A few more thoughts on why the characters’ inner thoughts might leave you cold. I wonder if your reaction is related to historically-specific notions of feeling and emotion. I’ve been thinking about this on and off, since so much of the book deals with romantic and platonic love, the responses of soldiers to fear, and (especially with Old Prince Bolkonsky) eruptions of anger. Emotional expression is historical, of course, like any other sorts of expression, and unsurprisingly there is a historiography of the subject.
I found a few points from a 2002 article by Barbara Rosenwein that could perhaps situate the discussion. She describes Lucien Febvre’s call for a history of emotions in 1941 and the response to that call in the 1980s, led by Peter and Carol Stearns’ establishment of “emotionology.” They built on literature from the 1970s, including “the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, for example, [who] was arguing that society could and did control emotions and their expression, thatthere were ‘feeling rules,’ or ‘emotion rules’ that told people, in essence, how to feel and how to express those utterly socially mandated feelings. Hochschild argued that airline stewardesses learned at training schools not only to smile but to feel pleasant when travelers yelled at them. She called this the ‘managed heart.’” (By the way, Rosenwein doesn’t say it, but neuroscientists have argued since the 1990s at least that smiling does make you feel happier.)
According to the Stearns, it was between 1800 and 1920 that emotions began to be reined in, controlled so as to conform to evolving socialnorms. Norbert Elias (one of the Stearns’ influences) argues that this process had deep roots, dating to the 12th century, when powerful lords established courts and began to set norms of behavior, especially toward important ladies. “Only at the absolutist court of the modern state, however,” Rosenwein glosses, “did this new behavior and emotional style become obligatory and generalized.” The absolutist court, “dominated the many complex institutions of society. To participate in this all-inclusive structure, people were forced to ‘attune their conduct [including emotional expression] to that of others.’” The elaborate social etiquette of the ladies- and gentlemen-in-waiting gives us a hint about the ways emotion was to be managed in the orbit around Alexander. We can also think about young Rostov’s reaction to him and, later on, the Moscow nobility’s response to his call for a troop levy.
Rosenwein criticizes the “grand narrative” of emotions, which she summarizes thus: “the history of the West is the history of increasing emotional restraint.” As she observes, a huge historical literature examines the increasing emotional restraint of the 19th century. Countless novels (including those written at the time) and films have solidified profound repression as part of our perception of the
Victorian Age. I don’t feel equipped to judge whether War and Peace more accurately reflects the emotional norms of the 1860s, when Tolstoy was writing it, or of the period from 1805-1812. That’s an interesting question, I think.
Rosenwein sees some historians edging away from the grand narrative. There are those following some psychological literature and cast emotions as cognitive responses by subjects to evaluations of how circumstances will affect them. And there are those, like William Reddy (with whom I took a fantastic seminar, but not on emotions), who
investigate emotions through the vocabulary used to describe them, “for only as people articulate their feelings can they ‘know’ what they feel and, reflecting on their newfound knowledge, feel yet more.” (Reddy’s approach fits squarely within the historical methodology following on the so-called “linguistic turn” from the 1980s onward.)
Rosenwein herself proposes the study of “emotional communities,” which are characterized by a shared “systems of feeling: what these communities (and the individuals within them) define and assess as valuable or harmful to them; the evaluations that they make about others' emotions; the nature of the affective bonds between people that they recognize; and the modes of emotional expression that they
expect, encourage, tolerate, and deplore.” This is a pretty wide-open theory, since you can always pull a new “emotional community” out of your pocket if some source doesn’t square with the emotional norms you are outlining for a particular time or context. But we could also imagine the emotional community of Petersburg society as opposed to the emotional community of Bald Hills, say, or another country estate
with serfs and a local merchant class, etc. And in Volume III there’s a nice contrast drawn between the prevailing opinions, expression, and even emotions in the circles headed respectively by Helene and Anna Pavlovna.
Barbara H. Rosenwein, “Worrying About Emotions in History,” American
Historical Review 107, no. 3 (2002).
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The History of Emotions
From group member Tom: