Book at Lunchtime: Compassion's Edge, Winner of the 2018 Society for Renaissance Studies Book Prize.
Compassion's Edge examines the language of fellow-feeling—pity, compassion, and charitable care—that flourished in France in the period from the Edict of Nantes in 1598, which established some degree of religious toleration, to the official breakdown of that toleration with the Revocation of the Edict in 1685. This is not, however, a story about compassion overcoming difference but one of compassion reinforcing division: the seventeenth-century texts of fellow-feeling led not to communal concerns but to paralysis, misreading, and isolation. Early modern fellow-feeling drew distinctions, policed its borders, and far from reaching out to others, kept the other at arm's length. It became a central feature in the debates about the place of religious minorities after the Wars of Religion, and according to Katherine Ibbett, continues to shape the way we think about difference today.
Compassion's Edge ranges widely over genres, contexts, and geographies. Ibbett reads epic poetry, novels, moral treatises, dramatic theory, and theological disputes. She takes up major figures such as D'Aubigné, Montaigne, Lafayette, Corneille, and Racine, as well as less familiar Jesuit theologians, Huguenot ministers, and nuns from a Montreal hospital. Although firmly rooted in early modern studies, she reflects on the ways in which the language of compassion figures in contemporary conversations about national and religious communities. Investigating the affective undertow of religious toleration, Compassion's Edge provides a robust corrective to today's hope that fellow-feeling draws us inexorably and usefully together.
About the panel
Katherine Ibbett is Professor of French in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and Caroline de Jager Fellow and Tutor in French at Trinity College. Katherine’s research focuses on early modern literature, culture and political thought. Previous publications have included a book on tragedy (especially Pierre Corneille) and theories of political action; and a coedited volume thinking through Walter Benjamin’s concept of the Trauerspiel and its relevance to a French corpus. Katherine is currently working on a book on the writing of water in early modern France and its territories, from the lyric poets of the sixteenth century to the Mississippi settlements of the 1700s.
Lorna Hutson is Merton Professor of English Literature and a Fellow of Merton College. Her research centres on the literature of the early modern period in England and the complex interrelations of literary form and other forms of cultural practice. Lorna’s books include The Usurer’s Daughter (1994); Rhetoric and Law in Early Modern Europe (2000); The Invention of Suspicion (2007) and Circumstantial Shakespeare (2015). Recently, she edited The Oxford Handbook of English Law and Literature (2017), which won the Roland Bainton Award for the best early modern reference book. Lorna is also a Fellow of the British Academy and the Director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies at Oxford.
Teresa Bejan is Associate Professor of Political Theory in the Department of Politics and International Relations and Tutorial Fellow in Politics at Oriel College. Teresa’s research brings perspectives from early modern English and American political thought to bear on questions in contemporary political theory and practice. Her book, Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration, examines contemporary calls for civility in light of seventeenth-century debates about religious toleration. Teresa is currently working on her second book, Acknowledging Equality.
Emma Claussen is Career Development Fellow at New College. Emma works on literature and thought in the early modern period, with a particular interest in politics and moral philosophy. She is currently writing a book on sixteenth-century uses of the word politique and attendant conceptions of politics, political behaviour, and correct political action. Her next project will explore the intersection between moral and biological conceptions of life c. 1550-1650.