A History of Tears: Sensibility and Sentimentality in France, 1700-1900

ISBN: 9780312053765
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: 1990-11
Number of pages: 284
  • $172.46

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"In which societies," Roland Barthes asked, "and at which times, have we cried? Since when have men (and not women) ceased to cry? Why, at a certain moment, did sensibility sink into sentimentality?" These are just some of the questions which Anne Vincent-Buffault sets out to answer. Concentrating on 18th and 19th century France, she traces the curious evolution of the function of tears, from the public effusions of the 18th century through the more introspective sobbing of the Romantic period and on to the Victorian era's relegation of tears to the status of a feminine, and therefore reprehensible, weakness. Dr Vincent-Buffault draws on a wealth of sources: novels, diaries and letters, theatre reviews, medical reports and books of etiquette. The picture which emerges is a subtle and often paradoxical one. Intensely private and yet highly demonstrative, seemingly spontaneous and yet - as this study shows - historically determined, tears function as a complex and highly variable "discourse". And the changes in their meaning have mirrored key movements in society: changes in the role of privacy and emotion, changes in the place of women.

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