Sentimental novel definition origin characteristics works

Sentimental novel

We explain what the sentimental novel is, its historical origin, characteristics, works, and representatives. Here we will provide you the definition of Sentimental novel.

The sentimental novel is a literary genre that became popular in Europe in the late 18th century. This style arose, in part, as a reaction to the austerity and rationalism of the neoclassical period.

In this fictional genre, the story is done in the first person, in a plaintive tone and with a rhetorical style. It relates the effects of love passion in a loving couple subjected to a courtly (platonic) love.

Often times, the couple is forced to defend their honor. Occasionally during the process they are assisted by a third party. In the end, the loving couple fails in their attempt to be together because they cannot overcome the pitfalls.

The sentimental novel explored human feelings and human relationships. Similarly, it served to raise hot social issues such as injustice or arranged marriages.

Novelists often poked fun at social institutions and hypocrisy. In contrast, love was seen as a natural feeling and as a social force for change that commanded universal respect.

Likewise, the sentimental novel proclaimed that benevolence was an innate human feeling and that the central elements of all morality are feelings of sympathy and sensitivity.

Historical origin of the sentimental novel

Although the sentimental novel was a movement developed in the 18th century, many of its characteristics can be observed in the literature of the 15th century . Some of his features are present in chivalric books.

In this way, the peculiarities of chivalric love are reproduced with some variations in the sentimental genre. In the first, the victim of love is a brave gentleman; in the second he is a courtly gentleman.

The woman who is the object of love, in both cases, is a paragon of human virtues. The plot presents situations of permanent threat to the love relationship. Sometimes the endings are tragic and hazardous.

In the 18th century , feeling and emotions became the central motif of creative writing, especially in Great Britain and, to a lesser extent, in France and Germany.

The cult of sensitivity, which took place roughly between the 1940s and 70s of the 17th century, was a cultural movement dedicated to displays of emotions and virtues that demanded tears.

Among others, its rise is due to a growing hegemony of bourgeois cultural values , a decline in England of aristocratic court culture, and the separation of the public and private spheres.

In addition, around this time the appreciation of the domestic and family began, and there was an increase in leisure time due to the advances of the Industrial Revolution .

Characteristics of the sentimental novel

The game of emotions

The sentimental novel was based on the emotional response of both the readers and the characters. It featured scenes of anguish and tenderness, with a plot arranged to advance both emotions and actions.

In this way, the fine feeling was valued, showing the characters as a model of refined and sensitive emotional effect.

Popular entertainment

The sentimental novel was groundbreaking because it drew an unprecedented audience to literature. Its readership was not only numerically large, it was made up of women and men.

This audience was made up of an intermediate social class between the nobility and manual workers. This social level, baptized as the middle level, conceived reading novels as a variety of entertainment.

New auditoriums

With a focus on youth, the sentimental novel incorporated a social group that had hitherto been marginalized from literary productions.

It also signified the entry of women into literary culture as readers and producers of fiction at a time when, in general, they began to decline in economic importance.

Through simplicity and naturalness, the sentimental novel snatched the exclusivity of reading from the upper classes. It also drew the attention of this new audience to social problems such as marriage arrangements.

Rural values

The idealization of the natural landscape and subjectivism are for many critics the most defined characteristics in sentimental works. The protagonists identify with their native landscape and make the reader do so as well.

The typical sentimental novel takes its hero or heroine from the country to the city (a place of vice, corruption and greed), where he is anguished and mistreated. The outcome is a return to seclusion in the countryside and rural values.

Likewise, the sentimental novel also idealizes the human environment. This is described as a paradise of goodness in which almost everyone lives in Christian love. Human coexistence is perfect in all aspects.

Emotional resources 

The sentimental novel aims to move the hearts of the readers. This is achieved by appealing to descriptive or emotional literary devices. For this purpose they are used: whistles of the wind, howls of distant dogs, among others.

Representatives and works

Samuel Richardson (1689-1761)

Samuel Richardson was an English novelist recognized for being the creator of the epistolary style that expanded the dramatic possibilities of the novel. His main works were Pamela or the Rewarded Virtue (1739) and Clarissa (1747-48).

He was also the author of Tom Jones (1749), An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741) and The Story of Sir Charles Grandison (1753–54).

Jorge Isaacs (1837-1895)

The sentimental novel developed a bucolic landscape of great beauty. This is the case of María (1867), by the Colombian novelist Jorge Isaacs, where the powerful Latin American landscape serves as the backdrop for this story.

Maria is the epitome of the classic romantic story: Maria dies while awaiting the arrival of her lover, Efrain, who had been sent to London to study medicine.

By today’s standards, her love story is stereotypical: Maria depends on a male lead for her ultimate happiness. After Efraín’s departure, she falls ill and goes into a fatal decline.

Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) 

Irish Laurence Sterne is famous, above all, for his sentimental novels: Sentimental Journey through France and Italy and Life and Opinions of the Gentleman Tristram Shandy . His writing career began shortly after his marriage to Elizabeth Lumley (1741).

He contributed to the York Gazetteer, a political text started by his uncle, and published The Unknown World in 1743. About a decade later he published A Political Romance (1759), which satirized a corrupt local official.

That same year Sterne published Tristram Shandy in two volumes; the initial impression was slight, but it immediately garnered fame and attention.

In the following years, Sterne issued more volumes of Tristram Shandy and spent time in Paris to seek improvements in his health.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) 

Rousseau Julia’s novel , or the new Heloise  (1761) attempted to portray in fiction the sufferings and tragedy of education and the restrictive social customs of the time.

The work was structured as an epistolary novel, in the manner of the English author Samuel Richardson (1689-1761). Her originality earned her harsh criticism, but her sexual nature made her immensely popular with the public.

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