Research Stream


Neil Ramsey (2013, 2017)
The University of New South Wales

Embodied Affect in the Romantic Era War Novel

This project is the first study of affect in the Romantic era war novel. A neglected genre, war novels can nonetheless be seen as important sites for the circulation of the period’s affective responses to war, particularly in the way they draw together war and the social realm.

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Romanticism has begun to be increasingly regarded as a wartime literature that profoundly shaped modern war’s affective registers. Sentimental culture was central to these developments, as the circulation of sentiments served not only to register war’s shocks and suffering, but also to channel unruly passions into correct feelings necessary for a nation at war. In the Romantic era, how one felt about war was a critical political, moral and military issue. Although largely neglected by Romantic scholars, Romantic era war novels can be seen as a significant site for the production of correct feeling related to war. Such novels are of particular interest because where later war novels are, in effect, defined by the ways they separate war from the social realm to record the shocking trauma of combat experience, Romantic war novels merge together depictions of soldiers at war with the events of ordinary social life. Because they are underpinned by sentimentalism, suffering is very much foregrounded in these novels, but the somatic and the social are complexly intertwined. What is at stake in these novels are questions of who exactly suffers in war and how exactly that suffering can be understood, as we encounter wounded soldiers who lament only their loss of an inheritance, children reporting on mass graves, and widows commiserating how their military lives separate them from their families. These novels offer a strikingly diverse range of perspectives on war that can defamiliarise our expectations of war literature, notably by including voices of women and civilians alongside those of soldiers. Uniting social and personal domains, Romantic era war novels map war back into an array of social affects.

Image: Rowlandson, Thomas, "Soldiers cooking" (1798). Prints, Drawings and Watercolors from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.