By Laurence Lerner
What's the distinction among private and non-private feeling, and the way a long way will we deduce prior emotions from the phrases which have been left us? Why do baby deaths determine so usually and so prominently within the literature of the 19th century, and the way used to be the subject matter of the dying of a kid used to elicit such poignant responses within the readers of that period? during this interesting new booklet, Laurence Lerner vividly contrasts the contempt with which 20th- century feedback so frequently dismisses such works as mere sentimentality with the passion and tears of nineteenth-century contemporaries.Drawing examples from either actual and literary deaths, Lerner delves into the writings of recognized authors comparable to Dickens, Coleridge, Shelley, Flaubert, Mann, Huxley, and Hesse, in addition to lesser identified writers like Felicia Hemans and Lydia Sigourney. within the strategy, he synthesizes clean rules concerning the thorny matters of sentimentality, aesthetic judgment, and the functionality of faith in literature.Lerner's forthright and evocative prose variety is pleasing studying, and he excels in teasing out the ethical implications and the psychosocial entanglements of his selected narrative and lyrical texts. this can be a booklet that may light up an enormous point of the heritage of personal lifestyles. it's going to have huge software for these drawn to the historical past, sociology, and literature of the 19th century.
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Additional info for Angels and absences: child deaths in the nineteenth century
10 In the texts of Catherine Tait and Elizabeth Prentiss, we find two emotions, faith and grief. Now what will the response be of the skeptical reader Page 21 who cannot use Christian faith to "understand himself in front of the text"? To such a reader the faith may seem like a statement of what one was expected to say, whereas the grief can leave us convinced of its genuineness and immediacy. This does not mean that the statements of faith were hypocritical: it means that if we view them from the outside, we shall see them as a semiotic system, governing systematically the way experience is talked about, but pouring no meaning into our world.
The newborn child and the dying old man or woman mark the point at which awareness has just begun or is about to cease. How are these two points related? If we see life as a linear movement, then the point of beginning is the farthest from the point of ending, and the two are opposites. But if we see life as a space, demarcated by the fact that it abuts, at either end, on silence and unawareness, then the two extreme points are identical. In the first case, childhood is a beginning: the child has left nothingness behind and with every moment will become more alive; it embodies energy and vitality, and nothing is more remote from the idea of childhood than death.
But to say the same of grief would open us to the charge of reading as desiccated, inhuman computers: a computer can analyze with ever-increasing competence, but does not inhabit a semantic world. Computers do not grieve. But this distinction can in its turn be challengedand in two ways. In the first place, there is the reader for whom religious experience is as real as any other experience, who will refuse to reduce the statements of faith to the purely semiotic. And second, there is the reader who will be prepared to treat grief as I have proposed treating faith and who can cite, as support for his position, the case of fiction.