Dreadful: Aesthetic Fear in Victorian Reading
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The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the rise of both the novel and physiological psychology, in which thinkers interested in affect often turned to literature to understand the functions of fictional emotion. One problem that has dogged aesthetic and psychological theorists since at least Aristotle is the aesthetic appreciation of negative affects. Why do we read tragedy, melodrama, and horror fiction, which evoke fear and sadness? How do we enjoy them? This essay will survey the history of the debate on the psychology and physiology of fear, including associationism, common sense and evolutionary theories. It will then discuss the period’s fiction, focusing especially on the affect of reading in the genres of gothic and sensation.
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