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Voices from Beyond

Physiology, Sentience, and the Uncanny in Eighteenth-Century French Literature
Scott M. Sanders

BUY Cloth · 240 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813947327 · $85.00 · Apr 2022
BUY Paper · 240 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813947334 · $35.00 · Apr 2022
BUY Ebook · 240 pp. · ISBN 9780813947341 · $28.00 · Apr 2022

There was much uncertainty about how voice related to body in the early eighteenth century, and this became a major subject of scientific and cultural interest. In Voices from Beyond, Scott Sanders provides an interdisciplinary and transnational study of eighteenth-century conceptions of the human voice. His book examines the diversity of thought about vocal materiality and its roles in philosophical and literary works from the period, uncovering representations of the voice that intertwine physiology with physics, music with moral philosophy, and literary description with performance.

Voices from Beyond focuses on the voice as it was constructed in French works, influenced by French vocal sciences as well as British literary and philosophical texts. It considers the writing of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, François Baculard d’Arnaud, and Jacques Cazotte in particular, and explores how their texts theorize, represent, and construct three interrelated vocal types: the sentimental, the vitalist, and the uncanny. These authors represented the human voice as an intersectional organ with implications for one’s emotional disposition, physical health, cultural identity, gender, and sexuality. Sanders argues that while the conception of sentimental and vitalist voices was anchored to a physiological understanding of vocal organs, this paradoxically led to the development of a disembodied, uncanny voice—one that could imitate the sounds of a good moral fiber while masking a monstrous physiology.


This study is rich in primary source material and nuanced readings, through which it develops interpretive strategies that are sensitive to culturally specific formations of ‘voice.’ The result is a new take on the work of both canonical and lesser-known French authors as well as a new account of how different understandings of ‘voice’ coexisted and shifted during the mid- to late eighteenth century. An important addition to eighteenth-century studies and to voice studies, Voices from Beyond is exemplary of how returning to primary texts with new sensitivities and analytical methods can significantly revise broad historical narratives that have become standard around the voice and sound.

Deirdre Loughridge, Northeastern University · Haydn’s Sunrise, Beethoven’s Shadow: Audiovisual Culture and the Emergence of Musical Romanticism

About the Author(s): 

Scott M. Sanders is Assistant Professor of French at Dartmouth College.

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