An Ethics of Refusal: Sympathy, Intimacy and Fidelity in British Romanticism
Kirch, Lisa Julia Olivia
Wang, Orrin N.C.
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Despite a current emphasis in Romantic scholarship on intersubjectivity, this study suggests that we still have much to learn about how theories of intersubjectivity operate in Romantic-era writings that focus on the family—the most common vehicle for exploring relationships during the period. By investigating how sympathy, intimacy, and fidelity are treated in the works of Mary Hays, Felicia Hemans, and Mary Shelley, this dissertation discovers the presence of an “ethics of refusal” within women’s Romantic-era texts. Texts that promote an ethics of refusal, I argue, almost advocate for a particular mode of relating within a given model of the family as the key to more equitable social relations, but, then, they ultimately refuse to support any particular model. Although drawn towards models of relating that, at first, seem to offer explicit pathways towards a more ethical society, texts that promote an ethics of refusal ultimately reject any program of reform. Such rejection is not unaccountable, but stems from anxieties about appearing to dictate what is best for others when others are, in reality, other than the self. In this dissertation, I draw from feminist literary critiques that focus on ethics; genre-focused literary critiques; and studies of sympathy, intimacy, and fidelity that investigate modes of relating within the context of literary works and reader-textual relations. Psychoanalytic theory also plays an important role within my third chapter on Mary Shelley’s novel Falkner. Scholarship that investigates the dialectical nature of Romantic-era literature informs my entire project. Through theorizing and studying an ethics of refusal, we can more fully understand how intersubjective modes functioned in Romantic literature and discover a Romanticism uniquely committed to attempting to turn dialectical reasoning into a social practice.