University of Sussex
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Shame and masculinity in the eighteenth century: politeness, creativity, affect

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posted on 2023-06-09, 05:13 authored by Michael Anthony Rowland
This thesis is concerned with how shame contributes to the development of hegemonic masculinities in eighteenth-century British culture. It examines a range of contemporary literature in order to understand how feelings of shame, as well as practices of shaming others, became a key, if often unspoken, aspect of attempts to define and maintain which forms of masculinity were acceptable, and which were not, in a rapidly changing cultural context. The thesis explores the effect on men of the newly commercial 'public sphere' that came to prominence at the beginning of the century, and tries to track its affective trajectory through to the end of the period. Following work on affect by Silvan Tomkins, the American psychologist, and its interpretation by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in particular, I view shame as a social emotion which simultaneously isolates men from, and connects them to the society they inhabit. A crucial part of polite socialisation, I contend that shame is therefore a catalyst for creativity and productivity in several forms as well as failure and inertia. The thesis is divided into two sections. The first, containing the chapters on The Spectator, writing about fops, and Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, is concerned with how shame helps to form the consensus around polite masculine qualities and actions. The second section, containing the chapters on Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling, James Boswell’s London Journal, and Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative, examines how this consensus is engaged with and critiqued in lived experience and its literary representations. The contribution this thesis makes is to highlight the importance of shame and other ambivalent affects in the construction of a set of hegemonic gender identities that are less usually associated with these same affects.


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University of Sussex

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