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The one about sentimentality in art


I came upon this quote on sentimentality in art, over at The Happiness Project, and it has to go here as a quote for keeping. How about the second paragraph. And The Mill on the Floss. Yes. The first four books within that book might be the slowest thing I’ve ever read, and required a dictionary, but I was up till 2.30 am with the tears raining down my face for the last two books.

Sentimentality
is a flaw in a work of art, certainly, but the word is often thrown at
great and overpowering works of art that embarrass critics who live,
emotionally, in St. Ogg’s, though intellectually they have journeyed
south as far as Cambridge. The ending of The Mill on the Floss moves
me to tears, though I am not an easy weeper. It is not the immediate
pathos of the death of Maggie and Tom that thus affects me:  it is
rather that a genuine completion of human involvement has been attained,
but attained only through Death. A happiness beyond mere delight has
been experienced – a happiness as blasting and destroying as an
encounter with the gods.

To my mind, this is anything but sentimental. People who prate of
sentimentality are very often people who hate being made to feel, and
who hate anything that cannot be intellectually manipulated. But the
purgation through pity and terror which is said to be the effect of
tragedy is not the only kind of purgation that art can bring. The
tempest in the heart that great novels can evoke is rarely tragic in the
strict sense, but it is an arousal of feelings of wonder at the
strangeness of life, and desolation at the implacability of life, and
dread of the capriciousness of life, which for a few minutes overwhelms
all our calculations and certainties and leaves us naked in a turmoil
from which cleverness cannot save us.

–Robertson Davies, “Phantasmagoria and Dream Grotto,” One Half of Robertson Davies

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