Sentimentalism and Sentimental Novel

Sentimentalism is a reaction against the rather immoral restoration works that in themselves were a reactions against Puritanical works of the mid-seventeenth century. In general terms, sentimentalism is divided into two groups:

  1. An overindulgence in emotion, especially the conscious effort to induce emotion in order to enjoy it, and;
  2. An optimistic overemphasis of the goodness of humanity, representing, in part, a reaction against Calvinism which regarded human nature as depraved.

The sentimental novel has also been called the novel of sensibility. This novel seeks to inculcate virtuous behavior on the part of the reader by giving them a model to imitate. The audience for such works tended to be young women (because educated, mature women, and men in general, shouldn't be wasting their time reading or writing fiction). The characters will have a heightened emotional response to events, with the aim of producing a similar response in the reader.The protagonist will generally be a young woman who encounters the world in a way that challenges and refines her naive but naturally good views.

This also contains elements of what has been termed a novel of manners, in which the novel is dominated by social custom, conventions and habits of a definite social class, one that should be aspired to. Quite often there will also be a religious component to the work depending upon when and where it was written.