Honor/Reputation

Introduction:

Honor takes its place awkwardly in the spectrum of sensibility, with its connotations of Augustan fortitude and a stoic disregard for feeling. One is tempted to plumb the sensible tradition for its own special variety of honor, one which did not set its practitioners apart from the community, but drew them inside -- one which did not demand an imposition of principle onto feeling, but allowed feeling to flower forth in its own capability -- one which could not be imputed to motives of fear and insecurity, but would rise naturally from the best intentions. This kind of honor is sensibility's fondest wish, one which would take the best parts of a character's inner life and mirror it into the social world.

But honor, an issue for every sensible heroine and hero, does not cooperate; it runs circles around the inner life, and blocks the true expression of deep feeling. Matthew Bramble's entire inclination toward misanthropy contrasts with a deeply felt urge toward helping his fellow-creatures; "reputation" stands at the interface of action and sentiment, frightening true expression by threatening public humiliation. Clarissa's honor also comes from her stoic suppression of sensible excesses, as when she refuses to act foolishly on her strong feelings for Lovelace, or when she lives out her final dies in fear and loneliness rather than taking her own life. Here we see that honor, which blocks the enactment of salutary sensibility, also shields one from the effects of pernicious sensibility.

Perhaps the best (because most ambiguous) depiction of honor's location within the sensibility spectrum comes in Tristram Shandy, where Tristram attacks his critics for tearing his jerkin -- they have torn his lining as well. Stoics, he says, argue that jerkin and lining can be kept apart; not for Sterne, if they are well-sewn. The question is whether honor/reputation is the jerkin which stands outside (holds in) the lining, or honor/reputation is the binding quality between the self and the world. When the critics withdraw, does honor withdraw as well?

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography