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Charlotte Smith’s Tactile Poetics

From: The Eighteenth Century
Volume 54, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 215-230 | 10.1353/ecy.2013.0020



While attending to visual features of Charlotte Smith’s poetic works, scholars have neglected to acknowledge that sight is regularly accompanied, and at times supplanted, by touch within them. This article aims to determine the significance, and contexts (aesthetic, empirical, and educational), of Smith’s recurring depiction of haptic perception. Smith’s tactile poetics presents an important challenge to the principles of distance informing common definitions of aesthetic pleasure in the mid- to late eighteenth century. I contend that, in so doing, her poetics radically reconfigures the self, transforming it from a compartmentalized, closed, fixed, and detached entity into one that is highly responsive to and intimately entwined with its environment. The consequence of this reconfiguration, as this article demonstrates, is a profound shift that facilitates an inclusive ontology of kinship wherein one’s experience and understanding of self are inseparable from the experience and understanding of others.

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