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The Culture of Sensibility

Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain

G. J. Barker-Benfield documents the emergence of the culture of sensibility that transformed British society of the eighteenth century. His account focuses on the rise of new moral and spiritual values and the struggle to redefine the group identities of men and women. Drawing on the full spectrum of eighteenth-century thought from Adam Smith to John Locke, from the Earl of Shaftesberry to Dr. George Cheyne, and especially Mary Wollstonecraft, Barker-Benfield offers an innovative and compelling way to understand how Britain entered the modern age.

554 pages | 11 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 1992

Culture Studies

Gender and Sexuality

History: British and Irish History

Women's Studies

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1: Sensibility and the Nervous System
Wollstonecraft’s Perspective: The Gendering of Sensibility
A New Psychoperceptual System
The Application of the New System: George Cheyne, 1671-1743
The Reformation of Manners Combined with Consumerism
Nerve Theory in Novels
Female Nerves and Sensibility’s Ambiguity
2: The Reformation of Male Manners
The Public Manners of Men
The Campaign for the Reformation of Manners
Heart Religion
The Civilizing Process and British Commercial Capitalism
Changed Environments and the New World of Parents and Children
3: The Question of Effeminacy
Hume and Smith
Henry MacKenzie
Politics and Boys’ Literature: Thomas Day.
4: Women and Eighteenth-Century Consumerism
Home Demand
Women Become Literate, Women Write Novels
Women’s Self-Expression in Fashion
Fiction Records Women’s Pleasure Seeking
Ambivalence toward Women’s Pursuit of Consumer Pleasures
5: A Culture of Reform
Women and Humanitarian Reform
Stalking Horses: The Campaign on Behalf of Victims of Male Barbarity
Sensibility’s Goal: The Man of Feeling
Sensibility’s Method: Conversion
The Cult of Sensibility
Methodism and the Culture of Sensibility
The Rights of Woman and the Reformation of Manners
6: Women and Individualism: Inner and Outer Struggles over Sensibility
The Sentimentalizing Process
Egotism and Opposition
The Reality of Heroism and Romance
Subversive Potentials in Women’s Developing Minds: Marriage and Class
Still More Subversive Potentials: Sensibility and Sex
7: Wollstonecraft and the Crisis over Sensibility in the 1790s
Amazons at the Boundary
Wollstonecraft, Hays, and the Conflict over Sensibility
Wollstonecraft Becomes Amazon
"Man Was Made to Reason, Woman to Feel": Compromise

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