Sensibility, Sincerity, and Self-Interest in Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde

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This essay argues that Charlotte Smith’s little studied novel, “Ethelinde,” presents sensibility in a way which complicates the opposition between virtuous and corrupt femininity. In this text, Smith breaks down the association of sincerity of feeling with virtue by showing how authentic emotions could be managed for self-interested purposes. Sensibility in “Ethelinde,” therefore, exceeds the logic of sentimentality. I historicize this self-interested function of feeling in relation to the work of Gillian Skinner and Harriet Guest, who argue that the emergence of political economy inflected discourses of feminine feeling with the language of commerce. At the same time, I demonstrate that Smith’s
mobilization of sensibility represents a proto-feminist intervention into the
patriarchal order, participating in the ideological agenda that Diane Hoeveler
has identified in women’s gothic literature. Smith’s presentation of feeling as
a possible mode of agency for women is, however, deeply conflicted, and I
suggest this might be due to the author’s real-life battles with patriarchal law.
In order to theorize the ambiguous status of sensibility in the text, I engage
with Arlie Hoschild’s twentieth-century theory of emotion, which allows an
articulation feeling in terms that move beyond the familiar constructions of
feminine virtue and vice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342-357
Number of pages16
JournalWomen's Writing
Issue number3
Early online date26 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Women's Writing on 26th July 2017, available online:

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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