "Uncritical Reading," in Polemic: Critical or Uncritical, ed. Jane Gallop (New York: Routledge, 2004).
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