Joy, dejection, devotion, boredom—among the ways in which we respond to literary texts, feelings are perhaps the most immediate and the most permanent. And yet, feeling is often treated as reason’s less reputable cousin. For the Victorians, however, feeling was not only the ephemeral stuff of private experience; rather, as James Fitzjames Stephen wrote in 1863, emotions ‘exercise so powerful an influence over our conduct, that they may almost be said to determine it.’ Feeling was central to Victorian thought in a number of areas. In addition to illuminating the deep recesses of selfhood, feeling could comprise the very foundations of public life: a way to fortify communities increasingly strained by the divisions between classes, genders, and nationalities. Feeling offered a way of determining not just masculinity and femininity, self and other, but also limits of freedom and determination, humanity and inhumanity. During the nineteenth century feeling became fodder for socio-political and scientific enquiry, but increasingly literature became both the crucial way of engendering and educating feeling, and of testing the effects of feeling. This module follows the Victorians themselves by treating feeling as a key object of study. Reading across a wide variety of Victorian genres and forms, poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction, you will evaluate the idea that feeling can help us
to know others, consider the relationship between feeling and thought, and examine the social and political uses of feelings such as sympathy, grief, love, and disgust. If we are often influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by our feelings about literary history, this module helps to show what insights can be gained by recalling that feeling itself has a history.