Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The burgeoning Industrial Revolution, coupled with the scent of a far different revolution briskly blowing across the English Channel, nourished a significant amount of aristocratic anxiety throughout late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain. The stratifying effects of inherited wealth were dissolving and an ascending middle class was making its way into traditionally upper class social circles, political discussions, and capitalistic ventures. In a letter, written to Sir Walter Scott in the late spring of 1812, Joanna Baillie, the Scottish playwright best known for her Plays on the Passions, 1798 and her theoretical notion of sympathetic curiosity, references the Luddite riots, citing the continued tensions between the bourgeoisie and the upper class, before offering a simple, mediating, request: "I hope people will associate and strengthen themselves against this disorder every where, and let the good sense and courage of, I trust, a very large majority of the people support and make amends for a feeble government, without giving up any of their views of moderate, wholesome reform." While critics have understood Baillie's dramas as challenging traditional gender constructs or demonstrating rising class conflicts, few have recognized her "Introductory Discourse" and her method of sympathetic curiosity as a form of literary mediation. Her materialist demonstrations of the passions are derived out of a sincere attempt at mediating late eighteenth and early nineteenth century relations between the middle and upper classes.
Using a combination of various tools within cognitive theory, including Scarry's image construction, Zunshine's essentialist representations, and Turner's concept of metaphor, I trace Baillie's method of sympathetic curiosity through a variety of her dramas including Orra, De Monfort, The Election, The Dream, and Count Basil. Similar to her comments to Scott regarding the contemporary state of affairs within Britain, I contend that through her dramas Joanna Baillie requests "amends" for a feeble aristocracy from the middle class, while simultaneously challenging the excessive aristocracy to show more sympathy in its casting of judgment upon others, including the lower classes. For Baillie, it is literary mediation, a means to "wholesome reform," that will dispel the disorder and provide for more stable human relations.