Thursday, April 28, 2011

I’m In Love versus I Can’t Live Without You – Sentimentality in Literature from the Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog Hop

This week the question from The Blue Bookcase is: Discuss your thoughts on sentimentality in literature. When is emotion in literature effective and when is it superfluous? Use examples.

I feel like it’s an essay topic for an exam in one of my old University classes! Ingrid’s response is excellent and detailed. Her two examples of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Twilight are well chosen. They reflect what I thought of when I first read the words “sentimentality” and “emotion” in this week’s question. I think there is definitely a difference in meaning and in execution in literature and other media.

When I think of sentimentality or being sentimental, I think of indulgence. I think of emotion overriding reason in an extreme sense. Using Ingrid’s example, that is definitely Bella in Twilight. Edward too; after all, he was willing to kill himself in Italy when he thought Bella was dead.

In another “vampire” series, (though this one definitely for adults) Betsy Taylor, the Vampire Queen of MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead series , is ruled by emotion while those around her beg for her to be more sensible. Betsy’s emotions give her power, but they are also a weakness, causing for her to fall into traps laid by her enemies.

When I think of sentiment, there’s almost a sweetness to the word. There is less of the extreme; the thoughts and feelings of the characters are deeper. One of my more recent reads, Timothy Findley’s The Wars is filled with emotion. Robert Ross makes many choices based on emotion, like joining the military after his beloved sister dies. Once the decision is made, reason is used to carry it out. The Wars has characters showing a range of emotions, from love to hate and betrayal.

Margaret Atwood’s The Year of The Flood is also filled with emotion. Toby and Ren experience longing and sentiment over the loss of their previous lives. Are the emotions of the characters in this novel as controlled as Robert Ross in The Wars? I don’t believe so. I think emotion drives Ren to do foolish things, like work at a sex club as they drive Betsy Taylor to mouth off to a pack of werewolves while she’s on her own. Do I think The Year of The Flood and the Undead series are on the same literary level? No. The Year of The Flood, like The Wars uses emotion to enhance the story, while the vampire books use emotion to get a reaction out of readers or a simple plot device.

I could go on and one with more examples and comparisons, but I think that’s enough for now. If this was an essay in school, it would have all kind of quotes and specifics. Today I have a smattering of thoughts. In the end, I think emotion in literature is necessary, even a lack of emotion can show a character’s coldness. Even in works not seen as literary, I don’t know if sentimentality is superfluous. A character’s emotions are a tool that help the reader get to the end of the story.


  1. I'm not familiar with The Year of the Flood, but I love Atwood. I can't wait to check it out. I like how you discussed indulgence here. That word seems to sum it up for me really well. Thanks! -Miss GOP

  2. Anonymous29/4/11 06:00

    Well Done, Loni! I kind of got that essay question panic thing going too when I read her question!

  3. Isn't it interesting to see how the simple phrasing of this question invokes the gut-wrenching stomach-twisting pain we all felt in school?

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

  4. Miss GoP, Atwood is one of my favourite authors. The Year of The Flood is fantastic, I have a review posted. I can't encourage enough people to read it.

    BookBelle, Deb, It was a total flashback for me. I'm glad I had time to work on it. I don't know if I could have expressed myself as well in a shorter answer.

  5. You've obviously given this a lot of thought and I like your conclusions , I've got Atwood on my TBR on the recommendation of several bloggers.

  6. When I think of sentiment, there’s almost a sweetness to the word.

    I like it, and agree with it. I also think that some of the sentimental can be pleasant. I certainly think it sells.

    Check out my hop here.