Awfully affecting, the development of a sentimental tradition in the lyrics of British and North American popular song

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 1999
Thesis identifier
  • T9739
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • This study starts by offering an account of the multi-faceted ongins of sentimentality, and its importance as an innovative and influential cultural force. The origins of commercial popular song and the high period of sentimentalism are contiguous, and it is argued that a sentimental tradition in popular song develops alongside those in the more familiar areas of literature and painting. The sentimental song tradition includes both secular and sacred lyrics, and it is shown, significantly, that modern hymnody (which has informed much subsequent secular popular music) has sentimental roots. The tradition is traced sequentially via the work of the key sentimental lyricists until the mid-nineteenth century when the increasing volume and variety of British and American popular song makes such a historical approach less feasible. The thesis then analyses favourite sentimental song lyric motifs as they occur in different types of popular song at different times, and two particularly well-defined aspects of the repertoire - the Irish sentimental song and lyrics about the hereafter - are explored in terms of how they offer alternative realities. Sentimental song, because of its didactic origins, has always been concerned with achieving effects - typically producing tears - rather than being original. Its use of a limited pool of stock themes to this end makes it a cultural product that is easy to 'manufacture', and it has a ready audience because it affords a pleasurable indulgence - often a characteristic 'happiness in unhappiness' - while at the same time giving proof of sensibility (and, in the eighteenth century, proof of moral and aesthetic probity). The continuing appeal of sentimental popular song is explained in terms of its aptness in extreme social and personal situations, as well as its ability to offer a heart-warming alternative to more objective or despairing views of the world.
Resource Type
Date Created
  • 1999
Former identifier
  • 570685