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Main page » Non-Fiction » Science literature » Literature Studies » Sacred Tears: Sentimentality in Victorian Literature

Sacred Tears: Sentimentality in Victorian Literature


The subject of this book is of historical and contemporary importance. The canard that ours is an unsentimental and even anti-sentimental culture has been advanced by influential twentiethcentury opinion makers. In modern high culture, sentimentality is often thought of as vaguely embarrassing or is condemned for being in bad taste or for being insincere. It can, of course, be all these things, but it need not necessarily be any of them. The success of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “sentimental” Nicholas Nickleby may have surprised some and distressed others, though those who were delighted far outnumbered those who were not. Neither Dickens nor his contemporaries would have been in the least surprised. Dickens believed that there was an instinctive, irrepressible need for human beings to affirm both in private and in public that they possessed moral sentiments, that these sentiments were innate, that they best expressed themselves through spontaneous feelings, and that sentimentality in life and in art had a moral basis. People—all people, except those who had been the victims of perverse conditioning or some misfortune of nature—instinctively felt, in Dickens’ view, pleasure, moral pleasure, when those they thought of as good triumphed and those they thought of as bad were defeated. Most Victorians believed that the human community was one of shared moral feelings, and that sentimentality was a desirable way of feeling and of expressing ourselves morally.

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Tags: culture, being, taste, condemned, embarrassing