Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Age of Enlightenment, Religion, Prostitutes, repentance, sentimentalization


Many scholars have observed the sentimentalization of the prostitute throughout the eighteenth century, and while this sentimentalization and its connection to the culture of sensibility have been compellingly theorized, the penitent prostitute's relationship to emotion, sensation, and piety has not been fully developed. The Histories of Some of the Penitents in the Magdalen House (1760) constructs an anxious equivalency between emotion and sensation, reflecting the vexed nature of sentimental discourse-the difficulty of distinguishing clearly between sensibility and sensuality. Examining this slippage reveals anxieties about women's abilities to accurately interpret and act upon the sensations of their bodies and their corresponding emotions, particularly within a religious context. The treatment of religious enthusiasts during the period helps to explain why, as a result, piety and penitence in The Histories are dissociated from feeling and are carefully associated, instead, with intellectual faculties and rational principle.