An Archaeology of SympathyThe Sentimental Mode in Literature and Cinema

An Archaeology of SympathyThe Sentimental Mode in Literature and Cinema

James Chandler

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226034959

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


In the middle of the eighteenth century, something new made itself felt in European culture—a tone or style that came to be called the sentimental. The sentimental mode went on to shape not just literature, art, music, and cinema, but people's very structures of feeling, their ways of doing and being. This book challenges Sergei Eisenstein's influential account of Dickens and early American film by tracing the unexpected history and intricate strategies of the sentimental mode and showing how it has been reimagined over the past three centuries. It begins with a look at Frank Capra and the Capraesque in American public life, and then digs back to the eighteenth century to examine the sentimental substratum underlying Dickens and early cinema alike. With this surprising move, the author reveals how literary spectatorship in the eighteenth century anticipated classic Hollywood films such as Capra's It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and It's a Wonderful Life. He then moves forward to romanticism and modernism—two cultural movements often seen as defined by their rejection of the sentimental—examining how authors like Mary Shelley, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf actually engaged with sentimental forms and themes in ways that left a mark on their work. Reaching from Laurence Sterne to the Coen brothers, the book casts new light on the long eighteenth century, and on the novelistic forebears of cinema and our modern world.