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Publication News! Carolyne Larrington, Approaches to Emotion in Middle English Literature (Manchester University Press, 2024)

Carolyne Larrington’s new book, Approaches to Emotion in Middle English Literature, has just appeared from Manchester University Press. The book outlines ways in which we can identify and interpret emotion in Middle English literary texts, with a particular emphasis on romance, since as Megan Moore has recently noted, ‘emotion is the very language of romance’. The book has a long introduction, outlining the history of the study of emotions since the onset of the ‘affective turn’ in humanities studies, and sketching the models for emotion offered in medieval physiological, theological and philosophical theories.


The book has five chapters. Chapter One deals with emotion words, asking how they can be identified, what happens to words when translated between languages and investigating emotion taxonomies. A consideration of Barbara Rosenwein’s work is key here. Chapter Two looks at bodies and actions, unpacking the differences between involuntary somatic indices of emotion, such as colour changes, swooning or trembling, gestures such as kissing and kneeling, and behaviour such as weeping or laughter which occupies a middle ground between willed and unwilled emotional reaction.


Chapter Three takes up the question of performance, performativity (‘getting things done with emotions’), and the emotive. These issues relate to ideas about interiority and sincerity; how do we know if an emotion performance is pretended or real? How strategic are emotion displays, and what kind of work do they do in advancing the plot. Chapter Four addresses the question of the audiences for medieval English literary works. What evidence do we have of emotional effects upon listeners or readers? How do authors encode emotion in their writing so as to produce it in the audience? Concepts such as mirror characters, social contagion and stigmatized emotional responses are considered here.


In the final chapter, the book examines new developments in fifteenth-century literature: the emergence of long-form prose romances that give ample space to dilate upon emotion, whether recounted by the narrator (psychonarration), expressed in expanded dialogue, or in soliloquy. It also investigates the emergence of life-writing in the works of Thomas Hoccleve and Margery Kempe. How is emotion expressed in literature that purports to related directly to a writer’s lived experience? The book concludes with a summary of emotion developments over the three hundred years of literature that form its topic, and looks forward to new emotional repertoires emerging in the early modern period.​


For more information about this fascinating new book, see Manchester University Press' website.

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