Strategic sympathy : interactions of form, gender, and genre in Charlotte Smith's Emmeline and Desmond.


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Charlotte Smith’s work has an established relationship with sensibility and the political and social issues of her day. However, Smith’s use of sensibility’s conventions against itself to create room for assertive femininity and eventually the realist genre has been overlooked. I explore two of Smith’s early novels to see how Smith unsettles cultural expectations through the use of sympathy. I argue first that Emmeline incorporates theatrical elements such as scene, character, and narrative to engage sympathy for an assertive woman. Then, I explore how Desmond incorporates distance to engage sympathy for the sentimental heroine, even as that sympathy is undermined by sentimental conventions. The failed sympathy challenges sensibility’s unreasonable expectations for feminine obedience. Both novels manipulate the genre of the sentimental novel to create sympathy, but that sympathy provides a critique that undermines the sentimental female role by providing them room for rationality and elements of independence.



Eighteenth century. Genre. Gender. Sympathy. Sensibility. Realism. Theater. Distance.