Kirstie Blair and Eliza O'Brien

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:

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The nature and status of sentimentality is widely contested, though most critics would agree that the adjective “sentimental” is applied to works that have a primary appeal to the emotions and operate by means of affect. Sentimental literature is interested in the experience, display, effect, and interpretation of emotion (pleasurable or otherwise) and in stirring up emotion in readers. The literature and culture of sentimentality has traditionally been viewed as clichéd, predictable and of limited aesthetic and social value. Yet critical work in the last two decades—primarily in the fields of literary and cultural studies, but also in philosophy—has attempted to rehabilitate the historical sentimental tradition and to argue for the inclusion of sentimental works in the canon. Sentimental philosophy is firmly rooted in 18th-century Britain, and the consequent explosion of sentimental literature meant that the long 18th century is the locus of most critical work in the field of sentimentality. The second most important period in this respect is 19th-century America: American literature and culture has attracted outstanding critical work. Studies of 19th-century British literature and culture lag behind, though several important reassessments of Victorian sentimentality do exist. Recent critical studies of Victorian sentimental texts and contexts tend to draw heavily on the arguments and approaches developed by critics of 18th-century British and 19th-century American sentimental culture. For this reason, although this bibliography focuses on Victorian sentimentality, it also includes critical studies that do not concentrate explicitly on British Victorian texts but have significant implications for their study and have been influential in the field. Victorian sentimentality touches on broad issues of sensibility—including medical and physiological studies—and emotion, which can be profitably summed up under the general heading of affect.

Article.  3809 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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