Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"These Aids from Nature, join'd to the Wiles of Art": Some Thoughts (and more questions) on Fantomina's Roles

by Emily Friedman (University of Missouri)

When teaching Fantomina, my students hit a wall very quickly. Their most common question, I confess, remains my question: how on earth can Fantomina pull off her many transformations?

In the classroom, I start off by using my students' questions about Fantomina's disguises to explain the nuances of eighteenth-century dress. Fantomina alters her appearance with every new role, changing from a tight-laced dress and diamonds to loose gowns, blacking her hair and brows as the servant Celia, pulling her hair back severely as the Widow Bloomer, and masking entirely as the Incognita. When she discovers her pregnancy, she attempts to disguise even this bodily reality by "By eating little, lacing prodigious strait, and the Advantage of a great Hoop-Petticoat" (29). I accompany classroom discussions of Fantomina’s disguises with period illustrations. Such examinations of the massive architecture of eighteenth-century hair and dress usefully remind students of the differences between our world and that of the texts we read.

However, it is not merely dress that Haywood uses to describe Fantomina's many roles. Indeed, she notes the improbability of mere "costume changes" explicitly:

It may, perhaps, seem strange that Beauplaisir should in such near Intimacies continue still deceiv'd: I know there are Men who will swear it is an Impossibility, and that no Disguise could hinder them from knowing a Woman they had once enjoy'd. In answer to these Scruples, I can only say, that besides the Alteration which the Change of Dress made in her, she was so admirably skill'd in the Art of feigning, that she had the Power of putting on almost what Face she pleas'd, and knew so exactly how to form her Behaviour to the Character she represented, that all the Comedians at both Playhouses are infinitely short of her Performances: She, could vary her very Glances, tune her Voice to Accents the most different imaginable from those in which she spoke when she appear'd herself. (12)

Fantomina's skill-set here is, of course, the logical extreme of the gentlewoman's "accomplishments." Any woman of her class and (presumed) wealth would be well-skilled in not only the art of dressing and the use of cosmetics, but also in the performance of accepted behavior: the alteration of the body and the body's movements to conform to a set pattern appropriate to her place. What is so often discussed in conduct books as appropriate female behavior is, after all, a set of artificial behaviors set up as "natural." The paradox of the conduct book is if such behaviors truly were inherent, there would be no need for writing didactic material in order to redirect female behavior.

Haywood capitalizes on this paradox in the passage quoted above. She does not identify Fantomina's acting abilities as exclusively learned; instead she refers to them as "These Aids from Nature, join'd to the Wiles of Art" (12). Haywood here seems intentionally ambiguous; she does not articulate which abilities are “natural” and which are “art.” It is tantalizing to ponder which is which and consider the possibility that Haywood purposefully muddles the distinction.

Moreover, Fantomina's gifts do not stop there. She also has talent for feigning her handwriting and for elaborate set-dressing, and she is able to hire and maintain appropriate rooms for her different characters; sometimes she does all of this simultaneously. She even has a knack for casting, as she bribes various attendants to do her bidding (and moreover, keep her secrets) in ways quite unlike most servants in prose fiction (or drama, for that matter). As has been discussed elsewhere, Fantomina is a creator of fictions, and like Haywood, has an eye not only for her own performance, but the entire mise-en-scene in which she performs.

When considered, all of this seems even more improbable than Beauplaisir's selective vision, given Fantomina's initial introduction as "young, a Stranger to the World" (1).

Hence, my enduring question: what effects this transformation? Is there a transformation?

(citations are from Jack Lynch's electronic edition of the 1725 first edition)

Desire and Deception

by Aimee Levesque (Buffalo State College)

Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina is an amatory work of fiction that follows a young woman (Fantomina, Celia, Widow Bloomer, Incognita) of distinguished birth who, through the use of masquerade, expresses her sexuality and wins the man of her desires, Beauplaisir. By successfully overturning eighteenth-century literary conventions and societal expectations of women, Haywood strips the power of passion and desire away from men and gives it to their female counterparts to do with as they please. Thus, Haywood illuminates the double standard that exists in the eighteenth century regarding matters of the heart.

The female character in Fantomina is dangerously inexperienced. Haywood writes that she is “young, a Stranger to the World, and consequently to the Dangers of it” (41). Yet she also comes across as being quite confident. She initiates interactions with Beauplaisir and is a force to be reckoned with as she shrewdly gains his affections four separate times through the anonymity of disguise. Sadly, however, Beauplaisir tires of Fantomina on each occasion and lives up to the societal stereotype of the male rake that turns women into tragic heroines.

There are times in the narrative when one might find the idea of Fantomina’s numerous transformations completely unbelievable. Interestingly, Haywood does little to ensure believability beyond stating that Fantomina is a master at metamorphosis and although there are those who swear that, “no Disguise could hinder them from knowing a Woman they had once enjoy’d…she was so admirably skill’d in the Art of feigning, that she had the Power of putting on almost what face she pleas’d” (57). Ultimately whether or not one accepts Fantomina’s disguises in love, in a time when literary realism has not yet developed, is in the hands of each reader.

Although I found Fantomina to be charmingly mischievous and unconventional, I admittedly had my own issues with the believability of the text and often found myself wondering how Fantomina could have successfully navigated the maze of multiplicity without making a mistake on at least one occasion – a small slip of exposure, one wrong accent, or an absent-minded choice of dress. Perhaps she did fail at some point that we are not told of by Haywood I have often wondered if Beauplaisir himself actually knew of Fantomina’s true identity and, rather than end the conquest he enjoyed, played ignorant and continued to take advantage of her until she was pregnant. It would be easy for him to deny paternity and although doing so would end this game of a practiced Libertine, there were surely more games to play and more women to conquer. I am not sure if I would stretch the narrative this much, but thoughtful scenarios such as these allow for the continued exploration of desire and deception in eighteenth-century literature.

The unconventional ending of Fantomina is another aspect of the novel worth considering. When the female protagonist is sent away to live in a French Monastery because of her indiscretions, there appears to be an unexpected freedom that is given to her by her mother. Although the blame of conquest and the fault of her subsequent pregnancy are put entirely upon Fantomina, her departure does not signal the onset of harsh consequences. Rather, the doors of opportunity are opened for a young girl who has made a few mistakes along the way toward maturity. Hope remains that Fantomina will learn from her mistakes and make a new life for herself in France. We may imagine that a girl like Fantomina, who is so entrenched in fantasy and disguise, will never find happiness in marriage. Perhaps she will find more amorous intrigue in France. The uncertainty of Fantomina’s future is, to some extent, exciting by comparison to the ends of other transgressive heroines. By the end of the eighteenth century, a prototypical femme fatale will emerge in Gothic literature, one who if placed in the same situation as Fantomina, might suffer a fate of physical brutality or death.

After reading Fantomina, I continue to wonder about the following: Why does Haywood construct a scenario in which a woman of distinguished birth chooses to step into the role of a prostitute as a way to get a man. Surely, every eighteenth-century woman knew that prostitution would not be conducive to true love and finding a husband. Secondly, are readers meant to see the first sexual encounter between Fantomina and Beauplaisir as a rape because of her indecision, her tears and her lamentations before, during and after the act while he is described as being “bold” and “resolute” (46)? If we do consider the first encounter rape, then what does Fantomina’s continued pursuit of Beauplaisir say about the quality of her character? And of the status of women in eighteenth-century society?

I am also intrigued by Fantomina’s class “jumping:” she goes from gentlewoman to prostitute, then maid to widow and finally, to Lady. While each of these roles illuminate feminine power in each of their classes, what does Fantomina’s reversal of social status – high to low to high status again – imply about how she sees the world in which she lives. Finally, although cross-dressing and role-playing are visual tricks meant to entice Beauplaisir, what does their use in the novel imply about eighteenth-century society?

