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Abstract

Received wisdom about the sentimental novel centres on its reliance on typographical detail (dashes and asterisks particularly) and the externalization of subjective states (in descriptions of the physical body) to address the essential ineffability of the novel's implicit world view. Indeed, the critical discourse about the genre is so utterly saturated by assumptions about the inefficacy of language that scant attention has been paid to the actual methods of literary description in the sentimental tableau, or what I would call "frozen pathos." I would like to outline the cultural signifiers of pathos in selected sentimental novels of the eighteenth century; these signifiers, I argue, also serve to undercut the sense of privacy, of immediacy, and so inscribe contradiction as one of the very foundations of the genre.

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