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This play is both an excellent and shrewdly observed comedy of manners and also a comment on sentimental comedy, as indicated by the combination of the mockery of modes and customs of relating in courtship with the reference to the various novels that Lydia is so keen to read and base her life around. In the 18th century, the novel was a relatively new form, and people feared that its lack of structure would lead to the corruption of women. The novels that Lydia refers to in Act I scene 2 all focused on sentiment, or feelings, where they come from and how they can be used. The combination of the two can be seen in the following quote from Lydia when she talks about the argument she manufactured between herself and the so-called Ensign Beverley:
I wrote a letter to myself to inform myself that Beverley was at that time paying his addresses to another woman. I signed it your friend unknown, showed it to Beverley, charged him with his falsehood, put myself into a violent passion, and vowed I'd never see him more.
Here the collision of sentiment with manners is satirically presented to the audience, as Lydia, so eager to follow the path of relationships as they are presented to her in the novels they are reading, creates an argument with poor "Beverley" so she can experience the joy of having a "quarrel." Sheridan therefore in this play perfectly combines a satirical treatment of the modes and manners of courtship whilst also including reference to sentiment and the rise of the novel in his day.
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