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The Man of Feeling

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Mackenzie's hugely popular novel of 1771 is the foremost work of the sentimental movement, in which sentiment and sensibility were allied with true virtue, and sensitivity is the mark of the man of feeling. The hero, Harley, is followed in a series of episodes demonstrating his benevolence in
an uncaring world: he assists the down-trodden, loses his love, and fails to achieve worldly success. The novel asks a series of vital questions: what morality is possible in a complex commercial world? Does trying to maintain it make you a saint or a fool? Is sentiment merely a luxury for the
leisured classes?

160 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1771

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About the author

Henry MacKenzie

240 books4 followers
There is more than one Henry Mackenzie in the Goodreads catalog. This entry is for Henry ^ Mackenzie, Scottish lawyer.

Henry Mackenzie FRSE was a Scottish lawyer, novelist and writer. He was also known by the sobriquet "Addison of the North." While Mackenzie is now mostly remembered as an author, his principal income came from legal roles, ending in (1804–1831) his post as Comptroller of Taxes for Scotland, a well-paid post which allowed him to indulge his interest in writing.

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5 stars
238 (13%)
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297 (17%)
3 stars
593 (34%)
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423 (24%)
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154 (9%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 107 reviews
Profile Image for Daisy.
192 reviews68 followers
January 28, 2023
Believers of the axiom that men of yore were expected to not cry have never read this book. Never mind man of feeling this is the man of weeping. He is never without some salty tears running down his face and the variety in which he cries is truly impressive. They flow silently, they flood they well up, they burst. This is a man who is so sensitive that he has a page devoted to describing how travelling facing backwards in a coach made him so ill he needed reviving from what he himself describes as only, ”faintish sickness” .

He is not the only character that is emotionally incontinent. Someone is always crying, it is all melodramatic baring of breasts begging for the knife or fainting and needing the smelling salts.
His daughter was now prostrate at his feet.
"Strike," said she, "strike here a wretch, whose misery cannot end but with that death she deserves."...
He turned them [his eyes] up to heaven, then on his daughter. He laid his left hand on his heart, the sword dropped from his right, he burst into tears.

Reading it made me think of nothing so much as Oscar Wilde’s verdict on Dickens,
“One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

The whole book is overwrought nonsense with chance acquaintances turning out to be those very people you are conversing with, having met quite by chance. In this way families are reunited and happiness reigns once again.

The premise of the book is that this man of feeling is moved by the trials and tribulations of the hardships he sees his fellow man endure and he endeavours to assist them as best he can. All very noble until you realise this book just perpetuates the myth of ‘the deserving poor’. His heart bleeds for those who have fallen on hard times providing they fell from a higher rung of the social ladder. So we have him (Harley is his name) feeling at best ambivalent towards a prostitute until he realises that she is of a good family but found herself in this predicament after eloping with a man who was not all he promised to be. If you’ve read the review to this point you can probably predict how her tale concludes.

The structure of the book is probably the most interesting thing about it. In its fractured narrative it augers more recent lost manuscript/film plots. The book MacKenzie gives us is missing the first 12 chapters and chapters along the way. This doesn’t detract from the narrative as there is no plot, merely a collection of vignettes. The only time it jars is when after travelling around getting fairly drenched by Harley’s tears he is abandoned for a stand alone account of a hitherto unmentioned chap called Mountford before Harley returns.

