Date of Award

12-15-2014

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Anthony Jarrells

Abstract

This work will focus on Charlotte Smith’s poetic works and how, over the course of her entire poetic career (the late eighteenth century/early nineteenth century), she exhibits a concrete sense of a poetic ethos regarding sympathy in her writing. I seek to account for the overwhelming focus on suffering subjects by illuminating her view of the relation between poetry and sympathy for others. I will also place her within a history of writers and philosophers who examined the epistemological and practical nature of feeling, sympathy, and emotional connection among human beings. Smith feels that poetry renders suffering visible to others, fostering the possibility for sympathy among a wide audience. Smith primarily focuses on an audience that shares common experiences of pain and creating a community among them. At the very center of this community, the one who orchestrates bringing together of common sufferers, is the figure of the poet. As evidenced in “Sonnet I” of Elegiac Sonnets, the duty of the poet is to record painful emotions and situations despite her own pain of keen sensitivity, or “sensibility.” The poet is the most fitting recorder of human emotion since she possesses both a heightened awareness of the world and the skill to convert emotions and situations into art. Smith feels that the poet has a duty to those pained individuals. Elegiac Sonnets and her epic-length works, Emigrants and Beachy Head, demonstrate how poetry becomes the space in which the poet guides the creation and dissemination of sympathy. Poetry renders misery and suffering visible to anyone who reads about them and makes understanding such pain a possibility. However, poetry also renders pain visible to a larger readership that includes those who cannot understand the commonly shared experience to which Smith reaches out. Her poetry is open to a more general reading public that finds entertainment value or self-satisfaction in, as David Hume says, “she[dding] a generous tear” for emotional turmoil. In this way, Smith divides her readership: the larger group that responds to thrills and drama and those she wishes to bring together as a community of fellow sufferers. She makes use of both groups of readers, as one audience enables her to live and make money and the other enables her to fulfill her poetic duty through sympathy. She navigates her dual readership with choices of vulnerable subjects in dire situations, as they appeal to both audiences (albeit for different reasons). Yet, despite availability to anyone who reads the poetry, shared experience remains a necessity in Smith’s poetic ethos regarding sympathy for those alone in suffering.

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