The Sentimentalist Conspiracy

"Actum est de republica."
—Latin saying

The Bourgeois Age is finished, but a principal feature of Victorianism—the fullest and most developed expression of that era—still flourishes. Postmoderns consider themselves a hardheaded and realistic people, yet the average American today is probably as much a sentimentalist as the typical Dickens reader of a century ago. Sentimentality—not racism, greed, or sensuality—is the definitive vice of the American people at the end of the 20th century as it was at the close of the 19th, but it has undergone a change in emphasis over the past hundred years. In Dickens' time, the object of sentimental feeling was still the individual—Little Nell and Tiny Tim—while in our own day it is the group—The Poor, The Homeless, Minorities, Gays, The Differently Abled, The Third World. The evening news programs are the brief emotional equivalent of Little Dorrit and Oliver Twist, whose producers engage in every tear-jerking device known to their horrible trade short of actually holding up cue cards that say CRY. Of course, the individual case is meant to personalize the plight of the group, just as Dickens' novels intentionally pointed at social conditions lying beyond personal experience. Still, the Christian Victorians recognized in suffering a personal meaning that has become attenuated...

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