The Language of the Heart, 1600-1750
Robert A. Erickson
"An original, deeply learned, illuminatingly limned, and often profoundly moving book on a topic of marvelous centrality. Each chapter is a revelation; the one on Paradise Lost—the pulsing heart in this book of hearts—is quite simply one of the most eloquent essays anyone has ever written on this central poem of our language."—Terry Castle, Stanford University
"Encyclopaedic in its learning, rigorous in its scholarship, elegant and economical in style, eloquent and often moving in its critical formulations, and original in its cultural perspective on literary texts, Robert A. Erickson's book is an important and in some respects and exemplary work."—Eighteenth-Century Fiction
"Since it is universally acknowledged that medico-scientific understandings of the heart were radically transformed after William Harvey, and since literary scholars are agreed that the affairs of the heart were central to the rise of the novel, it is surprising that transformations of meanings of the heart in the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth have not been the subject of greater study. But that is the case, and one can truly say that this is a large gap which Erickson has identified and filled with this work of careful and often profound erudition."—Roy Porter, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine
"A fascinating account of [the heart's] multiple significations in the early modern period…Erickson suggests one cluster of metaphors has traditionally linked the heart to language, writing and thought, while another has connected it to sex, passion and gender."—Times Literary Supplement
In The Motion of the Heart and Blood (1653), William Harvey had set forth the scientific model of a phallic, generative organ pumping blood through a feminized body; in Paradise Lost, it is through the protracted rape and violation of Eve's heart that the Fall of Man occurs; nearly a century later Samuel Richardson's Clarissa would present a no less forceful but far more feminist and heroic narrative of the heart's power. Examining these other—and mostly English-literary, medical, religious, and philosophical texts, Erickson uncovers two ruling clusters of metaphors: one associating the heart with language, writing, and thought, the other with sex, passion, and gender. Charting the tension between the two, he offers a brilliant new reading of one of the central symbols in Western culture.
Robert A. Erickson is Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Mother Midnight: Birth, Sex, and Fate in Eighteenth-Century Fiction.