Sentimental novel: One of the literary manifestations of sentimentalism and the literature of sensibility in the eighteenth century, a type of novel that typically appealed to the middle class in its emphasis on the importance of good conduct and rewards for adhering to moral standards. Sentimental novels also exalted emotion, portraying its expression as the mark of the virtuous. English novelist Samuel Richardson is generally credited with pioneering the genre in his epistolary novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740).
FURTHER EXAMPLES: Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1766); Emma: Or, the Unfortunate Attachment: A Sentimental Novel (1773), attributed to Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774); William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy (1789). In the nineteenth century, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) satirized the genre and the concept of sensibility more generally, but many works continued in the sentimental vein, such as Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World (1850). Harriet Jacobs likewise drew on the techniques and conventions of the sentimental novel in her slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) in order to represent her vulnerability to the sexual advances of white men and thereby evoke readers’ sympathy.