29 April 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Ramblings on the Sentimental

Literary Blog Hop

I haven't participated in the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase in about a month.  I'm excited to participate this week since I just finished grading tons of papers, and I'm excited to be doing some blog upkeep (and I'm going to Spring Clean tomorrow, yeah!).

Anyway, here is this week's topic:

Discuss your thoughts on sentimentality in literature. When is emotion in literature effective and when is it superfluous? Use examples.


This is kind of a difficult one.  The word "sentimentality" is very 18th century to me (probably because of Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, a book I haven't even read).  Immediately I think of Richardson's PamelaPamela is a sentimental creature, like many women in 18th century novels. She faints and blushes (of course, most likely because she is wearing a corset).
Then in the 19th century, some awesome proto-feminists like Jane Austen came along and made fun of the notion that women should swoon and retire to their closets and all of that.  Instead, women, like men, were perfectly capable of sense.

I told you this would be rambling, but I may have a point.  I think that often sentimentality is associated with "women's fiction;" however, I can think of some very poignant and very masculine examples to the contrary.  As much as I associate women's "closet novels" of the 18th century with sentimentality, I associate 19th century British Romanticism with emotion as well.  Romanticism is all about the grandiose, the florid, the sublime.  The Romantics connected emotion to experience, in particular the experience of nature.  Poems like this one by Wordsworth are undoubtedly sentimental:

My heart leaps up (1802)

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky: 
So was it when my life began;
So it it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old, 
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

British Romanticism is a masculine tradition and I think there is an inherited tradition of masculine sentimentality in American literature.  For example, John Steinbeck is a writer greatly steeped in a tradition of Romantic (in the sense I am referring to above) sentimentality and naturalism.  Many examples can also found amongst the Transcendentalists, who are often exploding with emotion provoked by natural beauty.  
In conclusion to this post that I had no idea would be about gender, and which doesn't answer this week's question really, I think we often associate sentimentality, or emotion, with "bad" women's fiction.  However, I think that emotion is an essential and central part of all literary traditions.  Certainly readers don't like their emotions manipulated cheaply (at least I don't), however, most human experience is driven by emotion, and good writing should evoke that as well.

6 comments:

  1. A very interesting post-thanks for hopping by my blog-I have decided to follow your blog and look forward to your future posts-we seem to read soe of the same books-I have read and really like both of the Samuel Richardson classics and I have posted on the parody work "Shamela".

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  2. Your post is thought-provoking. I enjoy your example of Wordsworth He seems to stand, along with the early novels of Dickens, in contrast with mature George Eliot.

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  3. I love Wordsworth and enjoy the Romantics. I do agree that modern reaction to the word "sentimental" is to think of genres like Chick Lit, when any good story has a measure of emotion to it. Without emotion, characters just move through the plot.

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  4. Good call on gender, & glad to see someone else has used poetry as an example. Also agree on cheap tricks, I don't mind my heart strings being pulled, just don't want to see the pulleys & levers doing it.
    Thanks enjoyed your post.

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  5. I forgot about Pamela! And Shamela. Yes, this book and so many others from that time period fit the defintion of sentimentality very well. I read this in a class that I think was called "Literature of the Neoclassical Period." Thanks for reminding me.

    Love the post and glad to have found your blog.

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  6. Perhaps your post seems a bit rambling to you, but it answers the question well.

    Here is my response: Readerbuzz: The Queen Died and the King Died.

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I love your comments. Thanks for making me a happy blogger.

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