The Evolution of Sympathy in the Long Eighteenth Century

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-06-01
  • Publisher: Pickering & Chatto Ltd

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This work represents a concise history of sympathy in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, considering the phenomenon of shared feeling from five related angles: charity, the market, global exploration, theatre and torture. Sympathy, the sudden and spontaneous entry of one person's feelings into those of another, made it possible for people to share sentiments so vividly that neither reason nor self-interest could limit the degree to which individuals might care for others, or act involuntarily on their behalf. The progress of sympathy is intertwined with the period of global exploration evidenced by cook's voyages and the rise of the sentimental novel before being met by growing suspicion in the works of radicals such as Wollstonecraft and godwin. The history of sympathy seems to involve a dialectic of immediacy and artifice in which the knowledge of what it is like to be someone else is alternately the product of involuntary passion and of conscious manipulation. The question of social virtue, where it comes from, how it is aroused and in what direction it tends is perpetually being interrogated with no definite answer ever emerging.

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