The sentimental traveler: Emotion, community, economy, 1740–1800

Rebecca Hussey, Fordham University


This dissertation explores the figure of the "sentimental traveler," one who analyzes the emotional experiences of travel to better understand changing concepts of community and economy. I argue that contemporary criticism of sensibility and travel writing has often obscured the sentimental traveler's attempts to critique social injustices. Sentimental travelers add to the discourse of sensibility a portrayal of emotional experience as a propulsive force that sends the traveler out to grapple with an unjust world. If, traditionally, travel has been the metaphor for thinking, sentimental travelers reconceive travel as the metaphor for feeling. Emotion can, in this definition, take one to new places and engage one in new experiences. I examine how sentimental travel writers portray community and argue that they use their emphasis on emotion to negotiate the tension between geographically-based communities and imagined communities shaped by memory and shared belief. The language of sensibility and travel in these texts centers around exchange and is implicated in developing discourses of economy. These writers use the economy of emotion, expressed through exchanges of objects, money, and texts, to consider the ways the imagined community can address social injustice. I argue that Sarah Fielding, in The Adventures of David Simple and Volume the Last, contrasts her characters David Simple and Cynthia as models of sentimental travelers and launches a critique of the world of commerce and trade, showing that the home and family cannot offer a safe haven from the commercial world. In Sentimental Journey , Laurence Sterne explores emotional experience as a form of travel which encourages engagement with others. He demonstrates how a focus on emotion leads to insight into those forced into stasis and those excluded from community and economy. Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative investigates relationships among the black body, travel, language, and community. He explores the potential power of language and texts to strengthen the sentimental community in order to address the injustices of slavery. Finally, Mary Wollstonecraft's Letters analyzes movement and exchange to investigate travel and curiosity, interior experience and the public world of writing and publishing, and a community's development of equitable commercial activity.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Hussey, Rebecca, "The sentimental traveler: Emotion, community, economy, 1740–1800" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3216916.