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  You are in: Home > Literary Cristicism > Affective Worlds  

“Affective Worlds”
Writing, Feeling and Nineteenth-Century Literature

John Hughes

John Hughes is a Reader in English at the University of Gloucestershire. He has published widely on nineteenth-century literature, literary theory, and twentieth-century philosophy. He has written two previous books, Lines of Flight (Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), and ‘Ecstatic Sound’ (Ashgate, 2001).


This book offers an original approach to a number of nineteenth-century authors in terms of what are seen as the constitutive affective dynamics of their work. Pursuing theoretically and philosophically informed close readings, John Hughes emphasizes issues of the embodied mind in literary texts, and explores the inventive and discriminating powers of thought – as well as the projections of identity and relatedness – staged and expressed by imaginative writing in the ‘long nineteenth-century’. Within each chapter a writer is seen as investigating the physical or emotional determinants of mind, as well as the social conditions of subjectification, through the figurative, dramatic and subjective means of their art.

The individual author chapters examine a singular, exemplary, instance of how acts of mind, and moments of self-awareness, are generated from emotional or physical response: musical experience in Blake; the recreational activity of walking in Wordsworth; fantasies of resentment in Poe; moments or modes of cross-gender, feminine, identification in Tennyson; bodily sensation, and self-separation, in Charlotte Brontë; eye contact and looking in Hardy. In each case, the exampled texts from these authors and poets display an affective or physical inspiration. Hughes draws on themes of ethical subjectivity in the work of Stanley Cavell and Gilles Deleuze to provide essential reading for all those involved in nineteenth-century literature.

Prefatory Note


1 ‘A Bard’s Prophetic Song’: Blake and Music

2 ‘He Travels On’: Wordsworth and the Walking Self

3 ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’: Poe and Resentment

4 ‘All These Ladies’: Tennyson and Femininity

5 ‘“I Love”, “I Hate”, “I Suffer”’: Feeling, Subjectivity, and Form in Charlotte Brontë’s Fiction

6 ‘What I See in Their Faces’: Visual Inspiration in Hardy’s Fiction


“‘Affective Worlds’ is a rich source of intelligent, incisive analysis and a welcome addition to the field of literary affect studies. Hughes has a strong, open-minded engagement with his source texts, and his application of Deleuzian and especially Cavellian theory is a helpful angle from which to approach them. He has a particular interest in the therapeutic possibilities of writing, and this is abundantly clear in his own prose, which in places is as seductive as that of his subjects [and which] offers us six distinct chapters of vivid and engaging criticism... The role of the body in shaping and influencing both the mind and the self is convincingly detailed throughout this book. From the wanderings of Wordsworth to the prying eyes of Hardy, John Hughes tackles some of the greatest canonical behemoths and reshapes them into textual bodies highly responsive to the tools of his analysis.” Textual Practice

“The issue of subjectivity in literary writing is a topic of current debate, and John Hughes’s elegant new study … formulates a genuine rethinking of the whole topic of subjectivity in the text … Whilst of necessity stressing the individuality of his individual authors – William Blake, Wordsworth, Edgar Allan Poe, Tennyson, Charlotte Brontë, and Hardy – Hughes also skillfully places them vis a vis the philosophical and ideological context… [and] seeks to re-emphasise, in a philosophically sophisticated series of readings the emotional qualities of the text in its negotiation of the dialectical relation between writer and reader… In sum, Affective Worlds is a highly persuasive and genuinely original contribution to our re-reading of these seminal texts [and] excitingly gives the reader a renewed sense of the imbrication of the emotional self in the literary text.” The Thomas Hardy Journal

“The originality, and great appeal, of John Hughes's approach lies in his desire to foreground the role of emotions, as both the impulse behind the work and the condition of the reader's full engagement with it.... While providing enlightening analyses of major works from the nineteenth-century John Hughes remains true to his claim that we should... fully acknowledge the affective dimension of reading.” Cercles: Revue pluridisciplinaire du monde anglophone

“John Hughes’ writing exemplifies criticism that is at once intellectually rigorous but also humane. His interrogation of theoretical perspectives and philosophical concepts is persistently sophisticated while turned always to the illumination of literary writing in its irreducible particularity, to authorial individuality that is communicated and constituted in style. Searching out the ways in which a wide range of authors from Blake to Hardy understand subjectivity and ‘becoming an individual’, Hughes writes luminously on, for instance, the cryptic female subject positions of Tennyson; the bracing refusals of Charlotte Bronte’s Villette to allow the reader’s sympathy for an impoverished, hidden female subjectivity; and the haunting place of remembered sights in Hardy. Enormously stimulating in its reach and implication, ‘Affective Worlds’ is both brave and delicate — a study to think about over and again.” Francis O’Gorman, University of Leeds

