Sentimentalism: A Literary Epidemic
Eighteenth-century England was at least a little muddled as to its socially approved sentiments. The spread of sentimentalism in the mass psychology was furthered by religious enthusiasm among the evangelical sects. Sentimentalism embodies a paradox—likable, or even admirable, weakness—which common sense could not support beyond the limited period during which any fad may flourish. As to the impact of sentimentalism upon the love of men and women, evidence is abundant. Between Samuel Richardson and Jane Austen sentimentalism gave the prevailingtone to fiction; few writers were untouched by its stigma. Sentimentalism is the cult or creed of sentimentality. It is the justification of sentimentality as the mark of the finer nature, and it becomes inevitably a sort of literary property for those who care to exploit it. No doubt eighteenth-century sentimentalism had deeper roots in feminine minds than in masculine, partly because of the general belief that feminine natures were tender and masculine natures rugged.