June 5, 2014
Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling (1771) is commonly described as a typical sentimental novel, yet the work has many aspects that a straightforward sentimentalist interpretation cannot possibly account for. I argue in this paper that The Man of Feeling , far from being a straightforward sentimental novel, encapsulates a profound critique of both moral sentimentalism and the genre of sentimental fiction. This critical stance is established in the first instance, I claim, by the ironic distance to the sentimental material in the novel, which results from the complex, multilevel narrative structure, and is further reinforced by numerous satirical elements in the text. As I demonstrate, reading Mackenzie’s work as an antithesis of the sentimental novel that parodies the sentimentalist moral epistemology underlying this mode of fiction does a much better job at explaining several crucial aspects of the novel than the sentimentalist interpretation.