Sensibility

Melvyn Bragg examines the 18th century idea of Sensibility. In Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, the lead character Yorick comforts a young woman who has been abandoned by a little pet goat that had proved as faithless as her lover. Yorick describes her effect upon his ‘sweet sensibility’, “I sat down close by her, and Maria let me wipe the tears away as they fell, with my handkerchief. I then steeped it in my own - and then in hers - and then in mine - and then I wiped hers again - and as I did it, I felt such undescribable emotions within me, as I am sure could not be accounted for from any combinations of matter and motion. (I am positive I have a soul; nor can all the books with which materialists have pestered the world ever convince me to the contrary.)”It seems a bit mawkish to us now but Sterne, Richardson and Mackenzie were all part of the ‘cult of sensibility’ in the eighteenth century which elevated the sentimental novel to the height of literary art. Jane Austen’s masterpiece, Sense and Sensibility, has traditionally been taken as a parody of sensibility. But what caused the rush to emotion that so infused and enthused the Sensibility movement and was Jane Austen really so critical of the expression of feeling?With Claire Tomalin, literary biographer and author of Jane Austen: A Life and The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft; John Mullan, Senior Lecturer in English at University College London; Hermione Lee, Goldsmiths Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford.

Release date:

Available now

45 minutes

Last on

Thu 3 Jan 2002 21:30

Related topics

Featured in...

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

Hildegard of Bingen

If you’re new to In Our Time, this is a good place to start.

The Matter of the North

BBC_R4_MELVYN_BRAGG_AHW-1920.jpg

Melvyn Bragg explores the pivotal role of England's north in shaping modern Britain.

In Our Time podcasts

In Our Time podcasts

Every episode of In Our Time is available to download.

Arts and Ideas podcast

Arts and Ideas podcast

Download the best of Radio 3's Free Thinking programme.