Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Claggett, Shalyn R.

Committee Member

O’Neill, Bonnie C.

Committee Member

DeGabriele, Peter

Date of Degree


Document Type

Graduate Thesis - Open Access



Degree Name

Master of Arts


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of English


Early sensation novels such as Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, and Ellen Wood’s East Lynne use the eighteenth-century notion of sentiment in very distinct manners. These novels demonstrate a perspective in transition regarding sentimentality in how they apply sentimental qualities to very specific character types. Some characters are extremely sentimental, whereas others appear completely void of emotion and are even described as automata. These sensation novels even feature sentimental journeys and objects, as well as allusions to sentimental novels such as Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey and Henry Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling. The occurrence of sentimentality in these sensation novels aligns characters into two categories: those that are controlled (and in some instances debilitated) by sentiment, and those that can control their feelings. Thus, the sensation novel calls into question the authenticity of emotional expression as it is represented in the sentimental literary tradition. Existing research on these novels tends to focus on gender and madness, a majority of which focuses specifically on madwomen. Instances of women being driven to madness, however, also coincides with a pattern of sentimental behaviors that male characters share. These overly sentimental characters rarely, if ever, demonstrate rational thinking, and are cast in a negative light. In contrast, the sensation novel casts non-sentimental characters of both genders as skeptics and investigators who generally meet felicitous ends. This thesis will contribute to existing scholarship on sensation fiction by taking into account how these novels treat excessive affect as a sign of generic critique rather than just a biological symptom of a pathologized woman.