Jonas Liliequist

The history of emotions is an expanding field of research, as the number of conferences, journals and even research centres of excellence attests. No longer treated as immutable constants of human nature, emotions have now become part of cultural history. Its practitioners are interested in emotional repertoires and styles, conventional forms of expressions, historical categorizations and conceptualizations, cultural and gendered meanings and the communicative uses and effects of emotions, analysed within a broad spectrum of cultural and social genres ranging from music and art to religion and politics. The present volume, which focuses on the medieval, renaissance and early modern periods, reflects this breadth. The modern term ‘emotion’ is used here as a catch-all term for what were conceptualized as passions, affects and sentiments by contemporaries in the studied historical contexts. The aim has been not to write a coherent history of continuity and change, but rather to bring together a variety of sub-topics analysed from different disciplinary perspectives and research traditions.

Theoretical Considerations

Change is nonetheless the very issue addressed in the opening essay by medieval historian Barbara H. Rosenwein, a pioneer and leading theorist in the field. Rosenwein brings a fresh perspective to current, dominant narratives of the history of emotions (including her own) and how they account for change. She considers the hypothesis that the appearance of new theories of emotions may have constituted turning points in the history of emotions, using thirteenth-century theologian Thomas Aquinas and his treatise on emotions as a test case. She concludes that, at least in this case, the theory ratified current norms and did not announce a moment of change. She then suggests how new, more satisfyingly comprehensive narratives of the history of emotions might be constructed. Critical and thought-provoking, Rosenwein’s approach raises the wider question of the possibility of writing a more general history of emotions taking into account both variety and change, while avoiding resort to a new Grand Narrative based on studies of a selective segment of the population in the West.


A History of Emotions, 1200–1800

The narrow scope of a strictly Western perspective is confronted by Walter Andrews, American literary scholar of Near Eastern languages and civilization, in the second essay. Starting from the idea of ‘love’ as a central organizing and meaning-producing concept in Ottoman Turkish society, his aim is to demonstrate how an emotional vocabulary made up of not only words, but also images, music, and symbols as well as decoration, landscaping, ceremonies, and rituals is compiled over time, providing a basis for understanding and expressing the emotional content of a wide range of social relationships, from sexuality to religion, patronage to friendship and family life. Andrews’s analytical framework not only breaks new ground for the history of emotions in Ottoman studies but also raises the further question of how to apply a comparative perspective that could account not only for differences and similarities but for the historical flows of cultural exchange and interaction as well. The history of emotions has hitherto been dominated by a Western, European perspective. A decentring (to use the term recently suggested by cultural historian Natalie Zemon Davis) of the history of emotions to include a broader geographical scope and new voices from other social classes and parts of the world will prove a most challenging task in any attempt to construct a new general narrative.1

Emotional Repertoires

In this section, we return to the European scene and issues of emotional repertoires treated in three studies ranging from the High Middle Ages to the early nineteenth century. Repertoires represented by emotion words and rhetorical and performative expressions of emotions are important tools for the historical analysis of emotions, particularly in periods when few attempts were made to systematize theories of emotions. Using monastic texts from the twelfth century, Austrian historian Christina Lutter demonstrates in fascinating detail how representations of emotions in exemplary miracle stories played an important role in the spiritual lives of readers who incorporated the norms of the texts that they read. This instructive, affective pedagogy also provides a key to understanding how emotions were conceptualized in terms of internal and external sensation. Affective learning was, however, not restricted to religious texts. The overall impression of emotional representation in this era is one of diversity, complexity and even contradiction when different repertoires overlap. Emotional repertoires seem to have been open to a certain degree. An interesting question for future inquiry is if this open quality allowed individuals to draw on different repertoires depending on the socio-cultural context. Moving to seventeenth-century England and the Elizabethan and Stuart conversion narratives analysed by Italian historian Paola Baseotto, we find that what acted as the unifying factor in an otherwise heterogeneous group of sects



labelled by contemporaries as ‘Puritans’ was not fundamental doctrinal matters but a shared emotional repertoire or emotionology which is the concept applied by Baseotto. This is Baseotto’s main point and distinctive focus with respect to recent the historiographical trend which highlights differences in theological emphases and religious practices. Central to this emotionology was an emphasis on interiority and a progressive intensification of emotional states as signs of spiritual awakening. The author shows how this emotionology was carefully staged in ritualized practices described in guidebooks and autobiographies, while at the same time being derided by its critics as ‘the disease of Enthusiasme’. There is an obvious parallel between classifying Puritan emotionalism as a disease and characterizing an excessive passion for knowledge as a ‘mania’, as was done a little over 100 years later just across the Channel. In the final essay of this section, Anne Vila, American professor of French literature, studies the passions and pathologies attributed to French gens de lettres. Coeval with the well-known image of the highly socialized figure of the philosophe was the image of the impassioned knowledge-seeker in the grips of intellectual labour whose inwardness and absorption made him not only unfit for social life but also susceptible to all kinds of illness, according to contemporary medical theories of sensibility. Focusing on this less-known and often overlooked side of the culture of sensibility, Vila shows how these images and counter-images served as the basis of ambivalence and a general bifurcation within eighteenth-century French intellectual identity.

