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Book Review: Modern Sentimentalism

1st September 2020

Jun Qiang, University of York

Lisa Mendelman, Modern Sentimentalism: Affect, Irony, and Female Authorship in Interwar America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019) 

Sentimentalism has always been considered the antithesis of modern womanhood. Observing that American female novelists reconfigured sentimentalism in the modernist period, Lisa Mendelman offers a new understanding of this literary mode by defining it as ‘an evolving mode that transforms along with its cultural moment’ (p. 9). Mendelman, departing from a long tradition of sentimental fiction criticism in which cultural dynamics are obsessed over and artistic qualities are ignored, examines the aesthetic transformations and irony of the sentimental mode. Her book synthesises the sentimentalist subfield of modernist studies with affect studies, an emerging and thriving field. Its hybrid approach of integrating historical and theoretical inquiry, as well as reexamining the relationship between emotion and aesthetics, will be valuable to future scholars in affect studies.

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