Friday, April 29, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: April 28-May 1

Literary Blog Hop

To me the Literary Book Blog Hop is a chance to reflect on my reading life.    This week's question is a both confounding and challenging.

Discuss your thoughts on sentimentality in literature. When is emotion in literature effective and when is it superfluous? Use examples.

When I think of on reflection about sentimentality in literature I am taken back to my reading of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  You may ask what this novel has to do with the question, but if you bear with me and journey into that story you will find a literate monster at the heart of the story.  Shelley's  Dr. Frankenstein creates a monster who transcends the modern cinematic view  of the monster (James Whale's version comes closest to the original).  Shelley's monster finds a copy of Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther in a leather portmanteau, along with two others—Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, and Milton's Paradise Lost. He sees Werther's case as similar to his own. He, like Werther, was rejected by those he loved. It is Goethe whom I think of as did the monster and his elegiac Sorrows of Young Werther whose sturm und drang context was, if not sentimental a close relative of sentimentality, epitomized by young Werther.  Goethe's novel itself looked back to more sentimental novels and influenced a generation of European readers.  

Of modern sentimentality I have little use, but the example of Werther I find haunting in its extreme of suicide -- seen as the solution to his problem of love and life.  The passions once aroused are not to be trusted.  One further example, more benign in its outcome, perhaps because the author maintained more control or has a different relationship with her subject. 
 I am thinking of Mary Garth in George Eliot's masterpiece, Middlemarch.  
While I see little sentimentality in the portrayal of the primary protagonist, Dorothea Brooke, Garth's life including her family exhibits a loving version of the sentimental in literature and has always seemed a counterbalance to the turbulence in the lives of many of the other characters in that novel.  One conclusion I can draw from the above is that sentimentality takes many forms and can be effective when used well by an attentive author.  It may be superfluous, but I leave that discussion for others on another day. Admittedly, these musings on sentimentality are personal and not necessarily a popular expression of the subject, but the literary world  is large and I am both confounded and challenged when I consider some of its many rooms.


Miss Good on Paper said...

Great examples. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I haven't read Middlemarch. I'll move it to the top of my list. Thanks for sharing this. -Miss GOP

James said...

Thanks for your comment. No need to apologize for there are many books that we all have yet to read. However, Middlemarch is one of my favorites among other things for its rich panoply of characters.

parrish lantern said...

Hi James as usual a beautiful, well written answer, and love the use of Frankensteins monster. I went with the arguement that all writing is artifice, how it's done is what counts.

James said...

Thanks for your comment and appreciation of the monster as reader. Your argument on writing rings true - that artifice it is and we search for and relish the best.

LBC said...

Lovely post. I immediately thought of the Romantics when I saw the question, Shelley included.

Check out my hop here.

James said...

Thanks for your comment. The romantic view could tend to sentimentality as you discuss in your response to this question at The Scarlet Letter. (

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I love to read the thoughtful essays that this meme prompts. Thank you for your thoughts.

Here is my response: Readerbuzz: The Queen Died and the King Died.

James said...

Thanks for your comment. I enjoyed the varied comments as well, especially your royal story.