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Title: Love's Perception: Nineteenth-Century Aesthetics of Attachment
Authors: Sanford, Beatrice J.
Advisors: Schor, Esther
Nord, Deborah
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: aesthetics
Edmund Burke
George Eliot
Subjects: British and Irish literature
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Love's Perception explores nineteenth-century narratives about people, places, and things which "are still what they were," in all the quietness of John Stuart Mill's phrase. William Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson, and George Eliot cultivated a capacity to dwell on familiar objects as they are already known, without expecting further change. In their works, lingering back--especially when others hurry forward--discloses an aesthetic attuned to perceptions made slight by familiarity. For instance, Tennyson's mariners remain behind on Lotos-land to listen dreamily to the intimate sounds of their bodies at rest--to whispers, breaths, and heartbeats. Forgoing the charm of novelty and the pull of the unknown, the narratives which I read evoke the sustaining pleasure found in feelings which we already know in full. Collectively, they recreate aesthetic experience as a field of loving attachment rather than vivid transport. I trace the contrasting aesthetic orientations of lingering over the known and of anticipating the unknown to a crisis in perception first formulated within late eighteenth-century empiricist philosophy. Perceptions give us knowledge, but they fade away when they have done so. Colors, noises, scents that once vividly leapt out at us gradually recede behind what Romantic writers variously describe as the "film," "veil," or "mist" of familiarity. This happens just as surely when we care for an object; as Eliot mourns, "the sense slips off from each loved thing." Thus many nineteenth-century writers described familiarity as incompatible with aesthetic perception. They looked to art to counter sensory decline, defining aesthetic experience around the curious pursuit of new sensations or the fleeting defamiliarization of old ones. By contrast, the writers I take up make room for love, intimacy, and fidelity within aesthetic engagement. Following Edmund Burke, who lays out a conservative aesthetic in his writings on the French Revolution, they seek to sustain a tempered delight in staying with well-known objects in all their familiarity. They recover feelings that would go unnoticed amidst anything intensely new: Wordsworth's "pleasure which there is in life itself," Tennyson's music falling more lightly than rose petals do on grass, or Eliot's "sweet monotony" of steady sunlight. Their works bring to salience the slighter pressures of sensory continuity amidst the more forceful insistence of change. Read together, they articulate a nineteenth-century literary tradition of aesthetic satisfaction with the given.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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