This book traces an entire history of pity, as an emotion and as an element in the arts. Pity represents a combination of fear, helplessness and overwhelming agitation. It is a term which suffuses our everyday lives, it is also a dangerous term hovering between approval of sympathy and disapproval of emotional wallowing (as in 'self-pity'). David Punter here engages with a wealth of theoretical ideas to explore the literature of pity, including Freud, Derrida, Levinas and others. He begins with an 'Introduction: Distinguishing Pity'; followed by chapters on the Aristotelian framework; Buddhism and pity; the pieta in the Middle Ages and Renaissance; Shakespeare on pity; Milton's pitiless Christianity; pity and charity in the early novel; Blake's views on pity; the Victorian debate; from Austen to Dickens and George Eliot; Brecht and Chekhov on pity and self-pity; 'war, and the pity of war'; Jean Rhys and Stevie Smith; pity, immigration and the colony and finally three contemporary texts by Michel Faber, Kazuo Ishiguro and Cormac McCarthy.