Date of Award
Open Access Thesis
Languages, Literatures and Cultures
This thesis examines theories of pain in the eighteenth century, and what it meant to sympathize with the pain of another. I begin briefly with the theories of Descartes and his adherents before focusing on David Hartley and John Locke. Physicians and natural philosophers of the period understood pain as a pure mechanism of the nervous system, confined to the tubelike fibers that run through the body. Naturally everyone feels pain by some means, whether illness or injury, so men ought to be able to sympathize with the afflictions of others. Yet, according to Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, this is not so. He argues for the ultimate inexpressibility of pain; our nerves do not mimic the activity of another's nerves, and our reality cannot completely intersect with the reality of another. If sympathy is a shared suffering, pain is impossible to share. Therefore, physical afflictions cannot receive others' sympathies in the same manner as those of the passions, which pass easily between minds. ! ! While the physicians separated the painful operations of the body from the passions and from mind, newly popular sentimental fiction attempted to reunite all three in their work as their authors strove to replicate realistic experiences, expressly fictional or otherwise. Bodily pain and emotional suffering lie on either end of a dialectic, and I propose that the fulcrum sits at inventive semantics that rely on a consciously-created mediator. To demonstrate this, I use the example of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa: or, History of a Young Lady. Richardson assiduously disallows his characters to express real physical pain directly, but frequently uses every linguistic variation of the word "pain" to emphasize emotional and motivational distress rather than bodily harm. Clarissa in particular refuses to say that she experiences any discomfort even when the situation suggests she ought, emphasizing the unimportance of physical substance to her being. Although Richardson's characters undergo all sorts of pains, physical and cognitive, noun and verb, the only ones directly accessible to the reader are the pains of the mind; all that is known of the body comes mediated several times over by the epistles, semantics, and Richardson himself. This essay suggests how novelists incorporate and accommodate these anatomical theories and their relation to the passions rather than repudiate them for the sake of a fabricated subjectivity.
Hungerpiller, A.(2014). Clarissa's Suffering: Theorizing Sympathy and Physical Pain in the Eighteenth Century. (Master's thesis). Retrieved from https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/2583