Affecting Fictions: Mind, Body, and Emotion in American Literary Realism

Overview

What happens when the cerebral--that is, theories of literature and of affect--encounters the corporeal, the human body? In this study by Jane Thrailkill, what emerges from the convergence is an important vision of late-nineteenth-century American realist literature and the role of emotion and physiology in literary criticism.

Affecting Fictions offers a new understanding of American literary realism that draws on neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Thrailkill positions ...

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Overview

What happens when the cerebral--that is, theories of literature and of affect--encounters the corporeal, the human body? In this study by Jane Thrailkill, what emerges from the convergence is an important vision of late-nineteenth-century American realist literature and the role of emotion and physiology in literary criticism.

Affecting Fictions offers a new understanding of American literary realism that draws on neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Thrailkill positions herself against the emotionless interpretations of the New Critics. Taking as her point of departure realist works of medicine, psychology, and literature, she argues that nineteenth-century readers and critics would have taken it for granted that texts engaged both mind and body. Feeling, she writes, is part of interpretation.

Examining literary works by Henry James, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thrailkill explores the connections among the aesthetic, emotion, consciousness, and the body in readings that illuminate lesser-known works such as "Elsie Venner" and that resuscitate classics such as "The Yellow Wallpaper."

Focusing on pity, fear, nervousness, pleasure, and wonder, Thrailkill makes an important contribution to the growing body of critical work on affect and aesthetics, presenting a case for the indispensability of emotions to the study of fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Dale Bauer
This is a truly important project of reading realism through somatic experience, including sensation, aesthetics, and physiology. Thrailkill offers bold interpretations of the relations between corporality and realism. Working at the intersections of modernity, genre, and history, Thrailkill challenges us to incorporate "physiological thinking" into our theories of affect and reading realism's effects on the body. An impressive response to the explosion of work on sentimental and sensational fictions.
Randall Knoper
Thrailkill opens up fresh ways of thinking about our whole aesthetic experience—meaning our whole body-and-mind experience—by combining contemporary theories of emotion with surprising readings of literature and philosophy from a century ago. The book excitingly reorients our understanding American literary realism, and it uses this literature to advance our current discussions of the place of affect in writing and reading.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674025127
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2007
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

?ane F. Thrailkill is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The "Affective Fallacy" Fallacy

The Entanglements of Two Cultures

Literature and Neurology, 1860-1910

Rethinking Emotion

1. "The Zest, the Tingle, the Excitement of Reality"

Toward a New Conceptual Genealogy for American Literary Realism

"Being Moved": Modernity, Evolution, and the Reflex Arc

Laughter, Reflection, and Realization in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

2. Statistical Pity: Elsie Venner and the Controversy over Childbed Fever

The Case against Contagion

Representing "Ontological Shadows"

Holmes's "Algebra of Human Nature"

Pathological Particularity in the Novel

Coda: Anecdote and Abstraction

3. Fear and Epistemology: Tracking the Train of Feeling in A Mortal Antipathy

From Physiognomy to Physiology

Excess and Dissolution of the Nervous System

Embodied Memory and the Pathogenic Secret

The Forensic Self

4. Nervous Effort: Gilman, Crane, and the Psychophysical Pathologies of Everyday Life

Freud, Feminist Reading, and Interrogative Criticism

A Physiological Approach to Nervousness

Effort, Agitation, Aesthetics

Fracture and Fabrication: Crane's The Red Badge of Courage

Coda: Reconstruction and "The Yellow Wallpaper"

5. "Mindless" Pleasure: Embodied Music in The Awakening and Theron Ware

New Varieties of Religious Experience

Theron Ware and the Ironic Rhythm of the Sick Soul

Kate Chopin's Lyrical "Gospel of Relaxation"

Music and the Sounding Board of the Body

The Rhythm of Desire in The Awakening

The Pleasures of "The Storm"

6. Corporeal Wonder: The Occult Entrancements of The Wings of the Dove

Charming Milly

From Trance to Transference—and Back Again

William James and Mrs. Piper: The Medium Is the Message

"Tremendous Rites of Nullification"

Conclusion: Burning Issues

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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