"Eighteenth-century sensibilite has always been controversial. In fact, the term itself refers to complex forms of physical and emotional responsiveness, and Lewis's study investigates the fictional exploration of various key problems of sentimental response that were at the heart of eighteenth-century moral, epistemological and aesthetic debates. These are analysed in conjunction with some of the actual (often emotional) responses that the term, its fictions and images have provoked through time, including an indispensable survey of the varying construction of sensibilite as an object of study, and the polemics subtending its definition. The verbal evocation of the visual in the form of 'spectacles' and 'signs' was understood in the eighteenth century as having an especially powerful impact. Lewis provides a new reading of the theme of sensibility by analysing the 'textual images' in three best-selling novels from the mid-century: Graffigny's Lettres d'une Peruvienne, Marivaux's La Vie de Marianne and Rousseau's Julie. The examination of a largely neglected corpus of illustrations, understood as readings of each text, provides striking new evidence of the complexity, thematic richness and duplicity of these spectacles, whose power to provoke different reactions is perhaps their most interesting characteristic."

chapter |13 pages


chapter 1|36 pages

Critical Readings of Eighteenth-Century French 'Sensibility'

Literary History and the History of a Word

chapter 2|26 pages

The Power of Images

Sensibility, Communication, and Aesthetic Experience in Graffigny's Lettres d'une Péruvienne

chapter 3|86 pages

Problems with the Passion of Pity, and Pitiful Passions

Love, Sex, and Sensibility in La Vie de Marianne

chapter |5 pages