An interesting experiment in structure but the missing chapters just leave it too easy for readers (or this reader at least) to thank God they never found them.
Profile Image for Teresa.
20 reviews
March 11, 2010
Though this book is continuously reviled for being overly-sentimental, a closer read shows an incredibly complex narrative. A question to ask while reading is who is the narrator and how fully does he condone Harley's actions/"motives." There is a layer of irony but it's a fascinating layer that doesn't ask the reader to judge Harley but to judge their own involvement in the ridiculous and cruel practices of the world. The layering of narrators, the weirdly intrusive "editor," and the fragmentary narrative also make this interestingly ask questions about what it means to be post-modern (much like Tristram Shandy) while at the same time remaining very tied to a cultural movement surrounding (and spurred on by) its publication. I can't wait to teach this book.
Profile Image for Justin Evans.
1,525 reviews798 followers
May 14, 2010
What more do you need from a contemporary novel? Clever clever narrative disruption? Check. Post-romantic fragmentation? Check. Rejection of final moral? Check. And every time someone writes a review saying 'why doesn't he man up' they prove why people should read this book *seriously*. Yeah, it's funny that the man tears up over seemingly everything - but he also hires hookers, so, you know, he's not such a snag. And honestly, the world probably would be a better place if people were actually upset by massive injustice, poverty, cruelty and so on.
But why do that when you can be hip and ironic and roll your eyes, right? Love it, dude. Black on black. Awesome. Pass the porn.
Profile Image for Leslie.
799 reviews62 followers
January 27, 2014
This is unlikely to appeal to anyone without a particular interest in the period or the history of the English novel; its interest now is almost entirely historical. The most interesting thing about the book is its odd structure (or lack of structure). The narrator of the oddly elaborate frame story meets up with a sporting curate, who tells him of a bundle of papers left behind by an unknown man, which are much depleted by the curate's habit of using the manuscript as wadding for his gun. So what we have is a series of disconnected fragments that are supposed to have passed through the hands of at least three different people; what holds them together is the figure of Harley, the titular Man of Feeling, who goes about the world weeping with those who weep. Everyone weeps, at least, anyone of any virtue does; weeping is the surest sign of the truly good. Good people are beset by suffering and loss on all sides; if they have children, they lose them; if they have money, they're cheated out of it; if they fall in love, the beloved dies or proves unworthy of them; if they have dogs, the dogs are sure to die (honestly, on one page a man tells of having two different dogs--the first drops dead and the second is cruelly shot to death). Life is a cruel vale of tears, so what else can one do but weep? And weep. And if you, dear reader, are a person of good heart, you will weep with them. It's really hard to put oneself in the mindset of those who read and admired this book so extravagantly. but its influence is all over the sentimental fiction that followed it.
Profile Image for Marya.
1,343 reviews
March 5, 2010
How I would love to give this to any teen who declares him/herself "emo" and thinks it's something new and special. Then I'd like to introduce said teens to the twenty-something students in my undergrad class that sniggered and eye-rolled their way through this book. Now that would make for a great discussion.
Profile Image for Jim.
2,054 reviews673 followers
January 19, 2012
In 18th century England, and to a similar extent in Western Europe, there was a literature of Sensibility in which characters attempted to live a highly moral life while at the same time freely showing their emotions, especially when giving in to tears. One of the classics of this sensibility was the Scottish author Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling, which looked at the life of a thoroughly likeable young man who, although not the sharpest tack in the box, submitted to his most generous impulses on all occasions. Even when his health is giving way, he opines:
There is a certain dignity in retiring from life at a time, when the infirmities of age have not sapped our faculties. This world, my dear Charles, was a scene in which I never much delighted. I was not formed for the bustle of the busy, nor the dissipation of the gay; a thousand things occurred, where I blushed for the impropriety of my conduct when I thought on the world, though my reason told me I should have blushed to have done otherwise. - It was a scene of dissimulation, of restraint, of disappointment. I leave it to enter on that state which I have learned to believe is replete with the genuine happiness attendant upon virtue. I look back on the tenor of my life, with the consciousness of few great offences to account for. There are blemishes, I confess, which deform in some degree the picture. But I know the benignity of the Supreme Being, and rejoice at the thoughts of its exertion in my favour. My mind expands at the thought I shall enter into the society of the blessed, wise as angels, with the simplicity of children.
Although we do not tend to value such emotions today, they were a fresh discovery to our ancestors after all the snuff and lace cuffs of the Age of Reason. It also resulted in such wonderful books as Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield, Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Sterne's Sentimental Journey, and Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard."
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Laura.
6,872 reviews556 followers
December 3, 2015
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.


