Modern Sentimentalism: Affect, Irony, and Female Authorship in Interwar America

Article number: Mendelman MS
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This book examines how American female novelists reinvented sentimentalism in the modernist period.

Oxford Studies in America Literary History: 2019
Hardcover: 256 pages

Modern Sentimentalism examines how American female novelists reinvented sentimentalism in the modernist period. Just as the birth of the modern woman has long been imagined as the death of sentimental feeling, modernist literary innovation has been understood to reject sentimental aesthetics. Modern Sentimentalism reframes these perceptions of cultural evolution. Taking up icons such as the New Woman, the flapper, the free lover, the New Negro woman, and the divorcee, this book argues that these figures embody aspects of a traditional sentimentality while also recognizing sentiment as incompatible with ideals of modern selfhood. These double binds equally beleaguer the protagonists and shape the styles of writers like Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Anita Loos, and Jessie Fauset. 'Modern sentimentalism' thus translates nineteenth-century conventions of sincerity and emotional fulfillment into the skeptical, self-conscious modes of interwar cultural production.

Reading canonical and under-examined novels in concert with legal briefs, scientific treatises, and other transatlantic period discourse, and combining traditional and quantitative methods of archival research, Modern Sentimentalism demonstrates that feminine feeling, far from being peripheral to twentieth-century modernism, animates its central principles and preoccupations.


About the Author

Lisa Mendelman is an Assistant Professor of English and Digital Humanities at Menlo College. She holds a PhD in English from UCLA and BA and MA degrees from Stanford University. She works in the health humanities, with a focus on gender, race, and affect in twentieth-century America. Her first book, Modern Sentimentalism (Oxford UP, 2019), chronicles the emotional history of the modern woman and the corollary reinvention of sentimentalism in U.S. interwar fiction. Ongoing research interests include the history of mental health and visual and material culture. Her writing has been published in such venues as American Literary HistoryModernism/modernityThe Journal of Cultural AnalyticsGames and CulturePublic Books, and The LA Review of Books. Her research has been supported by an NEH Fellowship at The Huntington Library, the Modernist Studies Association, and the National Science Foundation.

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