Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Book Review
The Man of Feeling
by Henry MacKenzie
p. 1771
Oxford World's Classics Edition p. 2001
Edited by Brian Vickers
With an Introduction and Notes by Stephen Bending and Stephen Bygrave

  I was working on the Bibliography for this blog when I noticed I'd never actually published a book review for The Man of Feeling by Henry MacKenzie, even though I bought it November in 2009 and must have read it in 2010.   Although I never wrote a review, I referred to it at length during my review of Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, posted in April of last year.   Back then, here is what I had to say:

    Sterne's A Sentimental Journey was published three years before Henry MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling.  Man of Feeling was in instant hit, selling out within two months and being reprinted six time in the following decade.  Both novels echo the on-going debate in 18th century about the impact of modernity on the nature of man.  As G.J. Barker-Benfield persuasively argued in his book, The Culture of Sensibility, "popular novels written by men in the 1760s and 1770s were preoccupied with the meanings of sensibility for manhood...and the ambiguity we now tend to read into the novels of Laurence Stern or Mackenzie reflects this contemporary ambivalence."       Regardless of how one interprets the underlying debate OR the role of the "novels of sentiment" in the 18th century, it's clear that these tales had an audience.  Of course, in light of the rise of female novelists in the 19th century,  I am left wondering who was buying all the copies of MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling.  Was it men, interested in getting a fix on their identity in a rapidly changing world?  Or was it largely women, interested in men who were depicted behaving in a traditionally "feminine" manner?      Sterne's Sentimental Journey is a clear way-station on the way to MacKenzie's mincing, sobbing Man of Feeling.  Unlike MacKenzie, Sterne is a comic genius, and his book is filled with episodes of satire and wit that are sorely missing in Man of Feeling.  There is also an element of bawdiness in A Sentimental Journey that is so clearly an element of Sterne's Rabelaisian style- something lacking in MacKenzie, let alone the oft humorless novels of sentiment that were published after the turn of the century.  Blame the Victorians, or don't, it matters little.      However it's clear to me that the "Sentimental Man" was a cultural trend with all the complexity and force of later trends like Rock and roll, and it's interesting because it was one of the FIRST such modern trends whose influence was reflected in a contemporary art form that was ITSELF just rounding into form (the novel.)  For that reason it's worth thinking about, because by learning about people then, we can learn about ourselves now.

     That's as true as it was then as it is now.   Henry MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling has a antiquated feel to it, simply from the type of culture depicted- the culture of sentiment.  Important as it is to understand that time period, it's not very appealing from a Modern perspective, except as a historical text.  Perhaps that is why I didn't review it back in 2010.

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