The tears of a killer
Practising sentimentalism and romanticism in criminal court
in Trials of the self
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Two famous emotional styles swept through Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: the culture of sensibility or sentimentalism, and the culture of romanticism. This chapter connects the history of the self to the history of emotions. Up to around 1770, few traces of the cult of sensibility could be found and in trial records, only women were occasionally reported as weeping. This changed in the 1770s and early 1780s, when men were also said to have wept. Only in the 1780s and 1790s, however, when male tears were already disappearing again, explicit references to the central concept of sympathy made their way into the trial records. In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, in the late 1790s, there was a short-lived return of male sentiment, followed by the virtual disappearance of all male tears and sympathy around 1800. In the romantic period, feelings became more private and more profound. The chapter shows that feelings, which are often expected to change only slowly, could in fact go through rapid changes.

Trials of the self

Murder, mayhem and the remaking of the mind, 1750–1830


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