Sentimentality is both a literary device used to induce a tender emotional response disproportionate to the situation, [
I. A. Richardsgave just such a quantitative definition: "a response is sentimental if it is too great for the occasion." He added, "We cannot, obviously judge that any response is sentimental in this sense unless we take careful account of the situation" (Richards, "Practical Criticism", "Sentimentality and inhibition").] and thus to substitute heightened and generally uncritical feeling for normal ethical and intellectual judgments, and a heightened reader response willing to invest previously prepared emotions to respond disproportionately to a literary situation. [This was essentially the defining criterion of "sentimental" discovered in a dozen basic handbooks by Brian Wilkie (Wilkie, "What Is Sentimentality?" "College English" 28.8 [May 1967:564-575] , p. 564f; Wilkie appends some textbook definitions.] "A sentimentalist", Oscar Wildewrote Alfred Douglas"is one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it." [ Oscar Wilde "De Profundis" 1905; Michael Tanner took the quote to introduce "Sentimentality", "Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society", New Series, 77, (1976-77:127-147.] Yeats wrote, "Rhetoric is fooling others. Sentimentality is fooling yourself."
In modern times ["Sentimental" began to accrue negative connotations in the nineteenth century. Before that it had been been an adjective denoting "feeling", as in "
The Man of Feeling" (1771), Lawrence Sterne's "Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy" andFlaubert's " Sentimental Education" (1869). ] "Sentimental" is a pejorativeterm that has been casually applied to works of art and literature that exceed the viewer or reader's sense of decorum—the extent of permissible emotion— and standards of taste: "excessiveness" is the criterion; [Wilkie 1967, took the example of Henry Clay Work's maudlin lyric of Temperance propaganda, "Come Home, Father".] for most of the twentieth century Tchaikovsky's symphonies were denigrated as "sentimental". [Tanner makes a brief note of this (p129f).] "Meretricious" and "contrived" sham pathos are the hallmark of sentimentality, where the morality that underlies the work is both intrusive and pat.
Sentimentality applies feelings in inappropriate situations. The sentimental fallacy is an ancient
rhetorical device that attributes human emotions to the forces of nature, such as mourning or anger.
Complications enter into the ordinary view of sentimentality when changes in fashion and setting— the "climate of thought"— [Wilkie 1967:569.] intrude between the work and the reader. The view that sentimentality is relative is inherent in
John Ciardi's "sympathetic contract", in which the reader agrees to join with the writer when approaching a poem. [Ciardi, "How Does a Poem Mean?" (Boston) 1959:846f.] The example of the death of Little Nellin Charles Dickens' " The Old Curiosity Shop" (1840-41), "a scene that for many readers today might represent a defining instance of sentimentality", [Wilkie 1967:569.] brought tears to the eye of many highly critical readers of the day. [Edgar Johnson, "Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph" (New York, 1952) I:309.]
* [http://etext.virginia.edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhi.cgi?id=dv4-30 "Dictionary of the History of Ideas":] "Victorian Sensibility and Sentiment"
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Sentimentality — Sen ti*men*tal i*ty, n. [CF. F. sentimentalit[ e].] The quality or state of being sentimental. [1913 Webster] … The Collaborative International Dictionary of English
sentimentality — index affection Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 … Law dictionary
sentimentality — 1770, from SENTIMENTAL (Cf. sentimental) + ITY (Cf. ity) … Etymology dictionary
sentimentality — [sen΄tə men tal′ə tē] n. 1. the quality or condition of being sentimental, esp. in a superficial or maudlin way 2. pl. sentimentalities any expression of this … English World dictionary
sentimentality — n. 1) maudlin, mawkish sentimentality 2) sentimentality about * * * [ˌsentɪmən tælɪtɪ] mawkish sentimentality maudlin sentimentality about … Combinatory dictionary
sentimentality — sen|ti|men|tal|i|ty [ ,sentımen tæləti ] noun uncount the expression of feelings of sadness, sympathy, love, etc. in a way that is inappropriate or obvious: Joanna played the piece beautifully, without a hint of sentimentality … Usage of the words and phrases in modern English
sentimentality — sentimental ► ADJECTIVE 1) deriving from or prone to feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia. 2) having or arousing such feelings in an exaggerated and self indulgent way. ● sentimental value Cf. ↑sentimental value DERIVATIVES… … English terms dictionary
sentimentality — noun (plural ties) Date: 1770 1. the quality or state of being sentimental especially to excess or in affectation 2. a sentimental idea or its expression … New Collegiate Dictionary
sentimentality — /sen teuh men tal i tee/, n., pl. sentimentalities. 1. the quality or state of being sentimental or excessively sentimental. 2. an instance of being sentimental. 3. a sentimental act, gesture, expression, etc. [1760 70; SENTIMENTAL + ITY] Syn.… … Universalium
sentimentality — noun An act of being sentimental … Wiktionary