Art and Music

The written text is but one source available to the historian of emotions and not always the best one. Compared to words, music and art have usually been perceived as having a capacity for a much more immediate and authentic expression of emotions. Art and music is the theme of the third section, starting with American art historian Pamela W. Whedon’s analysis of musical images in the paintings of the French artist Antoine Watteau (1684–1721). Whedon compares the technique of Watteau’s crayon and brush with the timbre and tone colour of music in its ability to touch and arouse the senses. Her main interest, however, is how Watteau mixes French and Italian expressions of emotion, fusing their perceived high and low styles, refinement and zeal, politesse and sprezzatura; Watteau creates a new artistic and emotional style that employs both French and Italian traditions while at the same time repealing them and instilling them with modern resonance. Swedish musicologist Johanna Ethnersson Pontara asks how emotions were aroused and represented in early modern operas through musical effects. Challenging the view that the primary task of arousing wonder and delight distanced


A History of Emotions, 1200–1800

the audience from the dramatic action, the author shows with examples from Handel’s opera Guilio Cesare (premiered in London 1724) how these very musical effects heightened attention and allowed for the representation of more specific emotions expressed by its main characters, which could be experienced and recognized by the audience in relation to the visual performance on stage. Music is here given prominence over text as a means for both emotional expression and the progress of dramatic action.

Gender, Sexuality and the Body
The issue of gender appears throughout this volume though most conspicuously in the fourth section, with its focus on bodies, sexuality and historical theories of emotions. Studying anger in English revenge tragedies of the Tudor era, Dutch scholar of English literature Kristine Steenbergh starts by accounting for the modern academic debate on the implications of early modern humoral theories for explaining the relationship between passions and self. Steenbergh argues that the opposing views of the relation between emotions and self found in academic debate were present in early modern society as well. Thus, the passion of anger was in certain political and institutional contexts viewed as an uncontrollable force damaging to masculine selfhood, while at the same time but in different contexts as a motivating passion confirming masculine identity. Steenbergh shows how gender was used as a significant rhetorical tool in the friction and conflict between these two notions. In the political context of the emerging nation-state’s attempt to establish a monopoly on violence, gendered representations of anger could also reflect the historical change in the perception of revenge from virtue to vice and shed new light on the mechanisms driving what Norbert Elias has called the civilizing process. Early modern males had a problem with love, states Finnish cultural historian Anu Korhonen in her essay on beauty, masculinity and love between men. Emotions were considered physical manifestations of outer stimuli perceived by the five senses, of which sight was the most powerful. The mere glimpse of beauty thus had a strong and immanent power to produce love, which could make men the potential slaves of their affections, since women were considered the most beautiful objects detectable by sight. The sight of a beautiful man could potentially produce the same effect in men, rendering love an even more problematic and complex emotion for them. With the prevailing historical conceptualization of emotions and the poet Michael Drayton’s (1563–1631) portrayal of Piers Gaveston and his relationship with the King Edward II as her starting point, Korhonen’s aim is to queer the standard account of early modern love and sexuality.




After anger and love comes fear in the last contribution to this section by cultural historian Marjo Kaartinen, also from Finland. In her essay on breast cancer and emotions in the early modern era, Kaartinen explores the many ways in which this dreaded affliction aroused fear. It was not just the horrible death that awaited the sufferer that spread fear, but the slow course of the disease and the unintentional cruelty of the various treatments. Even worse, fear of cancer was almost considered an illness in itself, capable of infecting the body with the disease. Fear was thus both caused by and the cause of bodily effects and suffering, a bodiliness or corporeality of emotions analysed in great detail in Kaartinen’s study of cases from late-seventeenth and eighteenth-century England.

The Uses of Emotions
To this point, the anthology has covered representations, repertoires and experiences of emotions. A person’s emotional reaction and state of mind can however only be interpreted by others from exterior signs, be it facial expression, tears and laughter, comportment and gesture, tone of voice or words. Interpretation allows for misinterpretation and raises questions about sincerity and deceit, which brings us to the last section of the volume. Danish ethnologist Alan Sortkaer returns to the Galenic theory of the four humours but the place and time are now the first colonization and mission in Greenland at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The central quandary for Danish missionaries was how to recognize when an Inuit congregant had truly embraced Christianity and was ready to be baptized. Words alone were not reliable. Guided by Galenic theories of passions and tempers and inspired by symbols from lachrymose Lutheran hymns, sadness expressed through tears soon became the key indicators for distinguishing true conversions from superficial ones. How this emotional policy was applied is analysed and discussed by Sortkaer from both a Danish colonial and an Inuit aboriginal perspective. The use and interpretation of tears is also central to the final contribution by Swedish historian Jonas Liliequist in his analysis of the rhetorical power of crying based on three case studies from the late eighteenth century Sweden: the sublime tears of songwriter Carl Michael Bellman effusing loyalty to the King for personal interests; the self-indulgent tears of King Gustav III concealing political intentions and activities; and the convulsive tears of his successor, de facto regent Gustaf Adolf Reuterholm, representing the political havoc of sentimentalism. In all three cases the authenticity of emotional expression is examined from different perspectives – as a problem of interpretation in the eyes of contemporaries; as a question of communication from the viewpoint of the crying subject; and as an analytical problem for the historian in the light of the self-altering, transformative and contagious effects of emotives.



A History of Emotions, 1200–1800

Thus the present volume could be said to start with the emotional styles and repertoires of Rosenwein’s emotional communities and end with the political and rhetorical implications of William Reddy’s analytical concept of emotives. In between, a broad range of studies are offered, covering mainly French and English history but with notable excursions to the northwestern periphery of Europe, central Europe and the Ottoman Empire as well. While a cultural history of emotions is still in its early, explorative stage, this anthology raises important analytical questions about historical change and perspectives of comparison and intercultural exchange.


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