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Victorian sympathy and the birth of empathy

Burdett, Caroline


Caroline Burdett


Sympathy was enormously important for the Victorians. It was a central aspect of novels - where a narrator helps us look inside characters' minds and hearts. The novelist who did most to underline the moral work of the novel in this respect was George Eliot. This talk, though, examines how sympathy becomes stranger and more problematic in Eliot's great final novel, Daniel Deronda (1876). It takes that novel's ending - with characters, narrator and readers all looking forward to an uncertain future - as a prompt to look forward to the fin de siècle when another woman writer, Vernon Lee, was engaged in a set of peculiar experiments about what happens to us when we look at beautiful things. The process she described she later called empathy and the story of empathy's birth has powerful resonance for the twenty-first century too.


Burdett, C. Victorian sympathy and the birth of empathy

Deposit Date Apr 19, 2015
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords Literature and Emotions, Tea-Time Talks, Victorian, Sympathy, Empathy
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