This chapter focuses on three very different writers whose works all chronicle peculiarly intimate relationships between the texts they produced and the social lives for which they also became known: David Hume, Samuel Richardson, and Laurence Sterne. From the perspective of sentimentalism, all were committed to the resources of a language of feeling for the purpose of representing necessary social bonds; all discovered in their writings a sociability which was dependent upon the communication of passions and sentiments. It is this discovery which was formative of that fashion of 18th-century fiction now called ‘sentimental’. For these authors, the conception of harmonious sociability was dramatized not only in the books they produced, but also in their self-conscious efforts actually to live out models of social being. A biography of any of them records the attempt to make exemplary a social life. It might seem a trivial occupation, as the novelistic vogue of sentiment can appear a facile indulgence; both, however, are historically significant, bespeaking the difficulty which a polite culture was having in imagining the nature of social relations.
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