From Sympathy to Altruism: The Roots of Philanthropic Discourse

Frank Christianson

in Philanthropy in British and American Fiction

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print November 2007 | ISBN: 9780748625086
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652068 | DOI:
From Sympathy to Altruism: The Roots of Philanthropic Discourse

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This chapter presents an examination of the philosophical and practical contexts that constituted a modern discourse of philanthropy. The lexical history of three of these terms — sympathy, philanthropy and altruism — ties them as part of a narrative of cultural transformation with specific implications for the dominant aesthetic regimes of the period. The three models of relation between philanthropy and political economy were simultaneously operative over the course of the nineteenth century. For George Eliot and William Dean Howells, romance in its broadest sense is fundamentally ill-suited to the greater moral purpose they assign to novel writing and reading. Philanthropy acts both as a sign of new forms of social relation and as a new means of social representation, one commensurate with a realist literary paradigm.

Keywords: sympathy; philanthropy; altruism; political economy; George Eliot; William Dean Howells; social relation; social representation

Chapter.  17497 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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