‘A good hater’: Writing about the Emotions with George Eliot and A. S. Byatt

In: Emotions: History, Culture, Society
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  • 1 The University of Melbourne

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This essay takes as its starting point a reflection of a character in A. S. Byatt’s Still Life: ‘George Eliot, Stephanie thought, was a good hater’. This comment refers to Eliot’s satirical analysis of middle-class sensibilities and emotional affectations in The Mill on the Floss. This essay explores the emotional resonances of this phrase that links these two very different novels, written in different centuries and structured around very different thematic concerns. Nevertheless, this connection between them, and the way a small modern community of readers responded to this connection on social media, helps us theorise the distinctive contribution literary studies can make to the history of emotions. Literary texts, and perhaps especially the novel, offer complex multiple perspectives on the performance of emotions in social contexts. In such texts, passionate emotional extremes and everyday emotions are treated with equal seriousness and subtlety, while the diachronic histories of literary reception and response offer rich narratives and material for the study of emotional history.

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