What happens when the cerebral - that is, theories of literature and of affect - encounters the corporeal, the human body? In this study by Jane Thrailkill, what emerges from the convergence is an important vision of late-19th Century American realist literature and the role of emotion and physiology in literary criticism. "Affecting Fictions" offers a new understanding of American literary realism that draws on neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Thrailkill positions herself against the emotionless interpretations of the New Critics. Taking as her point of departure realist works of medicine, psychology, and literature, she argues that 19th Century readers and critics would have taken it for granted that texts engaged both mind and body. Feeling, she writes, is part of interpretation. Examining literary works by Henry James, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thrailkill explores the connections among the aesthetic, emotion, consciousness, and the body in readings that illuminate lesser-known works such as "Elsie Venner" and that resuscitate classics such as "The Yellow Wallpaper."
Focusing on pity, fear, nervousness, pleasure, and wonder, Thrailkill makes an important contribution to the growing body of critical work on affect and aesthetics, presenting a case for the indispensability of emotions to the study of fiction.
Jane F. Thrailkill is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Introduction: The "Affective Fallacy" Fallacy The Entanglements of Two Cultures Literature and Neurology, 1860-1910 Rethinking Emotion 1. "The Zest, the Tingle, the Excitement of Reality" Toward a New Conceptual Genealogy for American Literary Realism "Being Moved": Modernity, Evolution, and the Reflex Arc Laughter, Reflection, and Realization in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 2. Statistical Pity: Elsie Venner and the Controversy over Childbed Fever The Case against Contagion Representing "Ontological Shadows" Holmes's "Algebra of Human Nature" Pathological Particularity in the Novel Coda: Anecdote and Abstraction 3. Fear and Epistemology: Tracking the Train of Feeling in A Mortal Antipathy From Physiognomy to Physiology Excess and Dissolution of the Nervous System Embodied Memory and the Pathogenic Secret The Forensic Self 4. Nervous Effort: Gilman, Crane, and the Psychophysical Pathologies of Everyday Life Freud, Feminist Reading, and Interrogative Criticism A Physiological Approach to Nervousness Effort, Agitation, Aesthetics Fracture and Fabrication: Crane's The Red Badge of Courage Coda: Reconstruction and "The Yellow Wallpaper" 5. "Mindless" Pleasure: Embodied Music in The Awakening and Theron Ware New Varieties of Religious Experience Theron Ware and the Ironic Rhythm of the Sick Soul Kate Chopin's Lyrical "Gospel of Relaxation" Music and the Sounding Board of the Body The Rhythm of Desire in The Awakening The Pleasures of "The Storm" 6. Corporeal Wonder: The Occult Entrancements of The Wings of the Dove Charming Milly From Trance to Transference--and Back Again William James and Mrs. Piper: The Medium Is the Message "Tremendous Rites of Nullification" Conclusion: Burning Issues Notes Acknowledgments Index