Miss Rachel Sulich

Research Postgraduate Student

Summary: Voluntary death; eighteenth-century constructions of the self; the early novel; sensibility; the sentimental tradition; sympathy.

Thesis Title: 'Voluntary Death in the Eighteenth-Century Sentimental Tradition'

Supervisor: Professor Robert W. Jones

Funding Body: The School of English John Barnard Scholarship

My thesis questions the assumption that eighteenth-century sensibility is inherently social in orientation. Recent criticism, by Janet Todd, John Dwyer, Sarah Knott and others, has stressed how the heightened emotional responses of sensibility are invariably outward-facing and, to borrow a term from Knott, ‘socially-turned’. My research uncovers a more troubled strand of sentimentalism. By examining a more anxious body of writing, which I term ‘the sentimental tradition’, this thesis argues that the literature of sensibility is more inwardly-turned, more concerned with inner turmoil and self-doubt, than has been critically assumed. The social behaviours that form the ‘culture of sensibility’, as described by G.J. Barker-Benfield and others, assume an altogether darker hue in this tradition where acute emotions often have fatal consequences. This study considers a particular manifestation of sentimental subjectivity where figures often ‘tremble’, in the words of Goethe, ‘on the edge of being and not-being’. These fractured, troubled selves are at risk of further discomposure by the act of voluntary death: an act that proves crucial to understandings of this tradition. To argue this case, a broad range of fictional and non-fictional texts of the period, including works by David Hume, Samuel Richardson, William Godwin and Charles Moore, among others, have been consulted. By adopting, revising or challenging the recognisable tropes of sentimentalism, these writers offer conflicting insights into the sentimental subject’s inherent destructibility and, in so doing, reveal sensibility’s fatal agency in literature of the eighteenth century.

Teaching Responsibilities:

Eighteenth-Century Literature, Semester 2, 2015-16 and Semester 1, 2016-17.

Literature of the Romantic Period, Semester 2, 2016-17.

Prose: Reading and Interpretation, Semester 1, 2014-15.

Recent Conference Activity:

'The Language of Reform and Rebuke: The Anti-Suicide Debate of the 1790s', BARS 15th International Conference, University of York, 28 July 2017.

'Suicide in the 'Season of Frantic Riot': Self-Destruction in Conservative Ideology of the 1790s', CECS Postgraduate Forum, CECS, University of York, 16 May 2017.

‘My life I owe to the laws of my country, and I will pay the debt’: Honour, Duty, and Voluntary Death in Herbert Croft’s Love and Madness', Eighteenth-Century Studies Seminar Series, LHRI, University of Leeds, 6 February 2017.

 ‘Lovelace’s ‘voluntary exposure to danger’: Duelling as Self-Destruction in Richardson’s Clarissa’. The Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Seminar Series, School of English, University of Leeds, 1 March 2016.

'What misery does a man of sensibility suffer!': The Rise of the Suicidal Man of Feeling in the Eighteenth-Century Novel'. BSECS 45th Annual Conference, St Hugh's College, Oxford, 6-8 January 2016.

‘Communal Deviance’: Charles Moore’s ‘modern race of suicides’. Community and its Limits, 1745-1832, School of English, University of Leeds, 4-5 September 2015.

‘Fatal Connections’: The Perils of Sympathy in David Hume’s Treatise'. BSECS Postgraduate and Early Career Researcher Annual Conference, Queen’s University Belfast, 15-16 July 2015.

‘Effectively free[s] him from all danger of misery’: Sympathy and Suffering in David Hume’s ‘Of Suicide’. School of English Postgraduate Research Seminar, University of Leeds, 20 November 2014.

‘Nor will I murder any but myself’: Sympathy and Suicide in Herbert Croft’s Love and Madness: A Story too True'. Romanticism and Self-Destruction Conference, Centre for Romantic and Victorian Studies, University of Bristol, 9 May 2014.


Review of Daniel Cook and Nicholas Seager, eds., The Afterlives of Eighteenth-Century Fiction, The BARS Review no. 50 (Autumn 2017), pp. 16-17.

Review of Louise Curran’s Samuel Richardson and the Art of Letter-Writing, The BARS Review no. 48 (Autumn 2016), pp. 44-6.

Other Activities:

Higher Education Progression Officer, Educational Engagement Department, University of Leeds, October 2017 - Present.

Access to Leeds Marking Assistant, School of English, University of Leeds, June 2017 - August 2017.

Project Assistant: ‘Richard Brinsley Sheridan: Orator and MP for Stafford’. School of English, University of Leeds, February 2016 - August 2016.

Education Outreach Fellow for the Educational Engagement Department, August 2015 – October 2017.

Local History Resource Developer, Calderdale Libraries, December 2012 - September 2016.

Co-writer and presenter of ‘Discovering Primary Resources with the Brontës’, Special Collections, Brotherton Library in collaboration with Educational Engagement, June 2013 - July 2013.

Brontë Manuscript Collection Intern, Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, November 2012 - April 2013.