Made in the second half of the 18th century, these playing cards depict objects, scenes and sentiments familiar to the middle and leisured classes.
The intricate picture cards were designed as starting points for conversation or storytelling, but, in an entertaining twist, they could also be used to tell players’ fortunes. According to the written instructions, the cards provide a wholesome antidote to the evils of gambling and they ‘improve and polish conversation, while they increase the idea, and extend the understanding’ (p. 2).
What is sentimentalism?
Britain in the 18th century saw the rapid expansion of empire, trade and commerce. One result of this was that the middle and mercantile classes became wealthy and upwardly mobile, and desired to enter into the polite and fashionable ranks of the upper classes. Sensibility and sentimentalism provided a model for feeling and conduct. It was believed that by being immersed in representations of virtue, undeserved distress and tragedy (especially in literature), individuals could develop the refined manners and sensibilities of the cultured upper classes. Emotional expression and the ability to empathise were considered noble characteristics that elevated an individual from the assumed vulgarity of the common man.
Sentimentalism reached its height during the latter half of the century.
- Full title:
- Cards without suits for fancy games: "Sentimental Conversation Cards"; pack of 51 playing-cards representing a variety of domestic and emblematical subjects, plus booklet of instructions
- c. 1770s, Liverpool
- Print / Card
- © Trustees of the British Museum
- Usage terms
- Held by
- Trustees of the British Museum
- Article by:
- Diane Maybank
- Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism, Theatre and entertainment, Gender and sexuality
Oliver Goldsmith published several critiques of audiences and playwrights before writing a laughing comedy that was the triumph of its season and that continues to be performed today. Diane Maybank introduces She Stoops to Conquer, which uses satire to explore divisions between city and countryside, men and women, and rich and poor.
- Article by:
- Margaret Doody
- Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism, Rise of the novel, Gender and sexuality
Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded evolved from a collection of model letters into a bestselling novel. Margaret Doody introduces Samuel Richardson's work and its exploration of gender, class, sexual harassment and marriage.
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