Dickens and the Sentimental Tradition

Dickens and the Sentimental Tradition

Fielding, Richardson, Sterne, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Lamb

By Valerie Purton

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

‘Dickens and the Sentimental Tradition’ is a timely study of the ‘sentimental’ in Dickens’s novels, which re-evaluates his presentation of emotion as part of a complex literary tradition that enables him to critique nineteenth-century society.

PDF, 218 Pages


August 2012

£20.00, $32.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents
  • Links
  • Podcasts

About This Book

‘Dickens and the Sentimental Tradition’ is a timely study of the ‘sentimental’ in Dickens’s novels, which places them in the context of the tradition of Fielding, Richardson, Sterne, Goldsmith, Sheridan and Lamb. This study re-evaluates Dickens’s presentation of emotion – first within the eighteenth-century tradition and then within the dissimilar nineteenth-century tradition – as part of a complex literary heritage that enables him to critique nineteenth-century society.

The book sheds light on the construction of feelings and of the ‘good heart’, ideas which resonate with current critical debates about literary ‘affect’. As the text argues, such an analysis reveals sentimentalism to be a crucial element in fully understanding the achievement of Dickens and his contemporaries.

The first chapter of the book outlines the sentimentalist tradition in English literature from the Middle Ages onwards. The second and third chapters then examine Dickens’s eighteenth-century inheritance in the works of Sterne, Fielding, Goldsmith and Sheridan, whilst Chapter Four explores Dickens’s inheritance from Charles Lamb and his acting in sentimental plays by Bulwer Lytton and Wilkie Collins. Chapter Five analyses three early novels, including ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, revealing the extremism of post-Romantic sentimentalism. In Chapter Six, three later novels including ‘Dombey and Son’ are reread in terms of Dickens’s changing use of sentimentalist rhetoric to achieve remarkably subversive effects. The final chapter then looks at other examples of nineteenth-century sentimental writing, and at the ‘afterlife’ of the mode in the past two centuries.


'This remarkable book … is surely one of the most original and illuminating studies of Dickens’s novels to have been published in recent years'.Michael Slater-Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at Birkbeck, past President of the International Dickens Fellowship, and former editor of its journal, 'The Dickensian'.

‘[A] challenging study of this vexed literary mode […] [O]ne of the many strengths of this book is [Purton’s] detailed and discriminating discussion of the genealogy of Dickens’s sentimentalism in eighteenth-century literary practices.’ —Malcom Andrews, ‘The Dickensian’

‘Purton draws upon an impressive array of eighteenth-century texts to explore how Dickens’ own definition of sentimentality was defined and informed by his readings and “mis-readings” of these works [… and] convincingly argues that while eighteenth-century sentimentalism was closely bound up with anarchic humour and earthly concerns, Dickens’ sentimentalism is an attempt to deny the physical in order to present all human experience in spiritual terms. […] Purton rattles through Dickens’ work at a swift pace. Each selected example is illuminating […] The clear and elegant prose and logical and perceptive analysis makes the book appealing and accessible to scholars and students alike.’ —Katherine Faulkner, ‘The History of Emotions Blog’

‘In “Dickens and the Sentimental Tradition”, Valerie Purton persuasively demonstrates that we read too narrowly and do a disservice to Dickens and to our own reading experience when we dismiss sentimental scenes without employing our critical faculties. […] Purton’s study offers a rich context for understanding the sentimental tradition and provides a wealth of intelligent, perceptive readings. [This is] an extremely intelligent and well-researched analysis of Dickens’s transformation of the sentimental tradition.’ —Natalie McKnight, ‘Dickens Quarterly’

‘If you thought Oscar Wilde’s laughter at the death of Little Nell said it all about the sentimental Dickens, this radical revaluation of the complex tradition of literary and theatrical sentimentalism, culminating with distinctive power in Dickens’s fiction, will make you think – and maybe weep – again. Scholarly criticism of rare courage and conviction.’ —Dr Rick Allen, Anglia Ruskin University

‘“Dickens and the Sentimental Tradition” is a challenging and deeply rewarding study of Dickens’s reworking of the legacy of sentimentalism. Valerie Purton’s revaluation of the most denigrated and least understood aspect of Dickens’s writing should be essential reading not just for Dickens’s admirers but for anyone who doubts his greatness.’ —Dr Paul V. W. Schlicke, University of Aberdeen

Author Information

Valerie Purton is Reader in Victorian Literature at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.


Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Table of Contents

Introduction; Chapter 1: Dickens and the Sentimentalist Tradition; Chapter 2: Sentimentalism and its Discontents in the Eighteenth-Century Novel: Fielding, Richardson and Sterne; Chapter 3: Sentimentalism and its Discontents in Eighteenth-Century Drama: Goldsmith and Sheridan; Chapter 4: Dickens and Nineteenth-Century Drama; Chapter 5: The Early Novels and ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’; Chapter 6: The Later Novels; Conclusion: The Afterlife of Sentimentalism


No Podcasts for this title.
Comodo SSL