My dog had made a point on a piece of fallow-ground, and led the curate and me two or three hundred yards over that and some stubble adjoining, in a breathless state of expectation, on a burning first of September.

It was a false point, and our labour was vain: yet, to do Rover justice (for he’s an excellent dog, though I have lost his pedigree), the fault was none of his, the birds were gone: the curate showed me the spot where they had lain basking, at the root of an old hedge.
Profile Image for Simona B.
892 reviews2,986 followers
February 18, 2020
Unexpectedly complex narrative structure, which is very appreciated, but still not something I would read for pleasure.
Profile Image for Katarzyna Bartoszynska.
Author 10 books112 followers
December 26, 2013
This is the second or third time I've read this book, and oddly, it never gets easier. I find it fascinating, not least because it's weirdly difficult, and I'm not even entirely able to say how or why. I mean, it's fragmentary and jumps around in time, and the tone is somewhat unstable, but there's some other elusive quality about it that I can't quite describe. But it also has moments of being quite lucid and thoughtful in a really interesting way, and others of being hilariously funny, whether inadvertently or not, I'm uncertain. I really want to teach it sometime...
Profile Image for Alberony Martínez.
472 reviews34 followers
May 31, 2021
‟Un sentimiento muy noble se eleva dentro de mí. Cada latido de mi corazón despierta una virtud, pero te hará odiar el mundo”

Esta novela del escritor Henry Mackenzie, es sin lugar a duda una de las más importantes e influyentes de la ficción sentimental del siglo XVIII, cuando dicho termino, sentimental, se necesitaba de un gran esfuerzo de imaginación para su reconstrucción, ya que no era entendido, sino más allá de algo peyorativo. El termino se fue abriendo camino en la literatura británica y europea en las décadas de 1740 y 1780 con los escritores de la talla de Sarah Fielding, Jean Francois Mamontel, Samuel Richadson, Jean-Jacques Rosseau, Oliver Wolfgang von Goethe, Sarah Scott, Laurence Sterne y el mismo Mackenzie.

El sentimentalismo perse fue un fenómeno que se fue extendiendo mas allá de las fronteras de la ficción, salpicando lo poético, dramático, ensayístico y textos filosóficos, ya que tanto escritores como lectores se encontraban fascinado por establecer una relación entre lo emotivo y lo juicioso del tema, pero a la vez desarrollar la naturaleza de la capacidad humana para comprender y recrear imaginativamente la experiencia de otros.

The man of feeling o El hombre de sentimientos del escritor Henry Mackenzie marca el punto culminante de la novela sentimental en ingles. Esta novela cuenta la historia de Harley, el homónimo ‟hombre de sentimiento” y aristócrata empobrecido, quien en un ir y venir de su finca rural a Londres y devuelta se ve circundado en la búsqueda reacia de avance financiero y una búsqueda sincera de espíritu. En el trasfondo nos muestra los cambios históricos que se viene dando en la economía, los paisajes y las relaciones sociales de Inglaterra y Escocia del siglo XVIII. El texto capturó la imaginación del publico lector en parte por su magistral y economía en la convenciones bien establecida de la ficción sentimental. El texto nos muestra una galería de personajes, los cuales en si mismo son una clara apelación a la humanidad común, un código de ética basado en la sensibilidad para compensar la erosión de la nociones tradicionales de responsabilidad social.

