Monday, November 7, 2016

From the Library of Marie Antoinette: The Man of Feeling

Today's Book: The Man of Feeling

Title: The Man of Feeling (French title: L'homme et la femme sensibles]

Author: Henry Mackenzie (1745-1831)

Publication: Originally published in 1771 anonymously. The French edition in Marie Antoinette's library is from 1775.

Notes: A fragmentary sentimental novel which details the life of a man named Harley who--being a 'man of feeling'--finds himself listening to the sad tales of those around them and doing what he can to alleviate their pain. His story is told through a series of vignettes in an incomplete manuscript with (contrived) missing chapters and pages, and is part of an overarching narrative which involves the manuscript of Harley's life being traded into the hands of a narrator.

The book was fairly well received in its day, but by the 19th century had become--like many other novels in the sentimentalism genre--a subject of ridicule. The 1886 edition of The Man of Feeling include an "Index of Tears," ('Chokings, &c., not counted') listing all of the times characters in the novel cry. The editor of this edition sarcastically notes: “The Man of Feeling” begins with imitation of Sterne, and proceeds in due course through so many tears that it is hardly to be called a dry book.  As guide to persons of a calculating disposition who may read these pages I append an index to the Tears shed in “The Man of Feeling.”

In his 2009 edition of the novel, Brian Vickers noted that by this time the "repertory of sentimental effects ... has become a repertory of mirthful effects, perhaps to be read aloud in the Victorian parlour to an audience only needing to hear these categories of tears in order to trigger a rather different response."

Where you can read it: The 1886 English edition can be read at Project Gutenburg.

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