A Revolution of Feeling

The Decade that Forged the Modern Mind

Rachel Hewitt

Published: 7 November 2018
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 560 pages
ISBN: 9781847085740

Other Editions

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Published: 5 October 2017
ISBN: 9781847085757


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Published: 5 October 2017
Hardback, Royal HB
156x234mm, 560 pages
ISBN: 9781847085733


In the 1790s, Britain underwent what the politician Edmund Burke called 'the most important of all revolutions...a revolution in sentiments'. Inspired by the French Revolution, British radicals concocted new political worlds to enshrine healthier, more productive, human emotions and relationships. The Enlightenment's wildest hopes crested in the utopian projects of such optimists - including the young poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the philosophers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, the physician Thomas Beddoes and the first photographer Thomas Wedgwood - who sought to reform sex, education, commerce, politics and medicine by freeing desire from repressive constraints.

But by the middle of the decade, the wind had changed. The French Revolution descended into bloody Terror and the British government quashed radical political activities. In the space of one decade, feverish optimism gave way to bleak disappointment, and changed the way we think about human need and longing.

A Revolution of Feeling is a vivid and absorbing account of the dramatic end of the Enlightenment, the beginning of an emotional landscape preoccupied by guilt, sin, failure, resignation and repression, and the origins of our contemporary approach to feeling and desire. Above all, it is the story of the human cost of political change, of men and women consigned to the 'wrong side of history'. But although their revolutionary proposals collapsed, that failure resulted in its own cultural revolution - a revolution of feeling - the aftershocks of which are felt to the present day.

About the author

Image of Rachel Hewitt

Rachel Hewitt is the author of A Revolution of Feeling: The Decade that Forged the Modern Mind (2017) and Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey (2010), which won the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction, awarded to authors engaged on their first major commissioned works of non-fiction, and was shortlisted for the Galaxy Popular Non-Fiction Book of the Year. She has a doctorate in English Literature and has worked at the Universities of Oxford, Glamorgan, and London (Queen Mary). She writes for various publications, including the Guardian, New Statesman and TLS. More about the author


‘'Hewitt's impressively learned book explores the impact of the French Revolution on British thinkers in the 1790s. Interweaving the personal and the political, Hewitt shows how the revolution popularised a "hydraulic theory of emotion" - all pent-up feelings, explosive urges and surging passions - that lingers in our imaginations today’ Dominic Sandbrook



‘[A] vivid and convincing new interpretation of the revolutionary decade’ Marisa Linton

‘Bold [and] rich’ Jane O'Grady

‘Fierce, watchful, unfolding her arguments with clear-eyed logic and political acuity, Hewitt poses questions of the utmost importance: what use is hope? Should we keep our passions to ourselves or use them to change the world around us? This is an outstanding work of historical scholarship, magnificent in its scope yet subtle and intimate enough to register the uncertain human pulses beneath the roar of revolution’ Alexandra Harris

‘Remarkably ambitious... An exhilarating journey through the 1790s, a decade that tends to be pictured in the cartoon colours of Gillray or Rowlandson as a knock-about farce of addlepated utopians and iron-fisted repressives. What Hewitt gives us instead are ordinary men and women, sometimes silly, sometimes cruel, but mostly just trying to bring their inner and outer lives into some sort of alignment’ Kathryn Hughes

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