The Man of Feeling
Publisher: Assembled Stories
Date: January 2010
Duration: 4 hours 26 minutes
Mackenzie finished writing The Man of Feeling in 1771. It went on to become a bestseller which must have made the author a wealthy man but it also vindicated him because this, his first work, was refused by the publishing world and he was forced to fund the process himself.It is a sentimental novel written in the Age of Enlightenment when European intellectuals were questioning customs and morality, and the world was on the brink of revolution.Mackenzie’s supposition meant, crudely, that if one was able to equate with the hero, Harley, and emote in similar fashion as he reacts to each new misfortune that occurs to him and those he encounters, one would be judged to have attained the correct state of sensibility.This may have been difficult enough for the contemporary reader - although some enjoyed the breast beating - but for a modern readership it is well nigh impossible to empathize even with a huge suspension of disbelief and the knowledge that ‘the past is a foreign country’ etc.However, Harley makes several observations and judgements about thoughts and deeds with which we are still familiar and cause us disquiet. He condemns the way that some personal fortunes are acquired in the cause of aggrandizement at the cost of human life, and the dispositions of those who spectate at the suffering of the disadvantaged.The themes of the novel were of fundamental importance to the thinkers of that period but there is a significant enough cross-over to our modern times to make the novel relevant today. It may also comfort modern males to know, after the recent reassessment of gender roles, that it is not the first time in history that men have been asked to look within themselves and get in touch with their feminine side!
Written in 1771 this is a ‘sentimental’ novel of its time, but also uncannily relevant to the present day.The episodic story romps along as Harley, the man of feeling,travels to London.Brimming with compassion and tender tears, he listens to a succession of unfortunates, including a prostitute and a destitute farmer.His loathing of outrageous social iniquities and the worship of money and his plea for human kindness fit our century as pertinently as his.Brilliant narration.