Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation is an investigation into lyric poetry and the sonnet’s emotional-sensory qualities demonstrated by Charlotte Turner Smith, a late eighteenth-century poet and novelist best known for her mournful “elegiac sonnets.” While Smith’s sonnets have been largely read as sensibility poetry through a materialist lens, I suggest Smith demonstrates an insensible lyrical mode through distinctly troubled mind/body connections. Much of Smith’s poetry is characterized by melancholy as it attempts to express a complicated grief. This attempt leads Smith to the thematics of insensibility, both as a literal and as a figurative concept. Thus, the conventional poetic tradition linking the oracular poet’s powers to blindness are expanded to include silence, numbness, and other forms of sensory muteness or disorientation. I argue that critical overemphasis on the material, corporeal, or visible action in the lyric neglects a subset of insensibility poetry which ultimately undercuts traditional sense impressions. My dissertation queries what happens when affective satisfaction is disrupted—interruptions or lack of bodily sensation which trouble emotional identification. Can we revalue experiences—often related to trauma and marginalization—which place less emphasis on traditional sense, affect, and narrative completion? This project challenges our traditional approach to the lyric and sensibility poetry informed by the Lockean shift which argued for the “materiality of conscience” (McGann 14). I ultimately argue that what is innovative and distinctive about Smith’s poetry is her overlooked investment in immateriality and insensibility. Acknowledging insensibility as a part of sensibility—(in)|sensibility—revalues Smith’s literary practices which trouble artistic expression, undercut sense, and state complex emotional experiences with unrecognized subtlety, and places her as an important figure illuminating and shaping the possibilities of the lyric form.



Committee Chair

Rovee, Christopher



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