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Tracing the history of pity

Image of the front cover of The Literature of Pity

Press release issued: 23 April 2014

In his latest book, The Literature of Pity, Professor David Punter of the Department of English traces an entire history of pity, as an emotion and as an element in the arts.

Although ‘pity’ is a term we use all the time, it has not been dealt with in a transhistorical literary context before.  Sharply distinguishable from such apparently similar terms as ‘compassion’ and ‘sympathy’, it is a peculiarly apposite term for contemporary investigation, living as we do in a world where pity is both widely required and simultaneously condemned as a kind of self-indulgence.

Major writers addressed in the book include Aristotle, Shakespeare, Fielding, Blake, Austen, Chekhov, Brecht, Wilfred Owen, David Jones, Primo Levi, Jean Rhys, Stevie Smith, Derek Walcott and Bob Dylan.

Professor Punter said: "I conceived of this book because it seemed – and still seems – to me that pity is a matter of real public urgency; always, perhaps, but at the present moment particularly, when we are witnessing unprecedented economic and cultural divides, both within the western world and between that world and its so-called ‘other.".

The Literature of Pity by David Punter is published by Edinburgh University Press; £70.

About Professor David Punter

David Punter is Professor of English at the University of Bristol.  His research interests are wide and range from modern and contemporary writing; the romantic and Gothic; literary theory and psychoanalysis; to postcolonialism and globalisation.

He has published over 25 critical books including Metaphor; Modernity; Writing in the Twenty-First Century; and Rapture: Literature, Addiction, Secrecy, as well as hundreds of articles and essays and five books of poetry.

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