Creo ver en el texto cierta carga irónica a la sociedad de aquel entonces, viéndolo más allá del sentimentalismo de su personaje principal, que en cierto modo nos pone entre la espada y la pared para juzgarle, pero hay que verlo como una figura de transición entre el privilegio y la virtud individual, la racionalidad y el sentimiento, la fuerza esperada y la debilidad apropiada. Un tipo que se ve desgarrado en sus propias contradicciones, que lo colocan en un callejón sin salida, que aparece inmovilizado en una posición donde no es posible ningún cambio. Ahora, se podría ver como un destello de la masculinidad moderna, eso estará en veremos.
Profile Image for Bryn Hammond.
Author 12 books348 followers
April 29, 2017
I have the fondest memories of Sterne's A Sentimental Journey. This other piece of sentimentalism didn't altogether live up to them, but then Mackenzie doesn't try to be a wit like Sterne. Great edition from Broadview, heaps of material around this 90-page non-novel. It's written to be fragmentary and a bit meta, and he doesn't take his fashion of sensibility over-seriously (neither did Sterne). Later on he rescinded and wrote against sensibility (included in the Broadview), in terms very familiar and still in use today: indulgence to make you feel good, mere feelings an excuse for non-action, etc. Sensibility is still severely out of fashion, but was an interesting interlude in literature. I liked Harley, who is often told by moderns to 'man up'. One thing the novel of sensibility can do, of course, is make us conscious of other masculinities, been and gone, experimented with, in fashion and out. This wasn't half as weepy as certain medieval knights, however. The introduction is worthwhile on context, how with sensibility the novel tried to claim ground from contemporary history with its moral educative purpose. In the wrap up, sensibility ain't so bad, with a 'common humanity' the theme across religious hostilities and in spite of any sort of social degradation.

For the unworldly everywhere.
75 reviews3 followers
November 19, 2011
As a novel about sensibility and the changing of culture in 18th century England, _The Man of Feeling_ stands as an unparalleled novel. The novel follows the experiences of Harley--the last male in a low-ranking aristocratic family. The purpose of the novel is not so much to tell Harley's story (which is told as a fragmentary record) as to illustrate the way a man possessing sensibility (a man of feeling) reacts in various situations. The novel really shows how the aristocratic model was beginning to fail as opportunities for class mobility increased.

For what MacKenzie intended when he wrote the book, this novel is excellent. My problem with it is that, as a 21st century reader, it is very difficult for me to relate to Harley and feel the way the author intended his audience to feel. That being said, if you really enjoy novels on sensibility, then you would most likely enjoy _The Man of Feeling_. Also, reading _The Man of Feeling_ can help in understanding what future authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen were aiming at.
Profile Image for J. Alfred.
1,608 reviews28 followers
December 30, 2010
The back cover has Burns saying that he cherishes this book next to the bible. If one wishes to write sentimental poetry in a Scottish accent, then, one should become familiar with this book. It's pretty good, if one is fond of the sort of things that lead editors to include an "index of tears" in the back.
Profile Image for Emily Ross.
1,085 reviews23 followers
February 17, 2017
This book is rather difficult to follow and understand, incredibly difficult to understand the message that MacKenzie is trying to put forward. Harley is rather a boring character and the most developed character is Edwards, but by the time I got to his section, I didn't care for the novel at all.
Profile Image for Kenny Kidd.
145 reviews3 followers
March 14, 2021
Going on a quick Goodreads binge! Had to read this slim lil book for my British Romantic Period course; in terms of personal enjoyment it’s pretty much a 2/5, but for the conversations it sparked and historical relevance, a 4/5 seems fitting, so I’m gonna give it 3 🤷‍♂️

