Literary critics' work on the sensation novel has often focused on these novels' purported ability to create affect—specifically suspense, shock, and fear—in their readers. This critical emphasis on how novels reproduce affect in the reader overlooks how they record affect, particularly the originary symptoms of affect in a character or narrator, as opposed to the secondary response in a reader. Why is it necessary for the novel to record these originary symptoms at all when affect could be produced in the reader by other means? The textual record of the sensation novel, which like the medical graphing instruments of the 1860s creates a continuous record of bodily sensation attending to scale, timing, and source, helps not just to construct a subjectivity through emotion but to assert the materiality of the fictional world supporting that subjectivity. More important, it parses out important distinctions between novel time and historical, biological, or evolutionary time, between the affect of an individual character and that of the human body more generally, which grounds and enables the commonality of bodily experience between a fictional character and the diverse community of readers.
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Meegan Kennedy; Some Body's Story: The Novel as Instrument. Novel 1 November 2009; 42 (3): 451–459. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-041
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