Works Cited

Haywood, Eliza. Fantomina and Other Works. Eds. Alexander Pettit, Margaret Case Croskery, and Anna C. Patchias. Ontario: Broadview Press, Ltd. 2004

Woman Power in Fantomina

by Anita Nicholson (Cornell)

Contrary to its putatively gender-normalizing conclusion, Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina generates a narrative of sexual subversion and female authority. The repetitive occurrence of female protagonists inverting gender hegemonies from the prostitute to Fantomina’s mother to the convent, produces a ‘gynocratic’, or woman-centered novel. When juxtaposed alongside the nameless, beguiled admirers and the named, yet four-flushed BeauPlaisir, the narrative constructs a hierarchy of female over male, contradicting the possibility of its reinstating archetypal gender roles through its questionable inclusion of assault. While acknowledging seemingly anti-feminist sections, this essay will articulate how Haywood’s text empowers its atypical heroine through Haywood’s syntax and plot, her covert theme of naming and the conclusion itself. Despite her antithetical ideologies, Haywood remains centuries ahead while incorporating the very themes of contemporary pop culture: Woman Power.

The novel’s opening section establishes a socially inverted, female-oriented paradigm through the novel’s architecture, Fantomina’s authorial perspective and her gender-based assumptions. By deliberately situating Fantomina above the male aristocracy, through her box location, Haywood spatially partitions the PlayHouse a la the Panopticon where Fantomina serves as judging Syndic above the pit-seated male audience. Haywood’s syntax iteratively casts men as naïve tools subject to Fantomina’s scrutinizing eye. Fantomina articulates her ‘contempt’ of the men while labeling them as ‘depraved’ (227). By writing the narrative from her protagonist’s perspective, Haywood furthers the dichotomy of female as subject and male as object while infusing her discourse with chess-based imagery by making Fantomina a queen and the males her pawns.

The novel’s female authority continues through its inversion of sexual commodification. Considering Haywood’s Fantomina is ’accountable to no body’, the syntax linguistically neutralizes the male audience’s power. While accountability implies responsibility for one’s conduct, the definition also means to ‘be computed’ or ‘chargeable’ (Oxford English Dictionary). Fantomina, lacking accountability, lacks ‘chargeability’ or ‘purchasable-ity’. Additionally, despite the ‘crowd of purchasers’ endeavoring to ‘out-bid’ themselves on her nameless guise and initially hidden face, they unknowingly invert the very structure they seek to instate in offering material goods with no promise on a return.

The novel iteratively obsesses over gender politics by repeatedly authenticating female power. In the opening, Fantomina is “a little diverted” in giving “disappointment” to so many, receives a “world of satisfaction” in engaging yet refusing BeauPlaisir (229), and pursues her lover in the hopes of ‘compelling’ him to do what she wished (234). Additionally, keeping 18th century syntax in mind, I find it interesting Haywood continuously capitalizes ‘power’ and woman’, while endlessly repeating both terms. Interestingly, Fantomina’s dominance seems incomplete if enacted upon the few, the low and the female; yet, satiated when enacted upon the masses, the many, and the male. The reoccurrence of the ‘observer’ ideology harkens to the panopticon, creating a dichotomy of intendant and intended: "observing the surprise he would be in to find himself refused by a woman who he supposed granted her favours without exception' again woman capitalized” (229). It is the low subverting the high, the female overcoming the male and the prostitute thwarting the client. However, Haywood’s validation of female power through sexuality, troublingly parallels yet possibly inverts the assault Fantomina already experienced at BeauPlaisir’s hands.

While Fantomina’s masquerade implies muted sexual power as Lady_ , in stepping outside herself she becomes more herself and in withholding her name she retains her power through her mutability. Her face and flesh remain fluid and easily shift from the facially wrapped Fantomina to the innocent-seeming Celia to the insatiable Widow Bloomer to the mythic masked Incognita, a la Psyche. In possessing multiple names, she possesses multiple ranks, titles and distinctions while maintaining her inverted gendered hierarchy: she "forebore discovering her true Name" so "he should not have it in his Power to touch her Character" (231). She remains ephemeral, untouchable and uncontainable while always denying BeauPlaisir the knowledge of her identity. To name is to own and Fantomina remains unowned.

Additionally, her initial nom-de-plume, Fantomina, implies ‘Phantom Pantomime’. In invoking the image of a shadow doppelganger, she creates a woman who she hides behind to become herself. In externally reflecting her internal desires, she deflects her known identity through linguistic difficulties while “hearing herself praised” in “the person of another”. Despite her muffles, wraps and veils, her admirers recognize her: some cried 'she is like' and named 'her own name' (227). However, the simile ‘is like’ in implying congruency also entails opposition. In seeming ‘like’ herself she cannot be, which forms a rhetorical masquerade. In stepping outside her identity, she retains her body, thoughts and form; but, in acting upon her sexual desires, she is assumed different from who she is. Ironically, her desire saves her reputation over the masquerade itself.

Although the novel’s ending seemingly reiterates 18th century sexual hegemonies, it is the female body who eventually captures, nullifies and suppresses Fantomina’s sexuality. It is her mother, a ‘woman of penetration’, who eventually penetrates her disguise: "though she would easily have found Means to have screened even this from the Knowledge of the World had she been at liberty to have acted with the same unquestionable Authority over herself" (246). It is the birth of her daughter that finally ‘invades’ her body and nullifies her guise by distorting her features (246). Finally, it is the nunnery, the Catholic representation of female authority, that imprisons and contains her.

Despite my rushed treatment of this novel, it is highly feminist including its allusion to Cupid & Psyche and to Haywood’s own novel ‘Love in Excess’. Additionally, from the cunning Fantomina exhibits in securing her safety: "she might with more security to her honor entertain him a t a place where she was mistress” (229), her refusal “to be treated at [her] own lodgings” (230) and her repudiation in granting him the “Power to touch her character” (231), all scream Girl Power. Yet, admittedly, I find Fantomina’s rape at BeauPlaisir’s hands and Haywood’s categorization of it as ‘ruinous pleasure’, questionable. Additionally, although Fantomina initially served as the author of her own story, Haywood disrupts the narrative by containing her sexuality despite the matriarchal ending. While I congratulate myself in avoiding referencing Terry Castle, it is the iterative use of the masquerade that enables Haywood to temporarily suspend sexual paradigms and craft a feminist text based on the manifestation of sexual desires through the carnival.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fantomina Discussion Will Begin on December 17th

On December 17th, please join graduate students Aimee Levesque (Buffalo State College), Anita Nicholson (Cornell), and Dena Rosenberg (NYU) for a discussion of Eliza Haywood's Fantomina; Or, Love in a Maze (1725).

Haywood's texts is available from UPenn's Celebration of Women Writers or in affordable hard copy edition from Broadview Press.
The Samuel Richardson Society will host a February reading of Samuel Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison (1753). Because there is no online edition of Richardson's novel, you might want to plan early for this reading. Rush to your library and check out a copy, or consider requesting a copy of Jocelyn Harris's edition from the University of Otaga. Information about how to go about this is available here.

*ADDENDUM: Regretfully, Dena Rosenberg will be unable to participate in the group discussion of Fantomina. Instead, look for an essay by Emily Friedman (University of Missouri)*

Monday, October 15, 2007

Imitating Jesus and Socrates: Franklin as Gramsci’s Organic Intellectual

by Ami Blue, Eastern Kentucky University

In “The Formation of the Intellectuals,” Marxist Antonio Gramsci describes the two scenarios from which the world’s intellectuals emerge. Although Gramsci believes that all men can be intellectuals, few men play the role of professional intellectual in economic, social, or political arenas. Benjamin Franklin was crafted from birth by his society—namely his father—to become an American organic intellectual—born and raised by a specific society to affect an economical, social, or political change (Gramsci 1138). Gramsci lists the necessary traits and accomplishments of an organic intellectual in any one of these three discourses, and Franklin emerges not as one—a mere mortal organic intellectual—but as all three types in the more formative early years of his record.

