Abstract

Sydney Owenson’s Strange Phenomenality

This essay examines Sydney Owenson’s strange syntax—at once ornate and truncated, full of floating modifiers and attributions that remain forever unresolved—as a medium for her explorations of sensation and perception. Tracing the form of her novels in conjunction with her meditations on empiricism, it argues that Owenson’s syntax resists the ontic and formalizing claims of a Common Sense philosophy of perception. Instead her early novels enact, syntactically and therefore figurally, a conception of “life” as ceaseless, formless motion and an ethics of interdependency embodied in what Thomas Reid called “mere sensation.”