It’s disjointed, episodic structure makes it hard to access and really get invested in, but the entire concept of the novel—following an incredibly sensitive, deeply compassionate person as he navigates the late 18th century, but presenting him in such an ambiguous way to where you don’t know if he’s someone to sympathize with and strive towards morally, or to critique and make fun of for his naivety and over-sensitivity—is totally fascinating. Being someone who feels like they oscillate like crazy between ~Being Reasonable~ and ~An Emotional Catastrophe~, a novel about the relationship between reason and sentimentality and whether it’s better to be led by the head or the heart is inherently fascinating to me. This just wasn’t pleasant to read, unfortunately 😔
Profile Image for Pemmy Canova.
4 reviews
April 29, 2021
Lots of crying
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Karen.
62 reviews11 followers
February 6, 2016
I honestly considered making this review one word: #meh. The main thing this book had in its favor was its main character, Harley. The main thrust of the story is Harley going through life, meeting people, hearing their stories and trying to help them (usually with money). Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn't because not all of these people are worthy of Harley's help. The point of the book is questioning whether Harley is a fool for being so sentimental and naive, or whether he's someone to be admired and followed. I think yes, to both. I think Harley is pretty naive, and leaves himself unguarded, but I don't think he cares about that as much as he cares about helping people and doing right by them. I don't think that's always a bad thing.

The main problem I had with the book was the writing itself. It was long-winded, melodramatic, and just not very readable to me. There were times when I had to read a sentence a few times to figure out what it said, and some times when I just didn't care enough to. Eventually I just found myself going paragraph by paragraph to get through it. The author also has a bad habit (particularly in the first half of the book) of not giving names to many characters. So there will be, for example, a chapter with four men in it and only one has a name and I had no idea how to follow who was speaking and who was doing what. What am I supposed to do with that? You can only have so many He's, Henry!

Like any classic, there's some values dissonance at play. There's a weird chapter where Harley and his friends are just visiting an insane asylum and looking at the inmates like it's a freaking zoo. And there's an episode with a prostitute that's more hilariously melodramatic than anything, but does rely heavily on the idea of a "ruined woman". On a final note, the ending was kind of a sudden bummer, and I'm not really sure what it was trying to do there.

In all, I gave this book three stars because, as I said, #meh. It wasn't that good, but it didn't make me ranty and angry like other novels I've read recently. (Looking at you, D.H. Lawrence.)
Profile Image for Micha.
551 reviews8 followers
November 28, 2015
I don't know why I read this. Or, if I have to put something down, then I read this because the power was out for 24 hours and this was the only thing I had on my tablet that I hadn't read, and when it got too dark to read by daylight that was my only remaining option. But why did I have it on my tablet? Because it's exactly the kind of book that gets talked about in an English graduate seminar. Something about how impossible it is to understand Romantic or sentimental novels without this, which is both the parody and the epitome.

At any rate, it's not the kind of book we'd now read for enjoyment. This is a quintessential syllabus-book. There's not much to recommend it beyond it's relevance to the better novels that influenced it or were influenced by it. It entered and left my consciousness at various times since I first heard of it (I don't remember when, but I know it was in a seminar room somewhere, all of which look vaguely similar in my memory now whether they were in Ottawa or Vancouver or Oxford), but I think what prompted me to find and download it in recent weeks was coming across Mary Shelley's reading list from 1815 and suddenly recalling that though this was not on that list, it was similar enough to some of the other novels to prompt me to download it before I forgot again. And I might not have got around to it at all if it weren't for the power outage.

I've gained nothing from reading this, but I'd be a goddamn liar if I said that this would stop me from mentioning it in a class discussion if I were still taking those old seminars.
Profile Image for Bob.
825 reviews67 followers
May 25, 2016
From 1771, the actual novel is 90 pages with footnotes, doubled in this critical edition with all kinds of extra material contemporary to its composition plus recent critical writing.
The sentimental novel rose at a time when there was still some suspicion about the merit of fiction (you can read this anywhere of course), and the belief that either history or invented situations that told the reader exactly how to feel about certain things were superior to mere fantasy (which was basically for less intellectually rigorous women readers).
Of course, the masters of the genre (e.g. Laurence Sterne) were mocking such a stance even as they purveyed it, and there are a number of devices that are formally quite innovative; the feint at verisimilitude in which the narrator is not inventing a story but transcribing a found manuscript, for example, but in this case the manuscript has been partially used as hunting rifle wadding and is missing its first 8 chapters and has elisions throughout.
I had the thought while reading the included essays on this topic that the novels of Benjamin Disraeli are a mish-mash of history and sentimental fiction, an approach that would have been more impressive had he written them 75 years earlier, before Jane Austen revolutionized the idea of the novel.
Two years from now, referring back to this, I'll want to remind myself that MacKenzie was a lawyer, playwright and essayist ("the Scots Addison" said his friend Walter Scott) - a distinguished man of letters and supporter of Scottish theater but he wrote only a couple of books of this type.
Profile Image for bianca:).
52 reviews8 followers
May 23, 2022
da un shot de fiecare data cand plange cineva. macar asa cartea asta ar parea cat de cat mai interesanta
Profile Image for Monty Milne.
858 reviews42 followers
April 27, 2015
This was a pleasurable and thought provoking read. The author presents his stories-within-stories and invites us to make a judgement about the actions of his characters: this is by no means an uncritical appreciation of the kinds of behaviour labelled "sentimental."

