Sympathy in the Russian Sentimental Letter of the 1770s

Abstract

Under the influence of literary sentimentalism, elite Russians began in the 1770s to experiment with a new genre of correspondence, which emphasized spontaneity and sincerity, encouraging introspection and exchanges of intimacies. Articulations of sympathy—the capacity and willingness of sender and recipient to experience one another’s sentiments—soon became a central component of the sentimental letter. This article investigates the experimentative way in which Russian correspondents first alluded to sympathy: what vocabulary they chose, what literary sources they drew on, to whom it was directed and what purposes it may have served them. Articulating sympathy was a means by which members of kin and clientele networks could enhance their bonds; it also constituted an exploration into new communicative and literary possibilities.

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