In Search of Lost Feeling: The Emotional History of Medievalism

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The aim of this article is to chart sets of emotions and affects within medievalism over a longue durée. By “medievalism” I mean here chiefly artistic, cultural, and political reactions to the idea of the Middle Ages; reducing this even further, one could argue that “medievalism” is feeling about the Middle Ages at any given epoch. I select three exemplary moments, going first to the post-Reformation moment in which the medieval Catholic past was decisively rejected and in which, as a consequence, the very notion of the Middle Ages was invented and shaped. The primary emotional disposition here is that of fear and terror. Secondly, I look at the so-called medieval revival of the later eighteenth century when, whatever apprehensions remained about the Catholic medieval past, in the intellectual-antiquarian milieu of such figures as Thomas Percy and Thomas Warton, there is a form of “negative pleasure” (in Kant’s terminology) in the contemplation of the Middle Ages. Finally, in the period 1815–1850, I look not at the numerous instances from high- and middle-brow culture of conservative, celebratory medievalism in this period, but instead at the understudied archive of political uses of medievalism. I examine more subaltern reactions to the Middle Ages from ephemeral forms (specifically, newspapers and popular entertainment), which reveal a somewhat more fluid and variable set of feelings about the Middle Ages than an understanding of Walter Scott and his many legacies tends to offer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-222
Issue number3
Early online date18 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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