Abstract

This essay suggests that a biocultural model of the mind can explain some aspects of literary aesthetics and its relationship to ideology. Drawing on environmental psychology, neuroscience, developmental psychology, and related fields, Easterlin proposes that the orientation of humans as wayfinders predisposes them to attend especially to novelty or rarity in the environment. Moreover, this pronounced interest in the novel or unusual carries over from actual environments into reader processing of textual environments. When literary environments largely fail to offer novelty, as is the case in Felicia Hemans's The Forest Sanctuary, they forestall the cognitive-affective meaning-making process that forms the core of literary experience. As the reading demonstrates, Hemans's poem only solicits such engagement when the poem is controlled by Protestant ideology. The early nineteenth-century dictate that women write sentimental and conventional poetry, then, prescribes a form of composition opposed to built-in aesthetic preferences.

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