Sentimentalism (literature)  

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The Map of Tendre (Carte du Tendre) is a French map of an imaginary country called Tendre produced by several hands (including Catherine de Rambouillet). It appeared as an engraving (attributed to François Chauveau) in the first part of Madeleine de Scudéry's 1654-61 novel Clélie. It shows a geography entirely based around the theme of love according to the Précieuses of that era: the river of Inclination flows past the villages of "Billet Doux" (Love Letter), "Petits Soins" (Little Trinkets) and so forth.
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The Map of Tendre (Carte du Tendre) is a French map of an imaginary country called Tendre produced by several hands (including Catherine de Rambouillet). It appeared as an engraving (attributed to François Chauveau) in the first part of Madeleine de Scudéry's 1654-61 novel Clélie. It shows a geography entirely based around the theme of love according to the Précieuses of that era: the river of Inclination flows past the villages of "Billet Doux" (Love Letter), "Petits Soins" (Little Trinkets) and so forth.

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Sentimentalism (literally, appealing to the sentiments), as a literary and political discourse, has occurred much in the literary traditions of all regions in the world.

The term sentimentalism is used in two senses: (1)An overindulgence in emotion, especially the conscious effort to induce emotion in order to enjoy it. (2)An optimistic overemphasis of the goodness of humanity (sensibility), representing in part a reaction against Calvinism, which regarded human nature as depraved. The novel of sensibility was developed from this 18th century notion, manifested in the Sentimental novel.

In reference to the historical movement of Sentimentalism within the United States of America during the 18th century, Sentimentalism was a European-spawned idea that emphasized feelings and emotions, a physical appreciation of God, nature, and other people, rather than logic and reason. The impact on the American people was that love became as important in marriage as financial considerations.

Contents

European literary sentimentalism

It is difficult to separate sentimentalism in literature from sentimentalism as philosophy. The sentimentalist literary landscape largely mirrors the philosophical debate by realizing it into actual practice through the fictional narrative and characters. As a result however, attempting to provide an account of literary sentimentalism will naturally embark us on a philosophical debate. And it is from this perspective that we may observe the two (typically separate) studies blur under our microscopic inquiry.

Sentimentalism in literature can also be used as a medium that the author uses to promote their own agendas.....imploring the reader to empathize with the problem they are dealing with in the book.

Philosophically, sensibility is a seeming antonym of its rival rationalism. While rationalism pervades the analytic mind, sentimentalism hinges truth upon an intrinsic human capacity to feel. For the sentimentalist this capacity is perhaps most important in morality. They contend that where the rationalists believe they can create a morality based upon logical principles (i.e. Immanuel Kant's "Categorical Imperative") these principles all differ. Thus we are left without a sound morality. However, by developing the intrinsic moral sensibility and fine tuning this capacity to feel, we may access a universal morality underscoring our very nature as humans.

For example, in Laurence Sterne's novel, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, the narrator is using the sentimental character Yorick as a device to critique the obligation of morality, whether it is sentimental or rational. There is a particular scene where Yorick meets a monk early in the novel and refuses "to give him a single sous [a penny]," he feels discontent is by disregarding what he senses he ought to do. He appears to obey "better reason" (4). Rationally, he disregards his sentimental obligation because "there is no regular reasoning upon the ebbs and flows of our humours" (6) [i.e. our emotions]. While he argues against the authority of sense, ultimately this sense creates discontent in his conscience. After the monk leaves empty handed, it is Yorick's "heart" that "smote [him] the moment [the monk] shut the door" (7). Accordingly, Yorick has "behaved very ill" (7). He complies with his rational maxim, the justified action of his "great claims" argument (6). Yet, he senses from the conscience of his sentimental nature that he has done wrong.

There are plenty of similar literary examples throughout the sentimentalist movement in Europe in the early to mid eighteenth century. Even still we cannot be unimpressed by the title of one nineteenth century novel called Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Tugging at the driving forces of the Eighteenth Century, Austen again calls to light the tension between rationalism in the senses and sentimentalism in the human's sensibility.

Origins

Sentimentalism came with the end of French rationalism with the death of Louis XIV and turned against the strictly reason-orientated way of life which had been used to discipline and civilise society under absolutism. The German "age of enlightenment" first began when the French "age of reason" was supplemented or questioned by social-criticism and emancipatory tendencies. It therefore collapsed approximately with the "epoch of empfindsamkeit" or the Rococo.

The origin of sentimentalism was chiefly religious, with the emotionally-coloured texts for the oratorios of Johann Sebastian Bach stream being typical examples. Empfindsamkeit is also known as secularized pietism because it frequently came with moralizing content that had increasingly broken free of church and religious ties. An important theorist of the movement was Jean Baptiste Dubos.

Characteristics

Sentimentalism asserted that over-shown feeling was not a weakness but rather showed one to be a moral person, and privileged the private life (as opposed to Absolutism's privileging the public life). Arising from religiously-motivated empathy, it expanded to the other perceptions - for example, sensual love was no longer understood as a destructive passion (Vanitas) but rather as a basis of social institutions, as it was for Antoine Houdar de la Motte. Requited love was, as in serious opera (the Tragédie en musique or Opera seria), a symbol for a successful alliance between nations. Also the "Lesesucht" re-evaluated what was permitted literature, and the novel as a type of literature as versus drama.

Around the middle of the century, sentimentalism set "untouched" nature against (courtly) civilization, as in the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Also Samuel Richardson's sentimental epistolary novel "Pamela or Virtue Rewarded" (1740) had great literary influence, with its socio-critical tendencies.

In Germany

The musician and publisher Johann Christoph Bode translated Laurence Sterne s novel A sentimental Journey Through France and Italy into German in 1768 under the title Yoriks empfindsame Reise - the translation was a great success. His word "empfindsam" or "sensitive" was a neologism that then became attached to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and the whole literary period.

German poets who verged on sentimentalism were Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803), Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715–1769) and Sophie de La Roche (1730–1807, the author of the first epistolary novel in German) and its influence may also be seen in Goethe's early work Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774), a high-point of Sturm und Drang.

Results

Religious sentimentalism was one of the inspirations for François-René de Chateaubriand and his creation of Romanticism. In popular literature, empfindsamkeit played a role until long into the 19th century, continuing in serialised novels in periodicals such as Gartenlaube. In the theatre, empfindsamkeit was succeeded by rührstück or melodrama.

See also

  • Sentimental poetry
  • Sentiment
  • Francis Hutcheson, Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections and Illustrations upon the Moral Sense





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