It may seem paradoxical to assert that a book that announces itself as being about “insensibility” or “failures” of feeling has much to say about powerful emotional experience. But Wendy Anne Lee's Failures of Feeling demonstrates that we feel most acutely in the face of emotional detachment, neutrality, and insensibility. “Nothing,” she writes, with characteristic epigrammatic verve, “incites the passions like dispassion” (1). Within the field of eighteenth-century novel studies, the striking intervention of Failures of Feeling is to work against the grain of what is often also called “The Age of Feeling” or “The Age of Sensibility.” In contrast to the many studies that have focused on the era's seemingly unequivocal love of over-the-top displays of emotion and its emphasis on sympathy and emotional contagion, Lee argues that such a picture is incomplete. She demonstrates that focusing on the strong counter-tradition of...

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