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The Man of Feeling by Henry Mackenzie

The Man of Feeling (1771)

by Henry Mackenzie

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Dull 18th century sentimental novel, doesn't escape its genre. Must have been very affecting at the time, but in our modern ironic age this is just too earnest and sappy. ( )
  sometimeunderwater | Oct 13, 2014 |
What more do you need from a contemporary novel? Clever clever narrative disruption? Check. Post-romantic fragmentation? Check. Rejection of final moral? Check. And every time someone writes a review saying 'why doesn't he man up' they prove why people should read this book *seriously*. Yeah, it's funny that the man tears up over seemingly everything - but he also hires hookers, so, you know, he's not such a snag. And honestly, the world probably would be a better place if people were actually upset by massive injustice, poverty, cruelty and so on.
But why do that when you can be hip and ironic and roll your eyes, right? Love it, dude. Black on black. Awesome. Pass the porn. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Following one of the literary conventions of the time, The Man of Feeling is introduced as an accidentally discovered manuscript. It is a biography of a young acquaintance of the writer's named Harley. The man who discovered it, an English curate, saw no value in it, and has used most of the pages as wadding for his fowling piece. This explains why we are given only fragments--19 chapters that begin with Chapter 11 and end with Chapter 46, and some of them incomplete.

Harley is a country squire, just come of age. His parents are dead, but his aunt lives with him. In the chapters preserved we see him fall in love, only to be later frustrated in love. He then sets out to London on a matter of business and along the way encounters a variety of characters: beggars, swindlers, card sharps, a misanthrope, a prostitute, and a wounded veteran. He even visits Bedlam, London's asylum for the insane. His reactions to each are often naïve, but always marked by sympathy and a desire to understand rather than to judge.

Parts of the novel are satirical (especially the visit to Bedlam), and parts are political, but for the most part it is a treatise on feelings. Novels of "moral instruction" telling you how to act were common in the 18th century. This is a novel demonstrating how one should feel, not what one should do. Harley drops tears of compassion on almost every page, and is never hardened by experience.

For the modern reader these case studies in compassion are nothing new, and the novel as a whole is rather sappy and uneventful. The author, Henry Mackenzie, was an admirer of the works of Laurence Sterne, and there is some resemblance between The Man of Feeling and Sterne's A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. But Mackenzie's work is not the equal of Sterne's. The part I enjoyed the most was not about Harley and his feelings at all; it was the disabled veteran's diatribe against British imperialism in India. To profit by trade with the Indians was fine, he said, but nothing justified deposing their rulers--however despotic they may have been--and taking over another country.

The Man of Feeling was very popular in its day. It is a book I would recommend chiefly for its historical significance, and since it's very short and a free ebook, little investment of any kind is required. It would be best to approach it as you would a book of maxims or fables with no expectations of plot or character development. ( )
4 vote StevenTX | Jul 31, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Mackenzieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vickers, BrianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192840320, Paperback)

Mackenzie's hugely popular novel of 1771 is the foremost work of the sentimental movement, in which sentiment and sensibility were allied with true virtue, and sensitivity is the mark of the man of feeling. The hero, Harley, is followed in a series of episodes demonstrating his benevolence in an uncaring world: he assists the down-trodden, loses his love, and fails to achieve worldly success. The novel asks a series of vital questions: what morality is possible in a complex commercial world? Does trying to maintain it make you a saint or a fool? Is sentiment merely a luxury for the leisured classes?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:56 -0400)

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