In the economic realm, Gramsci’s organic intellectual takes the form of the capitalist entrepreneur (1138). Franklin exposes his capitalistic endeavors by slickly maneuvering himself into the Pennsylvania Assembly printer’s job (66) and even divulging his interests in the “profitability” of moving up in the political game (98). Franklin’s entrepreneurial efforts began with his part ownership of the newspaper with Meredith, soon followed by his opening his own stationer’s shop (67, 69).

Socially, Gramsci’s ideal organic intellectual is an industrial technician. Franklin exhibits early signs of industry in redesigning the street lamps (118-119), but he also repeatedly comments on his own industry (37, 39, 65, and 69; #6 on the big 13, p. 83) and then marries a woman “as much dispos’d to industry and frugality as myself” (80). Moreover, Franklin’s multitudinous inventions place him among America’s most memorable and famous industrial technicians.

Politically, Franklin secured work printing paper currency (68) and became increasingly involved in state and local political matters (72, 78). In a more service-oriented capacity, he instigated creating America’s first library (72) and restructured and regulated the “city watch,” or fire workers’ union (99-100). These were among the first of his myriad political actions, too plentiful to name here.

Gramsci outlines copious desirable intellectual traits, including capacity for direction, intellect, and assuming the role of confidant to investors and customers. In his letter, Vaughn points to Franklin’s affect on “the future of great men,” as though Franklin hadn’t spent much of his life directing the economical, social, and political decisions of such a crowd (74). As far as intellectual capacity, the book speaks for itself, but Franklin also actively sought intellectual stimulation, thus forming Junto (63). He also enjoyed lifelong patronage from customers (66) and support of investors (67).

Vaughn writes to Franklin, “Your account of yourself . . . will show that you are ashamed of no origin” (75). Gramsci would consider this the final mark of an organic intellectual: one who comes from the place he later restructures politically, economically, or socially—as if shepherded from birth by a diligent father unwilling to see his brilliant son lost at sea. Gramsci adds that only the “elite” among entrepreneurs can organize “society in general” because he will want to favor his own class. Franklin’s love for industry, frugality, and his egalitarian worldview wouldn’t permit him to reserve benefits for only his own; Vaughn says as much when he accredits Franklin with proving “how little necessary all origin is to happiness, virtue, or greatness” (75).

Gramsci provides stricter standards for the elitist organic intellectuals, and Franklin exceeds them all. Here are some questions that arise from all of this in terms of discussion: Considering the upcoming politically charged election and Franklin’s success as an organic intellectual, which of Franklin’s character traits should social activists adopt when hoping to inspire social, political, or economic change? Which of those persons running for President measure closest to Franklin, and into what organic intellectual role(s) does she/he fit? For whom would Franklin vote? What textual evidence affirms your conclusion?

Works Cited
Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. New York: MacMillian Pub. Co., Inc: 1962.

Gramsci, Antonio. “The Formation of the Intellectuals.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton (2001): 1138-1143.

Social Immobility: Franklin’s Autobiography and Class-Based Humor

by Teresa Coronado, University of Oregon

Among other readings, Franklin’s Autobiography has been read as a tract promoting the American Dream. I would argue that Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography is about the suppression of the individual self. Specifically, Franklin thwarts class mobility for those who do not possess Franklin’s performative skills. While the text offers how-to advice on transcending class, this advice also imposes a workman-like rigidity that cannot successfully imitate the flexibility of Franklin’s own performance of class transcendence. In the Autobiography, Franklin is a fluid caricature of a self; however, he creates an automated system of representation for others—prompting him to laugh at those who unbendingly follow his lead.

The idea of rigidity, fluidity, elasticity and inelasticity is developed from Henri Bergson’s theory of laughter which insists that: “The laughable element [. . .] consists of a certain mechanical inelasticity, just where one would expect to find the wide-awake adaptability and the living pliableness of a human being” (Bergson 10). In his Autobiography, Franklin is pliable; in fact, he is so adaptable that careers have been made in arguing who the “real” Franklin was, especially in his Autobiography. However, his Autobiography does not offer advice on pliability. Instead, it offers advice on an automatism that renders its follower ridiculous.

Franklin’s mutability materializes through his comic masks and performances of class. As Robert F. Sayre remarks, “Franklin readily slipped into poses in the Autobiography because he had lived in a fluid world. His day-to-day identities approached poses” (Sayre 23). These poses, I argue, are the poses of class—performances, as it were, he learns from his well-bred parentage. Franklin, who can trace his lineage to established, respected, although not wealthy, Puritan stock, is mythically understood to have come from great poverty and a lower-class background. However, in his upbringing, Franklin was brought up in what we would now classify as middle-class values. Franklin’s father, for example, “always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life” (24). In this manner, Franklin says, “I was brought up in such a perfect inattention to those matters as to be quite indifferent what kind of food was set before me” (24). Rather than learning to care about the types of foods placed before him on the table, Franklin learns the art of conversation—an art that would help him throughout his life. In the homespun revolutionary era, only the aristocrats could really stand out with visible physical class markers, such as clothes and home goods—everyone else relied on the acting out of valued qualities such as conversation and mannerisms. Such acting out—or imitation—of middling sort qualities, such as table conversation, both undermines and supports class hierarchy. Franklin, who can do both, shows the weakness of structure while aspiring to strengthen it with his own admittance.

Franklin is, as aforementioned, elastic in his adaptability to class performance—the humor is in the inelasticity implied in the performance of others who attempt to follow his lead. Colleen Terrell argues that “Franklin’s detailed account of his labors in the art of virtue suggests that the construction of the self presents as a great technical challenge, demands as great a skill, as the manufacture of a time-piece. And indeed, the two crafts had identical goals: the regulation of behavior” (Terrell 116). Further, Terrell finds, “where the Autobiography encodes an iterable process, circulating a representative pattern for the further reproduction of citizens in the Franklinian mold, the text itself becomes a machine for the manufacture of virtue” (Terrell 132). Thus, Franklin’s elasticity becomes the mechanization for the inelasticity of others—by Bergson’s reckoning, a laughable element in any human being.

One of the best examples of performance is in Franklin’s own description of his learning process. His first writings were transcripts of the Spectator—a series of mechanical reproductions that helped Franklin learn the style of more learned men. After copying and recopying different articles from the Spectator, Franklin found that “by comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and corrected them” (29). This act of copying and correcting is as, Jennifer T. Kennedy argues, “an act of practiced forgetfulness” (221). Kennedy writes that Franklin trained “his memory to remember the words of the Spectator as if they were his own, to make himself, in short, a spectator of his own mind” (Kennedy 221). Franklin writes of his experiment that he sometimes “had the pleasure of fancying that in certain particulars of small import I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think that I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious” (29). This exercise is, as Kennedy says, “intentional mortification” of one’s own memory (221). Franklin writes that he has, in effect, suppressed his memory—but he counters this by, in fact, remembering the process by which this was done.

Franklin may have improved his writing through imitation, but he recognizes this as imitation. In teaching others to perform this imitation, Franklin suggests that others subsume their memory, without giving them the tools to remember this erasure—a function of becoming inelastic. Franklin argues that “those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, tho’ they never reach the wished-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavor and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible” (101), but any person who tries this is already educated and of Franklin’s class. Writing requires an education, and the writing that Franklin is arguing for—through reading and copying—requires both the physical tools for the attempt as well as the leisure time to pursue such an endeavor. In encouraging this type of imitation and forgetfulness, Franklin encourages the absorption of self into a rigid model based upon a non-existent mold. Class performance is imitation, and Franklin encourages this performance to be as rigid and, therefore, laughable, as possible. The Autobiography does not allow for class mobility—Franklin closes that door behind him.

