The Cult of Sensibility and Suffering

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  • WS 17/18

Course Information

Nr. Kursbezeichnung Typ Zeit Raum DozentIn
154506 The Cult of Sensibility and Suffering 2 PS Mi 10:15 – 11:45 R. U 331 Möllers

Course Description

“It was the pioneers of sentimentalism who themselves showed that the women of sensibility and the men of feeling were made ill by all that they were able to feel [… ] – an illness that was also a privilege.” (Mullan, Sentimental Novels 247f.)

Towards the end of the 18th century, nothing was of greater interest among the general public in Britain than a person’s nervous condition. Inspired by both alarming suicide rates and innovative outlooks on mental illnesses, Romantic writers presented a new understanding of psychological illnesses to defy Enlightenment ideas and the rule of reason. However, the state and delicacy of one’s nerves was more often than not connected to social status. As a result, the idea of using sensibility to display society’s flaws was distorted by a focus on suffering upper-class heroines – and heroes, astonishingly – rather than on pressing social injustices. It is hardly surprising that a literal Cult of Sensibility was unleashed by the idea that a display of delicate nerves confirms social class and universal benevolence. Consequently, the Cult of Sensibility did not make it any easier for 18th-century women and lower-class individuals to gain access to public spheres.

This class will examine the medical foundations as well as the literary and philosophical representations of the Cult of Sensibility in 18th- and early 19th-century Britain. We will study texts regarding their depictions of sensibility and connect these to issues of gender and class. Light will be shed on the representation of men and women in the nervous discourse and the difficulties of finding one’s place in society in light of a Cult of Sensibility will be investigated.

Course Requirements

  • Short presentation
  • Term Paper

Attendance of the first session is mandatory.

Reading List

  • A collection of required texts (Semesterapparat) will be made available via the Departmental Library (EF 50).


Lehramtsstudiengänge: MA BML 2005:
LPO 2003:
  • GHR: 1e
  • GyGe: 1e
  • SP1. Fach: 1e
  • SP2. Fach: 1e
  • BK: 1e
LABG 2009:
  • G: 601
  • HRG: 403
  • GyGe/BK: 403
  • SP:
LABG 2016:
  • G:
  • HRSGe: 403
  • GyGe/BK: 403
  • SP:
Angewandte Sprachwissenschaften/

Angewandte Literatur-/Kulturwissenschaften:

  • B.A.ALK: Kern 1c, 2ab, 3b Komp: 1b, 3ab
  • B.A.AS: Komp 2a
  • M.A.ALK:
  • M.A.AS:
Angewandte Sprachwissenschaften/

Angewandte Literatur-/Kulturwissenschaften PO ab WS 16/17:

  • B.A.ALK: Kern 1c, 2ab, 3b Komp: 1b, 3ab
  • B.A.AS: Komp 2a
  • M.A.ALK:
  • M.A.AS: