Sentimental spectacles : the sentimental novel, natural language, and early film performance
Hart, Hilary, 1969-
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Hart, Hilary, 1969-
The nineteenth-century American sentimental novel has only in the last twenty years received consideration from the academy as a legitimate literary tradition. During that time feminist scholars have argued that sentimental novels performed important cultural work and represent an important literary tradition. This dissertation contributes to the scholarship by placing the sentimental novel within a larger context of intellectual history as a tradition that draws upon theoretical sources and is a source itself for later cultural developments. In examining a variety of sentimental novels, I establish the moral sense philosophy as the theoretical basis of the sentimental novel's pathetic appeals and its theories of sociability and justice. The dissertation also addresses the aesthetic features of the sentimental novel and demonstrates again the tradition's connection to moral sense philosophy but within the context of the American elocution revolution. I look at natural language theory to render more legible the moments of emotional spectacle that are the signature of sentimental aesthetics. The second half of the dissertation demonstrates a connection between the sentimental novel and silent film. Both mediums rely on a common aesthetic storehouse for signifying emotions. The last two chapters of the dissertation compare silent film performance with emotional displays in the sentimental novel and in elocution and acting manuals. I also demonstrate that the films of D. W. Griffith, especially The Birth of a Nation, draw upon on the larger conventions of the sentimental novel.
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