Works Cited
Bergson, Henri. Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic. Trans. Cloudesley Brereton and Fred Rothwell. London: Macmillan, 1911.

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography and Other Writings. Ed. L. Jesse Lemisch. Afterword by Carla Mulford. New York: Signet-Putnam, 2001.
Goloboy, Jennifer L. “The Early American Middle Class.” Journal of the Early Republic 25 (2005): 537-45.

Kennedy, Jennifer T. “Death Effects: Revisiting the Conceit of Franklin’s Memoir.” Early American Literature 36.2 (2001): 201-34.

Sayre, Robert F. The Examined Self: Benjamin Franklin, Henry Adams, Henry James. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP 1964.

Terrell, Colleen E. “Republican Machines”: Franklin, Rush, and the Manufacture of Civic Virtue in the Early Republic. Early American Studies 1.2 (Fall 2003): 100-32.

A Franklin Autobiography

by Caroline Wigginton, The University of Texas at Austin

In the spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, this essay is a narrative account of my literary encounters with this Franklin text. As a literary scholar and teacher, this narrative speaks to many questions I have about my pedagogical self-fashionings. I would like my narrative and the questions it asks to open up a conversation about the place of Franklin in the literature classroom and ultimately about the decisions we make as individuals with personal narratives about the texts we teach.

I first read Franklin’s Autobiography in my junior year of high school. Though the class and the teacher inspired my love of literary studies, the discussion of Franklin was mostly forgettable. I remember the teacher emphasizing individualism and Franklin’s “self-made man” mystique. The teacher, like many others do, presented Franklin as the quintessential American, embodying the American dream. The teacher used this theme throughout the course to discuss every text and, while the details about Franklin have been lost, his founding relationship to the theme of American individualism is still one of the key ways I think about his autobiography.

I next read Franklin over a decade later during an independent study course in graduate school, just a couple years ago. As a graduate student working Early American Literature, I couldn’t avoid Franklin any longer, but it turns out I couldn’t avoid thinking about individualism either. I read Franklin alongside Sacvan Bercovitch’s Rites of Assent (Routledge, 1992). At that time, I felt Franklin’s text to embody Bercovitch’s belief in consensus/dissensus and its place within U.S. culture. Bercovitch argues for dissensus as an essential component of American consensus: “[Radicalism] was a strategy of pluralism everywhere to compartmentalize dissent so as to absorb it, incrementally, unus inter pares, into a dominant liberal discourse” (21). In reading Franklin through the lens of Bercovitch, I argued for Franklin’s Autobiography as personalized dissensus, a component of individual maturation: man versus himself. By doing so, it implies that American dissensus occurs most productively at the individual level. At the individual level, dissensus loses its radicalism and transformatory power within larger power structures.

My most recent encounter with Franklin occurred this past summer when I designed my first syllabus for a literature course. After several years of being a teaching assistant and then teaching composition, I had finally been asked to teach my Department’s introductory course for English majors, typically full of freshmen and sophomores who had not read or written about literature since high school. In designing this course, I knew I wanted to begin with a colonial American text and build upon my expertise in that field. After scrolling through the Heath and Norton Anthologies’ Tables of Content and perusing my own bookshelves, I quickly identified Franklin’s Autobiography as a potential text. My two previous readings of Franklin spoke well for its inclusion since they indicated that the text was approachable both in terms of understanding its literal meaning and in terms of its theme of American individualism, one which might open up the radical and not so radical potentials of literature.

Yet I found myself questioning whether I wanted to pass on my first lesson in American literature. Would selecting this text be an implicit agreement with my high school English teacher’s year long theme of equating American literature with American individualism? After all, within U.S. national mythology, Franklin continues to hold a mystique as simultaneous genius and self-made man. His important role within Revolutionary intellectual debates and the crafting of the Constitution extends his individualism to America’s roots, a somewhat contradictory conflation of the American tradition with the ability to escape tradition. I didn’t believe I could teach Franklin without this theme becoming a frequent area of discussion.

As much as I enjoy Franklin’s Autobiography, this theme implies that works speaking less explicitly to individualism, especially those by writers of color who frequently embrace community, are not really American literature. However, I wasn’t ready to forget Franklin and choose another author and text. Perhaps I could teach Franklin alongside something less canonical? The Norton Anthology of American Literature places Franklin immediately before a section of texts by Samson Occom, an eighteenth-century Mohegan minister and an author about whom I have written. I considered teaching Franklin alongside Occom’s eloquent, angry, and moving personal narrative. A recent compilation of all Occom’s works (The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Literature and Leadership in Eighteenth-Century Native America, ed. Joanna Brooks, Oxford UP, 2006) includes a more complete version of this narrative and publishes for the first time a paragraph in which Occom explains his motivations in writing his narrative. This paragraph could help students more easily see that Franklin’s desire to “make himself” throughout his life and through his Autobiography cannot be unquestionably extended to other autobiographies of the period. However, would that result in a more complicated reading of Franklin, individualism, and American nationalism or would it result in eliding Occom’s deep commitment to his Mohegan and pan-Indian communities? Would it simply cause students to incorporate Occom’s dissensus into a multiculturalist American nationalism?

I don’t want to imply that Franklin’s Autobiography is not complex, only about individualism, and not an important text for students of American literature to read. I do want to question how we as teachers escape repeating our earliest lessons in literature when we no longer agree with them, but they are so deeply embedded in how we approach literature. For me, my earliest lessons appear to be an unavoidable lens through which to read a text for the first time. They are interpretations that I worry my students will be unable to avoid when they are so obvious within dominant U.S. cultural ideology (whether or not they are the “correct” interpretations). In response to texts which are too rooted in what we don’t want to teach about literature, whether it is Franklin for me or an entirely different text for someone else, do we do what I did and simply reject them? Do we only teach them outside introductory literature courses where students (and perhaps we teachers) are less unsophisticated in our approaches? Do we embrace them and simply tell our students other ways of reading? Do we see them as opportunities, choosing to spend more class days on them and leading our students through different readings, moving further and further away from our first thoughts? I ended up teaching Phillis Wheatley’s Complete Writings, but that’s a whole other narrative . . .

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stay Tuned for Benjamin Franklin Discussion (beginning October 15th)

Discussion of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography is set to begin on October 15th. Graduate students Teresa Coronado (University of Oregon), Ami Blue (Eastern Kentucky University), and Caroline Wigginton (UT-Austin) have all volunteered to contribute essays that will get the discussion started.

Franklin's autobiography is available online through UVA's e-text server here. It's also available for purchase in various affordable editions from Amazon.

Our December discussion group will read Eliza Haywood's Fantomina. I'm currently seeking volunteers to write short essays for that discussion. If you'd like to write an essay that will get people talking about Haywood, drop me a line at cblvf2@mizzou.edu by November 15th.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Man of Feeling

Online discussion of MacKenzie’s The Man of Feeling has officially started! Please scroll down to read the essays written by graduate students Sarah Cote, Michael Gavin, Shayda Hoover, Laura Miller, and Zak Watson; use the comment feature located after every essay to join the conversation!

Thoughts on The Man of Feeling

by Sarah Cote (Cornell)

Today, the sentiments in Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling seem déclassé. They are the stuff Oprah dreams are made of – the middlebrow, matronly, mawkish. Nevertheless, the sentiments are securely embedded in even the most uber-“masculine” texts – Rocky, Star Wars, mafioso bildungsromans – thus, sentimentality and sentimentalism are permitted, nay, encouraged, so long as they are suitably dressed. So, the “new” masculinity endorsed in The Man of Feeling is certainly alive today, though the form is a bit adulterated – perhaps this makes one more element worthy of inclusion in Joseph Roach’s concept of the “deep” eighteenth century. Both then and now, it can be admirable, humane, human to enjoy feeling deeply – so long as the sentiments in question are disguised by allegedly palatable frame narratives involving, say, sports, terrorist anxieties, or bad fathers.

