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The sentimental novel as Trostschrift: Johann Martin Miller’s Siegwart. Eine Klostergeschichte (1776)

Abstract

Late eighteenth-century consolatory texts for bereavement employed traditional consolatory arguments, but also set new emphasis on sympathy, on a recognition of the individuality of the sufferer and on the benefits of an entertaining or ‘playful’ approach. This essay suggests that the sentimental novel took on some of the functions of the Trostschrift in this period. As well as offering the reader providential accounts of bereavement and of the prospect of reunion beyond the grave, Miller’s popular novel Siegwart (1776) establishes the sense of a virtual sympathetic community and offers the reader the cathartic opportunity to indulge grief, then distracts him/her from it with the aesthetic pleasures of the text. The negative reception of the sentimental novel by enlightened consolatory authors is ascribed to their distrust of the apparent ‘instability’ of fiction—its lack of ‘real’ referents

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