Sentimentalism in Laurence Sterne’s and Mary Wollstonecraft’s work
It is obvious that the concept of sentimentalism is present in Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, with regard to the title of his work. About three decades after the publication of Sterne’s novel, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark was published. It is not surprising that her work also contained sentimentalism, as this was the major literary genre in eighteenth-century England. According to William Reddy, the concept of sentimentalism can be defined as follows:
Sentimentalism taught that pity, benevolence, love, and gratitude were expressions of the same natural sensitivity, the root of morality, and the foundation of all social bonds, and that stimulating these feelings was the best protection against unruly passions and a necessary training for virtue (127).
In other words, sentimentalism is associated with emotions, which were considered protective against evil. Now, the questions are how texts are assigned the label of “sentimental” and how they can be recognized. In an academic article, Tom Horton, Kristen Taylor, Bei Yu, and Xin Xiang’s main purpose is the latter. They mentioned some important characteristics of sentimental fiction:
Sentimental texts are a particularly good place to look at how a group of texts may exhibit certain recognizable features; sentimental fiction uses conventional plot development, stock characters, and didactic authorial interventions. The emphasis is the exposure of how a text works to induce specific responses in the reader [ . . . ]; readers do not expect to be surprised. Instead, readers encounter certain keywords in a certain order for a sentimental text to build the expected response (81).
Two of the mentioned features are present in both Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey and Mary Wollstonecraft’s “Letter I” of Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. That is the reason why these works can be assigned the genre of sentimentalism. To substantiate this, both works will be close-read, alongside of Reddy’s text about sentimentalism in the eighteenth century, the article by Horton, Taylor, Xu, and Xiang, and some other texts to explain certain concepts.
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