“John Hughes writes with poignant, illuminating sensitivity to emotion and sensation in texts, readers and writers. He brings not only careful empathic attention, but also philosophical learning and precise critical insight to these six richly nuanced readings of major literary figures. Each writer emerges, unmistakable, in the remarkable individuality of a style of feeling − which is, as Hughes so convincingly shows, also a way of perceiving, thinking and creating. The book maintains a fresh, open curiosity about the affective experience of reading and responds deeply and articulately to elements of literature that are inseparable from the complex, many-coloured texture of our humanity.” Sarah Wood, University of Kent

Affective Worlds is an important and original study with far-reaching implications, which starts from the premise that for decades, literary studies has avoided the questions of affect and response which are fundamental to the writing and reading of literature. Building on this, Hughes unfolds an argument which is both striking and subtle, drawing on the work of Deleuze and Cavell to unravel the ways in which literature expresses, as Proust put it, ‘that sensation of individuality for which we seek in vain in our everyday existence’. Hughes identifies a particular crisis in subjectivity in post-Romantic Western culture, and accordingly, in a series of wonderfully exhilarating readings, tracks the ways in which a range of nineteenth-century writers work to stage subjectivity in its affective, corporeal and cognitive dimensions. This complex, rewarding study could not be more timely in its reminder of why we read – and write about – literature. Clare Hanson, University of Southampton

“John Hughes’ subtle and thought-provoking book makes a significant contribution to the recent ‘affective turn’ in criticism. In his introduction he sketches a long history of embarrassment with issues of affect and response in literary studies, from Wimsatt and Beardsley onwards … [and] argues [that] the reader’s affective involvement in the text has been sidelined ‘as literary experience has become bargained for the study of the literary object, or its contexts, in terms of specialised forms of knowing’. In the chapters that follow, Hughes offers nuanced ‘affective readings’ of six canonical nineteenth-century writers: Wordsworth, Blake, Poe, Tennyson, Charlotte Brontë and Hardy. His aim is to show the ‘writer’s conception of how acts of mind, and moments of self-awareness, are generated from emotional or physical response’ … This is a multifaceted and ambitious book… Its methodology attempts to humanise critical reading, and to meet head-on the vexed, perennial problems of how to integrate biography and reader response into literary studies without abandoning intellectual rigour… In sum, Affective Worlds presents a sophisticated and invigorating series of case-studies.” Review of English Studies

“John Hughes’s study, offers rereadings of canonical writers in the long nineteenth century and deploys the methodology of affective reading to examine how each writer “uses literature to stage issues of subjectivity” (p. 1). Hughes’s chapters focus on individual authors but, more specifically, on a topic that reveals “significant features of” their “sensibility and thought” (p. 3). Subjects include music in Blake, walking in Wordsworth, resentment in Edgar Allan Poe, and eye contact in Hardy’s fiction.” Studies in English Literature 15001900, The Nineteenth Century
Volume 52 – Autumn 2012 – Number 4

Hughes participates in the current discussion of consciousness and affect in the Victorian studies. This book, with chapters devoted to Blake, Wordsworth, Poe, Brontë, Tennyson, and Hardy, demonstrates the causal relationships between physical experience and reawakened consciousness in the world of Victorian texts. Hughes’s approach blends a well-versed theoretical foundation… and equally compelling close readings. Year’s Work in English Studies, 2013

Hughes’s criticism ‘advances… a mode of “affective reading”’ [that] involves a nuanced sense of intentionality, and an awareness of the affective responses of the twenty-first century reader… [T]he distinctive quality of Hughes’s book… has its roots in his longstanding interest in the work of Stanley Cavell and Gilles Deleuze.
… The volume comprises essays on Blake and music; Wordsworth and walking; Tennyson and gender; Poe and resentment; Charlotte Bronte and bodily sensation; and … concludes with an engaging essay about Hardy and perception, which examines the precarious balance between an empathetic and an all-consuming gaze. This final chapter is a highly interesting consideration of looking and feeling, in a book that allows one to feel for the critical act anewTennyson Research Bulletin


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:
June 2011
  Illustrated:   No
Hardback Price:
£55.00 / $69.95

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