But, someway, somehow, I think that many of the unwitting sentimentalists who choke up during Rudy would be turned off by Mackenzie’s novel, even if the text opens with two sportsmen, is rife with emotional ‘terrorism,’ and Edwards can pinch-hit as the proverbial bad father. The Man of Feeling has not aged particularly well as a readerly text. It takes a great measure of self-discipline to read it today without sniggering – it is difficult to take its sincerity sincerely. But even if it’s not quite as “good” (and I welcome more discussion about this) in modern standards as Sterne, its semi-snarky narration renders it more plausible than The Vicar of Wakefield. Why might this be?

Even though The Man of Feeling is an acquired taste, it, like so many of its contemporaries, also seems eerily “modern.” It is pointedly not writing to the moment but tries instead to present writing that transcends any particular moment. Indeed, the novel has no time or place, really – and its hero is protected from picky chronologies by the framing narratives of a careless curate, the presumed ‘editor,' an uncertain hunter-gatherer of sentimental bits who is incidentally “ashamed to be pleased with the works of one knows not whom” – this whom being, quite simply, “Charles,” the only one of the three who has actually interacted with Harley. Thus, the hero’s supremely (over)wrought benevolence, the epitome of the new masculinity for the romantic era, provides a good example of Barthesian myth, an open secret of fiction natural(ized). Of course, we readers are turned into authors, for we take note of several gaps and omissions. Charles’s broken narrative is more extreme than the “mere” aposiopesis seen in A Sentimental Journey or the coy “avert your eyes” omissions featured in Joseph Andrews. Those two novels, among many others in the mid eighteenth century, “leave out” parts in order to tease us, to satirize our expectations. Does The Man of Feeling? The Man of Feeling is, at times, an occasional piece – almost a commonplace book of collected sentimental vignettes. Does the fact that its omissions do not matter, well, matter? We can still more than follow the simple progress – of both the hero and the plot. Is this part of the myth of sentimentality, of the ideology that champions “the moment that signifies more than a moment” but a lifestyle, an ethos, a brand?

Virtually all scholars who discuss eighteenth-century sentimental novels agree that the genre depends on the ocular. The sentimental hero or heroine watches a particularly moving scene, which then sparks a visceral reaction visibly performed for the triple benefit of said character’s conscience, the other characters in the frame, and, of course, our eagerly reading eyes. Sensibility – the refined susceptibility or receptiveness to the sentiments – is the ne plus ultra of cultural capital around the mid-eighteenth century, of course. Janet Todd points out that, generically, sentimental novels prefer action to description because simply constative speeches are too banal or flat: “Words are not left to carry a message alone, but are augmented by other heightening devices” (Sensibility: An Introduction 5); for her, this means that “readers are to some extent prevented from indulging in an identifying fantasy with a character or an author and are forced to respond to the emotion conveyed” (6). However, in novels, words are essential to the medium, a fact hammered home to us through the devices of missing chapters, missing pages, missing sections. No, we cannot be sustained by overwrought gesture alone; (our) explanations and discourse must fill in the gaps sooner or later.

This is where we come in, for the reader of The Man of Feeling is both allegory and participant. Most critics recognize that Harley makes for a curious sort of hero in that he is continually destabilized and undermined by his bathetic, picaresque situations and/or his frank narrator(s) – Charles and ourselves. In that classically titled chapter “The Man of Feeling in a Brothel,” for instance, the narrator makes a characteristically wry comment about Harley’s supposedly pure benevolence or innocence: “From what impulse he did this [walked the prostitute into a tavern], we do not mean to inquire; as it has ever been against our nature to search for motives where bad ones are to be found.” What would be suspect in anyone else must be admirable in Harley, right? Or not; instead, Charles hints that his subject is “protected” (or make that baited) by his playful half-disclosures of compromising situations. So if one refrains from looking into motives, does that protect or harm the benevolist’s reputation? By the chapter’s end, Harley is called a cully – picking up on the notorious cullibility of Yorick, likely – for giving away a watch. Are we supposed to agree? And what do we do if we agree? For what good can come out of our observation of his notoriously impotent observations, after all?

I owe a lot to one of my advisors, Rick Bogel, for highlighting the problem with reading sensibility with a binary system of good/bad or admirable/foolish, etc.: “Whether critics view the novel as endorsing or criticizing Harley, however, they share the belief that the spontaneous and the mechanized can be reliably distinguished” (unpublished manuscript). That is, it isn’t quite right to worry too much about whether, through its winking “slips” or disclosures, the narration is damning or praising Harley’s flaws, for it’s not like anyone has the authority to say for sure that a reflex of charity is bad or unthinking – or vice versa. Nor is it easy to tell the difference between what acts are purely good and what are rote, not to mention the meaning of the signs that allegedly direct us – especially when so many of the signs are tantalizingly missing. Priceless wadding, indeed.

MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling as Sentimental Play

by Michael Gavin (Rutgers)

When Henry Mackenzie published The Man of Feeling in 1771, he was several years younger than I am now. As I reread the text for my participation in this forum, I couldn't shake that particular fact from my mind. This time around, the novel just seems so, well . . . youthful. The conceit of the found manuscript, the ostentatiously fragmented text, the topical relevance of its sentimentalism, the ambiguity of its hero: it's all so self-consciously literary, as if by a young Scot lawyer eager to perform his abilities, desperate to show London how he, too, can manipulate the shared conventions of narrative play.

In this essay, I want to offer the possibility of a perspective on sentimentalism that casts it neither as a kind of text (the ‘sentimental novel’) nor as a discourse in which texts participate, but as a set of reading techniques. My hope is that placing Man of Feeling in the context of sentimental reading will help account for the youthfulness and the playfulness of Mackenzie's novel, traits perhaps inevitably under-emphasized by the hyper-serious tone of most professional scholarship.

Every time I have encountered Man of Feeling in an academic context (and such is, of course, the only context within which one encounters the text), I have felt a strong disjunction between the tone of the novel and the tone of the language used to describe it. The book was taught in no fewer than three of my graduate seminars, and each time the discussion veered around one issue: To what extent are we supposed to identify with Harley as a model of polite behavior? Where does the text suggest Harley's virtue? Where and why does it question or undermine that virtue? The stakes are very high with such questions, because on them hinges not only Mackenzie's intentionality, but the social efficacy of sympathy itself. (I can feel my blood pressure rising, just as I type that sentence!)

Maureen Harkin’s 1994 essay in ELH provides a useful and comprehensive exploration of this problem. Harkin responds most directly to criticism of the late 1980s that credits sentimental fiction with developing “a code of ethics based on sensibility to compensate for the erosion of traditional notions of social responsibility” (318). The problem is that such accounts run head-long into the thematic ambiguity of fictional texts like those of Sterne and Mackenzie. Because the reader's identification with Harley is continually compromised by disidentification from his unworldliness or effeminacy, the social project of sentimental community-building is compromised to the point of failure. But here is where Harkin intervenes. If I am understanding her argument correctly, her point is to focus on the way Man of Feeling thematizes this very problem. She concludes: “Mackenzie's novel is thus riven by its attempts to negotiate conflicting positions about the possibility of sentimental literature as a form of social practice and critique. The novel as Mackenzie conceived it could not justify its own stake in the regulation of social life, providing images of sympathy for victims and a principled resistance but no effective opposition to the ills it spends so much time noting” (336). Thus, fiction's ability to juggle ideological ambiguity undermines its social efficacy. Harley is too unworldly to be properly virtuous. Thus, the novel undermines even as it promotes sentimentalism as a form of social regulation. Mackenzie's point--the point of Man of Feeling--is to expose that tension, to struggle with it, to negotiate its murky and ethically dangerous terrain.

