How can we engage with one another and respond to suffering without feeling sentimental empathy or sympathy? What lies outside the pitfalls of sympathy that is not merely cold, unfeeling, and alienated? These are the questions at the core of both Melanie V. Dawson’s Emotional Reinventions and Deborah Nelson’s Tough Enough. Dawson focuses on American literary realism’s overlooked interest in emotions and its deliberately unsentimental ways of registering, understanding, and portraying them, while Nelson tells the story of a twentieth-century female tradition of “unsentimentality” that she traces through the works of Diane Arbus, Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, and Simone Weil. While the two books are quite different in style and scope, they each depict attempts by writers and artists to circumvent sentimental sympathy. As much as both books describe the critique of and escape from sentimentality—its aesthetic and emotional entrapments, its perceived inefficacy—together they also...
Emotional Reinventions: Realist-Era Representations beyond Sympathy
Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil
Hildegard Hoeller is professor of English at the College of Staten Island with an appointment in English and women’s studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the author of From Gift to Commodity: Capitalism and Sacrifice in Nineteenth Century American Fiction (Univ. of New Hampshire Press, 2012) and Edith Wharton’s Dialogue with Realism and Sentimental Fiction (Univ. Press of Florida, 2000); she is also the editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick (Norton, 2007) and coauthor of Key Words for Academic Writers (Pearson, 2004). Her essays have appeared in PMLA, American Literature, Studies in American Fiction, ESQ, American Literary Realism, African-American Review, Edith Wharton Review, and other scholarly journals and edited collections. She is currently working as editor on volume 20 of The Complete Works of Edith Wharton (Oxford Univ. Press), the first authoritative and scholarly edition of Wharton’s work.
Hildegard Hoeller; Emotional Reinventions: Realist-Era Representations beyond Sympathy
Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil. American Literature 1 December 2018; 90 (4): 867–869. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-7208611
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