Why is MacKenzie so much more agreeable than other sentimentalists, such as Rousseau? I think because he is more nuanced, and therefore more honest. When Dickens shows us the death of Little Nell, he wants to make us cry - which is why Wilde laughs in derision because he doesn't want to be manipulated. Rousseau smells of hypocrisy, and is a bore; MacKenzie seems to me, by contrast, to be both honest and likeable. The book is short and the narrative deliberately fragmentary. It therefore rolls along at a quick pace, is not boring, and raises interesting conjectures about the meaning and function of the "gaps" in the text. Ah yes, I like my post-modernism with an 18th century flavour.
Profile Image for Konrad.
56 reviews8 followers
August 21, 2018
Mayhap in my future travels I will encounter a gentle soul, despondent and amiss in this cruel world, utterly in need of the warming edification only a proper reading of The Man of Feeling could grant, and then I will be in the enviable position to bestow such a paperback kindness upon them--indeed it would create a scene so powerful to even halt “an angel on his errands of mercy!” And then everyone would cry heartily a good while.

p.s. this book has, no joke, an "Index to Tears," although, remarkably "Choking, &c, not counted."
Profile Image for Jeff.
166 reviews11 followers
March 7, 2013
This was a bit dull. There were parts that were interesting, and the book wasn't unreadable; it's just not a real page-turner. But then it's short, so there you go.
Profile Image for Hannah.
95 reviews
May 25, 2017
I mean its fine. It's not too terrible. I get that it's trying to be knowing but where are the GAGS???????
Profile Image for Michelle.
340 reviews
September 20, 2020
I had to read this book for my eighteenth century British novel class.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed “The Man of Feeling” by Henry MacKenzie. Harley’s adventures are interesting, and I like all the stories he’s told from the philosopher, from woman at Bedlam, from Miss Atkins and from Edwards. The ending is bittersweet, as Harley dies when his lover, Miss Walton, finally reciprocates the love he has for her.
This book is also very sentimental, has interjections from the editor, and is told in a fragmented style. The novel is told from a male perspective, so it’s different from “Pamela” and “Shamela.” In general, Harley is a curious, inquisitive, sentimental, and genuine gentleman, and surely to be liked by any reader.
Profile Image for Nic.
2 reviews
May 5, 2020
An emotionally moving story of a "very whimsical man" who acknowledges his inadequacy in a world where old virtues and values seem lost. After hearing some touching and moving misadventures of patients of an asylum, a sympathetic prostitute and an old acquaintance, death seems to be the only path his goodness and morality have led him to. And "as to the world – I pity the men of it”.
Profile Image for Book Wormy.
1,371 reviews19 followers
May 9, 2021
Well this one was short and not so sweet. What we learn from this is that you don’t any prizes for being a nice guy. That said there was one story where virtue was its own reward and that involved reuniting an estranged father and daughter. Sadly though it seems more the case that no good deed goes unpunished.
Profile Image for Adam Stevenson.
651 reviews13 followers
March 31, 2015
I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures, I think a person should stand up loud and proud about their pleasures, especially when it comes to music, books and films.