My point, to put it very reductively, is that I doubt anyone ever took the novel so seriously, or at least anyone before, say, 1980. To see Man of Feeling as deeply conflicted in this way requires making two assumptions that I want to suggest are misleading: you have to assume, first, that novels have and are supposed to have rhetorical force, and second, that this force is to be achieved through ideological coherence that can be inferred by finding thematic unity. Because Man of Feeling lacks thematic unity, it seems to lack ideological coherence, and so we conclude it must lack the rhetorical force that it normatively should have. Although Harkin tries to get out of this trap by emphasizing the way fiction can balance differing viewpoints or thematize its own futility, Mackenzie's text remains “riven” by an ideological conflict from which it can never emerge.

To get around this problem, I want to offer two very tentative possibilities about readers who wept over books like Man of Feeling: they did so collaboratively and selectively. To briefly demonstrate what I mean here, let me point to the famous remark that Lady Louisa Stuart made in an 1826 letter to Sir Walter Scott: “I remember so well its first publication, my mother and sisters crying over it, dwelling upon it with rapture! And when I read it, as I was a girl of fourteen not yet versed in sentiment, I had a secret dread I should not cry enough to gain the credit of proper sensibility.” (qtd. In Harkin, 319). My first point about this is that the model of sentimental reading here is social, even collaborative. In this anecdote, the text mediates not between author and reader, but between an already existing community of readers. Reading the text becomes an occasion for performing one's sentiment; to “gain the credit of proper sensibility,” then, is not The Man of Feeling's job as a text, but Lady Stuart's job as a reader. She feels compelled to feel, but that compulsion comes from her place in the family, not from the text.

What is at stake here is not an abstract code of ethics to be inferred through careful interrogation of the novel's plots or themes. Proper sensibility is not codified by the text; rather, it is performed by one's encounter with the narrative in a social context determined, in Lady Stuart's case, by the conventions of family and class. In a different setting, such as the male homosocial reading club (to take another highly conventionalized context of reading), the “proper” response to Mackenzie's text may have been different: the point is that, in either case, a reader's experience of sentimental textuality would be determined by social conventions anterior to the text itself. If sentimentalism was in fact a persuasive, regulatory discourse, that social regulation had to happen at the level of these cultural settings and the codification (formal and informal) of the social structures they imply.

The second point I want to suggest is that sentimental readers read selectively and discontinuously. That is, they willingly read parts of a text independently of its whole. For example, readers could freely extract the sentimental pathos of Sterne while disregarding his satire, much to the chagrin of critics like Samuel Johnson. It can't be stressed enough how different this is from the way college students are trained today in critical reading. If one of my students makes an assertion about some passage in a text, that assertion can either be supported or complicated by other passages in the same text. A selective, sentimental reading practice, by contrast, eagerly excerpts parts so as to make them available for an experience of rapture: thus, Sterne's fiercest critics could hold up his handling of the Le Fever episode as an example of sentimentalism done right.

If sentimental reading happened in already existing social settings, and if sentimental readers felt free to disregard aspects of texts that did not accord with their desired experience, it seems doubtful that they would invest a little work by an unknown Scot like Man of Feeling with much persuasive agency or ideological import. By inviting his readers to take different, even competing, views of Harley and of sentiment, Mackenzie offers them an occasion for affective and critical play--play, that is, in a game where the rules have already been set.

A long view of Mackenzie's 60-year publishing career would trace his development from poetical contributions to Scots Magazine (1763-4), to topically current prose fiction (1771-7), to drama (1773-84), to collaborative periodical and political essays (1779-90s), to his collected Works (1808), to biography (1820s), and finally to his unfinished personal memoirs (begun in 1824). For Harkin, the trajectory of Mackenzie's publishing career is determined by “his dissatisfaction with the limited possibilities for social intervention open to the novelist” (337). Mackenzie's move to non-fiction prose suggests a kind of fall from grace--or at least from the literary. But, it seems to me that Mackenzie's career follows a trajectory of unambiguous ascent: ascent, that is, from the entertaining to the learned and from the youthful to the prestigious. For example, Richard Sher has noted that, although Mackenzie received only £52 for the copyright to The Man of Feeling and about "twice as much" for his other novels, he received £180 and £300 for rights to The Mirror and The Lounger, respectively (Enlightenment & the Book, 254, 211).

This history suggests that our contemporary interest in Mackenzie as representative of The Sentimental Novel risks overemphasizing the importance of a work like Man of Feeling. More specifically, we risk overstating what was at stake politically for Mackenzie and his early readers.

A Gap in the Manuscript

by Shayda Hoover (UC Irvine)

NB. Page references are to the Norton paperback (1958). Chapter references are included for convenience.

The Man of Feeling is dominated by the signs of incompleteness and interruption. The work is presented as the abandoned manuscript of a departed neighbor (known only as “the Ghost”) and has lost several pages. The “found manuscript” is a familiar pretext for fictional histories, but Mackenzie’s free use of “a gap in the manuscript” to provide a narrative break by omitting intermediate chapters suggests a willingness to use the romantic fragment to achieve sentimental effects quickly and move from height to height in the depiction of the protagonist’s responses. Between the fictional “ghost” writer, the fictional mangler of the material text (a curate), and the self-proclaimed, fictional “editor,” Harley’s history is thrice-mediated, and the result promotes its main character by omitting “the intricacies of a novel” (89/Interjection before Ch55) in order to get its readers quickly to the moments of sentimental oomph. The following is a brief overview of the effects of a fragmentary structure on The Man of Feeling’s depictions of human nature and interactions.

The Ghost’s manuscript is described as consisting of named and numbered chapters that enclose particular incidents. Most chapters move from encounter to aphorism to emotional response. The chapters are prone to break off at the moment of highest pitch. For example, visiting Bedlam gradually overpowers Harley when a young female inmate gives him a mourning ring she has made: “Harley stood fixed in astonishment and pity; his friend gave money to the keeper.—Harley looked on his ring.—He put a couple of guineas into the man’s hand: ‘Be kind to that unfortunate’—He burst into tears, and left them” (23/Ch20). The chapter breaks here and an unrelated episode follows. Larger breaks between episodes are blamed on “the depredations of the curate” (88/Editorial interjection before Ch55). Structurally, the frequent “gaps” in the narrative allow Mackenzie to omit unnecessary exposition and focus on a few episodes. The use of fragments is a kind of narrative foreshortening that causes Harley to emerge prominently from a crowd of flattened, undifferentiated characters. Very few of the characters have names; the majority of Harley’s contacts are distinguished minimalistically, e.g., “a beggar,” “the old gentleman,” “the younger stranger.” This generic quality extends to “the editor,” to his companion, “the curate,” and to the unknown author(s) of the text, “the Ghost” and also “a later pen” (who provides a moralizing interlude). The gaps in the record omit these characters’ larger histories, and make Harley’s own history appear disconnected and discontinuous: he is almost a ghost himself.

The text demonstrates that people are often baffled by appearances, and can rarely be certain whether they are esteeming each other correctly. Harley and his creator are aware that quantities of human deception can interfere perniciously in the exercise of benevolent impulses. Harley decides the question by arguing with himself (in the case of the prostitute, Miss Emily Atkins) that “to calculate the chances of deception is too tedious a business for the life of man!” (36/ch28). The narrator is slightly more guarded (see the ironical description of the mechanical process by which Harley’s hand releases a coin to a beggar, 14/Ch14), but he, too, considers it scarcely possible to discover the truth without help; and Miss Atkins reflects in hindsight that “our reason is so much of a machine, that it will not always be able to resist, when the ear is perpetually assailed” (40/Ch28). The structure of Harley’s history as a series of gaps and sentimental episodes points to a cynical truth: that individuals may be known to each other only in a fragmentary way, connected briefly, tenuously, and always with the possibility of a pernicious deception, as in the case of “the pupil” Edward Sedley’s admiration for a villainous European nobleman (“A Fragment”). In addition to the destructive effects of deliberate falsehoods, personal histories may break off or be lost to gaps in the record. Parted from his family, the old soldier Edwards loses the thread of their story. On his return, he finds his son and daughter-in-law dead, his grandchildren in a charity dame school. In this case, the story is recovered (the gap filled), but it could as easily have remained blank forever. The written history is extremely brief: the survivors locate “a ciphered R. E. plainer than the rest [of the characters]; it was the tomb they sought” (69/Ch35). The chapter—and the episode—ends with the eloquence of tears: “The girl cried afresh; Harley kissed off her tears as they flowed, and wept between every kiss.” The chapter break symbolizes the larger gap between individuals, able to feel communally but not to make experience whole.

