sentimental novel

Quick Reference

An emotionally extravagant novel of a kind that became popular in Europe in the late 18th century. Partly inspired by the emotional power of Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740), the sentimental novels of the 1760s and 1770s exhibit the close connections between virtue and sensibility, in repeatedly tearful scenes; a character's feeling for the beauties of nature and for the griefs of others is taken as a sign of a pure heart. An excessively sentimental example is Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling (1771), but Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) and Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey (1768) are more ironic. In Europe, the most important sentimental novels were J.‐J. Rousseau's La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) and J. W. von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774; see wertherism). The fashion lingered on in the early Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe in the 1790s. For a fuller account, consult R. F. Brissenden, Virtue in Distress (1974).

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries