Sentiment and Style

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Contribution to Books

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Like Hallmark cards and Disney movies in our own day, sentimental cultural texts abounded in America during the nineteenth century. From temperance tracts to melodramas, deathbed daguerrtypes to tombstone etchings, the genres of sentimental discourse reached well beyond the sphere of the literary. Yet in verse, prose sketches, novels, and other established literary genres of the nineteenth century, sentimentalism left clear traces, though it produced no theorist -- like realism's Howells or modernism's Pound -- to analyze, articulate, and legitimize for posterity the motives and methods of sentimental literary expression. This analytic and theoretical work has been left to latter-day critics, who use the term "sentimental" to designate a body of texts and cultural practices that privileged emotional relationships and rhetoric, especially relations and rhetorics of sympathy that purport to redeem or console.

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