Like the younger Edwards, Harley’s departure from life is premature. The fragmentary “conclusion” (a weak pun?) has the Ghost haunting Harley’s gravesite and pondering Harley’s legacy, which in fact seems to be restricted to the manuscript he is himself producing. The narrator has already described his response to Harley’s corpse in terms of broken connections: “’Tis a connection we cannot easily forget:—I took his hand in mine; I repeated his name involuntarily;—I felt a pulse in every vein at the sound” (92/Ch56). The Ghost strives for continuity—a continued “pulse”—but Harley’s death makes it seem that the connections between individuals are, in fact, easily broken, leaving experience incomplete (Miss Watson is left to wander “with a book in her hand”). The author is remembered chiefly for being “used to walk a-nights” before “he left the parish, and went nobody knows whither” (Introduction): nobody’s history is complete in this text. The Ghost’s concluding observation relies on his association of the gravesite with Harley’s nature, but the testimony to that nature is physically incomplete and the phrasing of his reflection takes us back to the frame story, where two ordinary men looked for amusement: “…there is such an air of gentleness around that I can hate nothing; but, as to the world—I pity the men of it” (94/Conclusion). Of these men of the world, the curate, impervious to sentiment, is probably one, and the Editor’s own sentiment is a little bit of the armchair kind—further emphasizing the amount of material that we are not given. Mackenzie’s “editor” later introduced the epistolary novel Julia de Roubigné with the claim that he “found it difficult to reduce [the letters] to narrative, because they are made up of sentiment, which narrative would destroy” (5); this clue helps us to recognize that sentimental response is itself expressive of the incomplete nature of earthly communication.

Feelings, Print, and Narrative

by Laura Miller (UC Santa Barbara)

Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling is often written about in studies of late eighteenth-century sensibility and the sentimental novel. The text’s stance on print readership and its skepticism with regard to narrative conventions are also worth examining. At times the novel places standard formal and narrative characteristics of other eighteenth-century novels in opposition to the genuine feeling it conveys. However, The Man of Feeling’s fragmented form and narrative simultaneously reveal its status as a printed piece of fiction and complicate the ways it directs its readers to feel.

From its beginnings, The Man of Feeling displays an awareness of print culture. The novel’s narrative frame shows diverging standards of judgment among groups with regard to texts. A curate who has been using the novel’s manuscript paper for gun wadding acts the part of potential publisher: he has found a manuscript, a bundle of papers, much as many early novels were presented as miscellaneous papers tied together. However, the curate considers this story unpublishable by his standards: the handwriting is bad, the authorial stamp inconsistent, and there is not “a single syllogism from beginning to end” (4). From this list of complaints, readers can draw a list of this man’s standards for reading: that a text be easy on the eyes, narrated consistently, and give thoughtful conclusions to the scenarios it presents. It should mean something, and cause no frustration trying to make it out. His hunting companion, responsible for the novel’s ultimate publication, is also carrying a text he dislikes: “an edition of one of the German Illustrissimi,” a far more logical and rational text (4). The two men trade book-for-manuscript, saving both texts from ruin. Each finds a book that he’s suited to: even two men hunting in the same thicket may belong to different reading publics. A sketch of The Man of Feeling’s ideal reader emerges through a series of negations to the curate’s complaints: the manuscript’s reader must be patient to decipher handwriting, tolerant of narrative inconsistencies, and prepared to draw his own personal conclusions with the text. Even though we are reading a typeset and easier to read version, a tolerance and willingness to draw one’s own conclusions are encouraged. With regard to the many emotional scenes that follow, the reader is warned about the book’s tearjerking content, paradoxically via an injunction against crying over the works of an unknown author.

The novel contains many familiar plot elements found in other eighteenth-century novels, but they come in a fragmented form that criticizes the artificiality of plot-driven narrative. As in other novels, Harley, The Man of Feeling, begins his life in the countryside, but travels to London. Like many characters in novels, Harley seeks necessary financial gain in the city: through the lease of some lands belonging to the Crown. Also like other male characters, Harley lives near a beautiful and virtuous young woman, Miss Walton, whom he loves but dares not approach. As the opening section continues, this fragmentation awakens readers to the ways these devices have been used less conspicuously in previous novels, and thus to the vulnerability of the reading process itself. When a reader is in the hands of a masterful author who directs the action seamlessly, is it possible for a reader to have an individualized response? Even though this story is seen as its own kind of “false point,” where the narrative looks like it’s going to turn into something but never does, it also criticizes the existence of all points – true and false - in fiction. For this broken-up novel, the point of prose fiction is not formal perfection, but evocation of sympathetic feeling. Wherever the novel goes, it follows Harley’s sympathies, and cannot do otherwise. By contrast, manipulated plot points, however neatly they lead us to other, carefully planned fictional revelations, have a false truth to them. Of course, even Mackenzie’s book feels very manipulative to us reading it now – about a hair away from Lyrical Ballads in terms of its coincidental meetings with the colorfully downtrodden – but it resonated enough at the time of its publication that people wanted to know the identity of the real Man of Feeling.

Feeling does drive the novel, but even when feeling prevents traditional narrative events from taking place, narrative continues in other forms. En route to London, Harley means to breakfast at an inn, a narrative set piece of many novels, “but the fullness of his heart would not suffer him to eat a morsel” (15). So he goes for a walk, where he encounters a beggar who subsists by fortune-telling among the people of his town. Harley has wandered out of a narrative only to meet a storyteller. The beggar tells his own story, which resembles that of a tragic actor turned comic writer. When the beggar discovered others didn’t want to hear his honest narrative of his own misfortunes, he started telling happier, personalized tales to his audience because “folks will always listen when the tale is their own” (17). He acts as a master narrator of the town, picking up names and bits of information in order to supplement his predictions and prove his authenticity in fortune-telling. This strange scene offers a provocative challenge to contemporaries who might blame cheap print for encouraging self-indulgent entertainment. If this common man uses oral tactics identical to those used by novelists who are trying to appeal to a broad range of people, how responsible is the print market for its easily seduced readers? Alternatively, are novelists fortune-telling beggars?

Harley’s visit to Bedlam (as well as many other scenes that I don’t have space to discuss) also illustrates these tense connections between feeling, narrative, and print. Harley’s most sympathetic encounter in Bedlam isn’t the most extreme or shocking: it’s the most novel-friendly: the young girl who went mad after the loss of her lover and her cruel father. When Harley and his friends visit those who are “in the most horrid state of incurable madness” they wish to leave immediately (23). Next they meet a parade of Enlightenment losers: a mathematician who incorrectly predicted the return of a comet based on Newton’s calculations, a stock-trader who lost everything in the South Sea Bubble, and a schoolmaster who lost his mind in a sea of Greek vowels (24-25). Even though the novel could endeavor an emotional response to the early eighteenth century by interacting with its cast-offs, these men instead serve as a warning against living too much in our minds: the same thing people are warned against when they read too many books, or when the books they read are of poor quality. At the same time, this novel encourages fantasy, with its many missing parts and melodramatic scenarios.

