AskDefine | Define sentimentality

Dictionary Definition



1 falsely emotional in a maudlin way [syn: mawkishness, drippiness]
2 extravagant or affected feeling or emotion

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. An act of being sentimental.


act of being sentimental

Extensive Definition

Sentimentality is both a literary device used to induce a tender emotional response disproportionate to the situation, and thus to substitute heightened and generally uncritical feeling for normal ethical and intellectual judgments, and a heightened reader response willing to invest previously prepared emotions to respond disproportionately to a literary situation. "Sentimental" is a pejorative term that has been casually applied to works of art and literature that exceed the viewer or reader's sense of decorum—the extent of permissible emotion— and standards of taste: "excessiveness" is the criterion. "Meretricious" and "contrived" sham pathos are the hallmark of sentimentality, where the morality that underlies the work is both intrusive and pat.
Sentimentality applies feelings in inappropriate situations. The sentimental fallacy is an ancient rhetorical device that attributes human emotions to the forces of nature, such as mourning or anger. In this sense sentimental democracy would apply the principles of democracy in situations where they are inappropriate, or conversely to apply inappropriate depth of response to intrinsically neutral events that are expected to be emotionally charged and to disarm skepticism, such as a first democratic election heralding a bright new day.
Complications enter into the ordinary view of sentimentality when changes in fashion and setting— the "climate of thought"— intrude between the work and the reader. The view that sentimentality is relative is inherent in John Ciardi's "sympathetic contract", in which the reader agrees to join with the writer when approaching a poem. The example of the death of Little Nell in Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41), "a scene that for many readers today might represent a defining instance of sentimentality", brought tears to the eye of many highly critical readers of the day.



sentimentality in German: Sentimentalität
sentimentality in Spanish: Sentimental
sentimentality in Russian: Сентиментальность

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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