What is the difference between public and private feeling, and how far can we deduce past feelings from the words that have been left us? Why do child deaths figure so often and so prominently in the literature of the nineteenth century, and how was the theme of the death of a child used to elicit such poignant responses in the readers of that era? In this fascinating new book, Laurence Lerner vividly contrasts the contempt with which twentieth- century criticism so often dismisses such works as mere sentimentality with the enthusiasm and tears of nineteenth-century contemporaries.
Drawing examples from both real and literary deaths, Lerner delves into the writings of well-known authors such as Dickens, Coleridge, Shelley, Flaubert, Mann, Huxley, and Hesse, as well as lesser known writers like Felicia Hemans and Lydia Sigourney. In the process, he synthesizes fresh ideas about the thorny subjects of sentimentality, aesthetic judgment, and the function of religion in literature.
Lerner's forthright and evocative prose style is enjoyable reading, and he excels in teasing out the moral implications and the psychosocial entanglements of his chosen narrative and lyrical texts. This is a book that will illuminate an important aspect of the history of private life. It should have wide application for those interested in the history, sociology, and literature of the nineteenth century.