This chapter examines the cultural codes of romantic suffering, beginning with an analysis of how men and women engaging in troubled relationships conceptualized their turmoil using the language of the heart. It considers the cultural influence of archetypal heroines such as Armida, Queen Dido, and Ophelia, as women’s suffering from love assumed an increasingly dominant role in popular culture from mid-century. The cult of sensibility transformed women in love into objects of sympathy, whose misfortunes were caused by their tender and feeling hearts. This redefinition of gender roles transformed the suicidal lover from a female to a male figure—exemplified by Goethe’s Werther—with eighteenth-century men committing heroic acts of passion whilst their sweethearts languished away. The chapter closes by tracing the disintegration of relationships through objects, revealing how it was imperative for lovers to return letters and romantic gifts with the utmost urgency in order formally to terminate an engagement.
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