Can there be a stable sensible character? If sensibility presumes the changeability of a person's affective structure, it would seem not. Or perhaps sensibility only calls for a surface changeability, while allowing character to maintain a deep mechanism, which produces different responses for different occasions, but with the same degree of 'soundness.' In that case, a sensible character might swoon on demand, be firm when moved to firmness, and be compassionate when moved to compassion, without a markable change in character. The model of deep affective structure does, indeed, find some currency in the literature of sensibility; in some cases, as with Madame de Tourvel, character can be unflinchingly consistent to a single imagined ideal, while in other cases, projections of a certain kind of character are shown to hide the deep workings of vice.

But many texts of sensibility tell a much different story: it seems as if everything is subject to change. Miss Milner, in A Simple Story, is such a character -- her faults are ascribed to temptations, and her entire nature is subject to the modulations of a contingent fortune. Dorriforth (in the same novel) is the same way. At times the insensible character can 'come around' due to a revolutionary experience; Belford is the quintessential figure of the "reformed rake." At every point one must ask whether a sensible characteristic is a spontaneous, self-constituting principle, or whether it can be traced.

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography