Approaches to emotion in Middle English literature

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Carolyne Larrington
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This ground-breaking book explores key methods for investigating emotions in medieval literary texts, proposing innovative approaches, drawing upon psychological theory, ‘history of emotions’ research and close critical reading, to uncover the emotional repertoire in play in English literary culture between 1200 and 1500. The extensive Introduction lays out medieval philosophical and physiological theorisations of emotion, closely bound up with cognitive processes. Following chapters investigate the changing lexis for emotion in Middle English, examining how translations from French affect the ways in which feelings are imagined. Bodily affect, both involuntary displays and deliberate gesture, is discussed in detail. Performativity – getting things done with emotions – and performance are shown to become interlinked as more sophisticated models of selfhood emerge. Concepts of interiority and the public persona, the self and self-presentation complicate the changing modes through which feeling is expressed. Literary texts are pre-eminently devices for producing emotion of various kinds; the book proposes ways of tracing how authors incorporated techniques for eliciting emotions into their narratives and their effects on their audiences. By the end of the medieval period two vital developments had expanded the possibility for varied and complex emotional expression in texts: the development of the long-form romance, encouraged by the advent of printing, and the concept of autofiction; new possibilities emerged for authors to write the emotional self.

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