dickens 2012

DENISE MINA: IS SENTIMENT THE NEW TABOO?

Friday afternoon. Denise Mina in woolly mammoth boots that you just can’t argue with. Emphasising that the distinction between low/high fiction is a marketing decision, along with distinctions between crime fiction, literary fiction and other genres – all to do with sales. But for that reason, Dickens would have been a crime writer today, for the money, kudos, engagement with social affairs, and readership. Crime writing has a surprising reach:

The vast majority of crime readers are women; the vast majority victims of crime are boys between 14–19. I suspect people who read crime fiction are pretty safe; troubled women with violent partners will be reading romances. We have to change the way that women see themselves within the stories. DM

Mina’s reading about Betty Higden from Our Mutual Friend was intended to pull the heartstrings, which it sort of did, like a brisk walker pulling a reluctant dog. Her point was that Dickens was trying to provoke a visceral sense, a physical response even in the reader: so too, ‘the best crime fiction can reduce you to tears’.

Why is sentiment such a dirty word? Disregarding obsolete definitions, the OED supplies for sentiment: ‘What one feels with regard to something; mental attitude (of approval or disapproval, etc.); an opinion or view as to what is right or agreeable.’ Or A thought or reflection coloured by or proceeding from emotion.’ Nothing wrong there… It’s not till 9 (a) that we get a whisker of the meaning that is so disparaged: ‘Refined and tender emotion; exercise or manifestation of ‘sensibility’; emotional reflection or meditation; appeal to the tender emotions in literature or art. Now chiefly in derisive use, conveying an imputation of either insincerity or mawkishness.’

Off to browse the crime shelves, sentiment section…