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An Archaeology of Sympathy

The Sentimental Mode in Literature and Cinema

In the middle of the eighteenth century, something new made itself felt in European culture—a tone or style that came to be called the sentimental. The sentimental mode went on to shape not just literature, art, music, and cinema, but people’s very structures of feeling, their ways of doing and being.
In what is sure to become a critical classic, An Archaeology of Sympathy challenges Sergei Eisenstein’s influential account of Dickens and early American film by tracing the unexpected history and intricate strategies of the sentimental mode and showing how it has been reimagined over the past three centuries. James Chandler begins with a look at Frank Capra and the Capraesque in American public life, then digs back to the eighteenth century to examine the sentimental substratum underlying Dickens and early cinema alike. With this surprising move, he reveals how literary spectatorship in the eighteenth century anticipated classic Hollywood films such as Capra’s It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Chandler then moves forward to romanticism and modernism—two cultural movements often seen as defined by their rejection of the sentimental—examining how authors like Mary Shelley, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf actually engaged with sentimental forms and themes in ways that left a mark on their work.
Reaching from Laurence Sterne to the Coen brothers, An Archaeology of Sympathy casts new light on the long eighteenth century and the novelistic forebears of cinema and our modern world.

392 pages | 68 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Film Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature


An Archaeology of Sympathy is cultural history of the first order. It unfolds thrillingly, as a kind of project of media archaeology, showing us in eye-opening ways the crucial roles that the sentimental mode accords to notions of virtual spectatorship and mediated feeling. I found myself fascinated by the historical argument about sentimentalism’s relation to episodes of media shift. This book has changed the way I think about books and movies.”

Deidre Lynch, University of Toronto

“James Chandler’s An Archaeology of Sympathy demonstrates in spades the continuing value of an attitude or disposition to cultural production that often goes by the name of close reading. In a dazzling display of erudition, razor sharp argumentation, and the sheer enjoyment of reading, looking, and thinking well, Chandler moves with both ease and friction across the films of Frank Capra, the poetry of William Wordsworth, and the philosophy of Adam Smith. Each of these cultural products and all of the other works both recent and historical that are drawn into Chandler’s sentimental disposition take on new and surprising guises. Read this book: the archaeology of sympathy may not change your life but you’ll never watch a film or read a work of literature again without hearing as you do so ‘In a Sentimental Mood.’”

Peter de Bolla, University of Cambridge

 “This learned, fluent, subtle, and surprising book brings together an old/new moment in European thought and a new/old moment in American cinema, showing how ‘sentimentality’ may include not only messy or displaced feelings but also a whole modern structure of relationships based on who is looking at (or caring about or troubled by) whom. Few writers have connected film and print in such a persuasive fashion, and none, as far as I know, has made, for example, Lord Shaftesbury, Lawrence Sterne, Adam Smith, Charles Dickens, Frank Capra, and Joseph Conrad look as if they might belong in the same room.”

Michael Wood, Princeton University

“James Chandler’s An Archaeology of Sympathy is a deep dig. . . . With discussions ranging in scope from proto-novelist Laurence Sterne, philosophers Friedrich Schiller, Adam Smith and Lord Shaftesbury, novelists Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad and Mary Shelley, and filmmakers D. W. Griffith and Frank Capra (then back through Sterne), the book may seem culturally crowded—any one of these figures is august company, any three a towering crowd—but Chandler is so learned, his prose so modestly lucid, that he weaves together all these figures with impressive dexterity.”

 “This is an outstanding piece of research and original thought with lasting significance for a wide scholarly audience. A definite asset for academic readers.”

Library Journal, starred review

"[A] beautiful book."

Thomas Pavel | Times Higher Education

"Chandler’s erudition is irrefutable."

Film Quarterly

"An Archaeology of Sympathy presents a complex argument in clear and comprehensible terms, and it balances fine-grained scholarly research with wide-angle historical synthesis."

Eighteenth-Century Fiction

“Highly eloquent and absorbing. . . . Chandler’s close readings of scenes . . . are unparalleled in their clarity and their exemplification of key sentimental-mode techniques. . . . What he shows us is keenly observant, always revealing, and certainly great for teaching.”

Studies in Romanticism

Table of Contents

Introduction The Sentimental Mode

Part 1 The Capraesque
1 Capra’s America
2 Capra Remakes Capra
3 Cinema as a Medium of Sentiment

Part 2 The Making of Literary Sentimentalism
4 The Case of the Literary Spectator
5 Sentimental Journeys, Vehicular States
6 The Emergence of Sentimental Probability
7 Sentimental Monstrosity

Part 3 Against Sentiment
8 Romanticism
9 Modernism


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