That said, there are corners of my cd collection that occasionally make me blush; I love girl groups, especially Phil Spector/ Joe Meek ones, I know all of the words to ‘Leader of the Pack’ and ‘Baby Love’ and I have a big soft spot for twee-pop.

What has this to do with ‘The Man of Feeling’? I hear me ask. Simply that I imagine reading this book is rather like listening to a Talulah Gosh album, something to do behind closed doors in case people think you have become completely, impossibly and irredeemably soft. Even the title, ‘The Man of Feeling’ gets you sympathetic ‘aawwws’ on the train, I’d probably have found myself grabbed and forcibly hugged had they known it’s contents.

The plot (as it is) consists of the entry of Harley, a young man of exceptional strength of feeling, into the big bad world. He takes a trip to London where he feels sorry for some people, on the way back he meets some more people he is sorry for, along the way people tell him stories about when they felt sorry for people and in the end he is denied love from the woman he worships, feels sorry for himself and dies. The narrator is not only sorry for Harley but (in the last line), feels sorry for all the people of the world. To call this book pitiful, could be taken literally as an apt description, there is a lot of pity in this book.

There are also a lot of tears. The copy of the book I have includes a Victorian addition to the text, an ‘Index of tears - not including choking &c.’ There are 49 incidences of different kinds of tears listed. Considering the book does not even reach a hundred pages, it means that over half the book has some kind of tear in it. The tears are listed by type, my favourite being ‘beamy moisture’.

The tears are to be expected, this being a cornerstone of the sentimental novel, which was designed to provide a succession of scenes that are meant to call forth the tender emotions from the reader. It’s not my first encounter with the genre, I am a big fan of ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’, in which a man looses everything and learns nothing; ‘A Sentimental Journey’, which I read as the travels of a randy old vicar, then there were the sentimental parts in ‘Tristram Shandy’ like the bit about Le Fevre. I’d even go as far to say that Fielding dips into the sentimental with segments like the tale of ‘The Man on the Hill’. Despite this preparation, the sheer onslaught of tears and tear-inducing scenarios wearied me even though the book was tiny.

Another peculiar factor about the book was the way the story was presented. The story of Harley was narrated by an un-named narrator, who occasionally interjects to tell us how we should be feeling, but doesn’t have much personality himself.

We are brought further back from the story by the frame, two men are going out hunting and the manuscript of the novel is what one of them has been using for wadding. For this reason, the story of Harley starts at chapter eleven and is fragmented from there.

Add to this, that a lot of Harley’s story are tales he hears second-hand and we sometimes found ourselves to be four times removed from the action. This seems an odd choice for a book that is meant to stir the emotions, but maybe removing us several times from the action takes away some of the ludicrousness.

The fragmentary and scattered nature of the book also means nothing seems properly thought about or finished. There are lots of different issues raised in the book; about whether keeping a moral stance is wise or foolish, whether pity is a humane gesture or a self-celebrating act that highlights the pitier’s own sense of moral worth, about the love and attachment between family and friends and whether they can survive the harsh world - but none of it is developed.

This means that although the book does have some moments of genuine thought and interest, none of it feels properly discussed and the book is ultimately unsatisfying.

Despite this, and despite the fact that he is utterly wet and a weed, there are moments when the character of Harley is quite likeable. He has a genuine wish to do the right thing, acting strange to his peers but always in a way that shows his own internal life. There is one quote I particularly liked that described his thought processes.

‘He did few things without a motive, but his motives were rather eccentric; and the useful and expedient were terms which he held to be very indefinite, and which therefore he did not always apply to the sense in which they are commonly understood.’

I’m glad I read the book, even given my prior experiences with the genre, it was like nothing I have read before and I wouldn’t mind reading ‘The Man of the World’ or other books like it, but not too often.

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