The way to align some of these contradictions between narrative convention and following one’s feelings would appear to be sensibility, with its emphasis on appropriate emotional outpourings, but reading publics and print culture are too powerful on their own to be overlooked. Maureen Harkin writes that, “The novel basically pits Harley against the forces of modern commercial life in an unequal struggle that Harley is bound to lose” (324). The force of print is one of these forces – so powerful that it is the only way we can encounter Harley. And Harley, if he is attempting to pursue feeling at the expense of behaving like a dutiful character in a plot, must lose at least a little, if he is to outlast the hunting season.

Works Cited
Harkin, Maureen. “Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling: Embalming Sensibility.” ELH 61.1 (1994) 317-340.
Mackenzie, Henry. The Man of Feeling. Oxford World’s Classics Edition. 2001.

The Man of Feeling: Schmaltz or Schadenfreude?

by Zak Watson (University of Missouri)

“If you want me to cry, then mourn first yourself” (Horace 126). So Horace advises Telephus and Peleus in the Ars Poetica. The sympathy between reader and poet, the emotional mimesis in which poetry should engage, underlies tear-jerking works like Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling. The ideal reader of this sentimental novel will emote as its main character Harley emotes, dropping a single tear or heaving a winsome sigh where appropriate; this sympathetic response is the bedrock of sensibility. Indeed, contemporary readers, it is reported, had appropriate emotional reactions to Mackenzie’s book. The Monthly Review wrote of The Man of Feeling in May of 1771 “the Reader, who weeps not over some of the scenes it describes, has no sensibility of mind” (Mackenzie Harkin 205). Critics from that day to this have read the book in terms of its pathos, analyzing its rhetoric as aimed at wringing a physical and emotional reaction from its readers by depicting exquisitely overwrought scenes. Brian Vickers notices a brief satirical tone in the treatment of Harley’s aunt, but holds that “it is never enough to disturb the non-ambiguous mood of pathos and sympathy” (Mackenzie Vickers xiv). The text itself provides more than ample evidence that it operates on this emotional axis; nearly every page greets the reader with Harley’s exemplary grief, inviting her to cry along. However, this emotional propinquity which would align the reader with Harley and teach her to feel does not explain all that passes in The Man of Feeling. It is my contention that, rather than unambiguously extorting reader sensibilities, The Man of Feeling, particularly through its formal peculiarities, presents a nuanced picture of sensibility. The critical tradition notwithstanding, Mackenzie’s popular novel is as important a commentary on sensibility as it is a performance of it.

The typical reading of the novel as a performance of sensibility, a work whose chief interest lies in its pathos, seems initially to be supported by its genre as well as by abundant textual evidence. Early reviews instantly recognized the work as attempting something like Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, albeit with less sophistication and success. Given the comparison to Sterne, whose sentiment is tempered throughout by his wit, it is surprising not to see early reviewers finding anything more than pathos and careless composition in The Man of Feeling. Maybe they didn’t go looking because the text presents its argument so clearly. When Harley says to old Edwards “‘let me hold thee to my bosom; let me imprint the virtue of thy sufferings on my soul,’” it is as impossible for the reader to doubt his sincerity as it is for her to fail to take this message as a sort of user’s guide to the novel (Mackenzie Vickers 95). If texts teach readers how to read them, this one certainly seems to instruct its readers to imprint the virtue of Harley’s sufferings on their souls, to get close enough to the heat of his sympathy that they might burst into flames as well.

While that reading may be satisfying in many ways, it leaves important elements of the text out of its purview. For instance, the standard view tends to ignore the many levels of mediation present in the text. Harley is present in a bundle of papers composed by a character known only as The Ghost, used by the curate as wadding for his hunting gun, and finally passed to the nameless editor who presents the text to the reader. If the purpose of the text is to use language to get readers close to Harley, then why impose these frames on it? Why include three possible sources for any word in the book? Sure, Mackenzie gains the luxury of working with a fragmented text trouvé, which means he gains authenticity, doesn’t have to worry about plot and can concentrate on getting to his emotional point, but there is no need to have so many editors to achieve this end.[1] What’s more, the text includes consistent observations on Harley that serve to distance the reader from him. For instance, rather than being plunged into Harley’s consciousness, the reader confronts descriptions such as the one of old Edwards’ “white locks [which] crossed that brown of his neck with a contrast the most venerable to a mind like Harley’s” (Vickers 85). The “to a mind like Harley’s” calls attention to the distance between (presumably) The Ghost and Harley, suggesting that their minds are perhaps not alike. In one of his descriptions, Harley’s mind is like a lady’s mirror, which always gives a favorable tint to what it reflects, but mirrors are impenetrable as well as reflective. The form of the novel guarantees Harley always remains at a third-person perspective, as opaque as reflective. The narrator speculates on people’s motives in spreading bad news, asking “Is it that we delight in observing the effects of the stronger passions” (Vickers 106)? This question is aimed squarely at his reader; is the text’s misanthropist right, is Schadenfreude the real motive to read The Man of Feeling? While Harley approaches the world with mild ignorance and the best intentions, the mediated form of the text makes it impossible for the reader to actually take Harley’s position. The performative aspect of the text is interrupted by its commentative aspect. Mediation is more than a formal device here; it works thematically to highlight the ways in which would-be sentimentalists are separated from their objects by failures of ignorance.

One of the pleasures of this text is judging Harley, even if that judgment is a positive one buoyed by the reader’s knowledge of his ignorance. In some ways, Harley’s story is like a hanging at Tyburn, all spectacle to be observed by a sophisticated reader, one afforded the palpitating glimpses at Harley’s heart no less than the cooler and wider survey of The Ghost and the other editors. This is not a straightforwardly and crushingly sincere book, intent on breaking hearts. Rather, it is a quietly sophisticated examination of the conditions of possibility of sensibility; the conclusion of the examination is that sensibility rests only on a kind of ignorance or resistance to knowledge which even a text free of the entanglements of the novel cannot grant its readers.

Works Cited
Harkin, Maureen. "Mackenzie's Man of Feeling: Embalming Sensibility." ELH 61.2 (1994): 317-40.
Horace. "Ars Poetica." Trans. D. A. Russell. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch et. al. New York: Norton, 2001. 124-35.
Mackenzie, Henry. The Man of Feeling. Ed. Maureen Harkin. Peterborough: Broadview P, 2005.
---. The Man of Feeling. Ed. Brian Vickers. Oxford: Oxford U P, 1987.

[1] For more on the effect of mediation on this text, see Maureen Harkin, "Mackenzie's Man of Feeling: Embalming Sensibility," ELH 61.2 (1994).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

MacKenzie Discusion to Begin August 13th

From Crystal B. Lake, Grad Caucus Chair

Discussion of MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling is set to launch on Monday, August 13th. Graduate Students Sarah Cote (Cornell), Michael Gavin (Rutgers), Shayda Hoover (UC-Irvine), Laura Miller (UCSB), and Zak Watson (University of Missouri) have all generously agreed to contribute short essays that are sure to get the discussion going. So dust off, unwrap, or download your copy of The Man of Feeling, and stop by on August 13th to join the conversation!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Online Reading Group Coming Soon -- Stay Tuned!

From Crystal B. Lake, Grad Caucus Chair

The ASECS Graduate Student Caucus is pleased to announce the near launch of its online reading group blog. Discussion will begin on August 13th of Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling (1771). Mackenzie's text is available online through Project Gutenberg (available here), or for purchase from Amazon.com. The Graduate Caucus is currently seeking five volunteers who will agree to post "main" articles (of about 1000-1500 words) about the novel. These will serve as the launching pad for larger discussions. If you're interested in being one of the main posters for The Man of Feeling, please send me an e-mail at cblvf2@mizzou.edu by July 15th. Additionally, I hope everyone will send me recommendations for future reading groups!