An Inclusive Cultural History of Early
Eighteenth-Century British Literature
James E. Evans
University of North Carolina, Greensboro
During the late twentieth century the recovery of texts by women authors was an important scholarly project in English studies, which also led to paperback editions and, more recently, hypertexts for instructional use. At my university, which is probably typical, this availability contributed to two types of coursesthose focused on early women authors, found in Women's Studies programs as well as English departments, and those still centered on male authors, with added novels, plays, or poems by women. Introducing their anthology Popular Fiction by Women 1660-1730, which could facilitate either type of course, Paula R. Backscheider and John J. Richetti ask this question about the selections: "Do they constitute, taken together and separately, a counter-tradition or a rival and competing set of narrative choices to the male novel of the mid-century?" While recognizing that the answer is complicated, they set me thinking about an undergraduate course that would ask their question more generally about various kinds of literature early in the eighteenth century through systematic juxtaposition of texts by previously canonical male authors with works by "recovered" female authors. Juxtaposing The Rover with The Man of Mode or The Female Quixote with Tristram Shandy, for example, invigorated my teaching during the past decade; so I hoped that a course designed on this principle would be rigorous and interesting to students.
Before the Fall Semester of 1999, while I was preparing to teach one undergraduate course on the Restoration and early eighteenth century and another on the early British novel and reading recent criticism, two books encouraged me to pursue this proposal. William B. Warner's Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684-1750 brings women's amatory fiction together with the "rise" of male novelists to restore conflicts erased by previous accounts. "Like a garden or museum collection," Warner writes, "literary history turns the strife of history into a repertoire of forms. It does so by taking differences that may have motivated the writing or reading of novels within the specific historical contexts . . . and converting them into differences of a literary kind." If his cultural history prodded me to rethink the juxtaposition of fictional texts, Shawn Lisa Maurer's Proposing Men: Dialectics of Gender and Class in the Eighteenth-Century English Periodical pushed me to historicize the construction of the masculine and the feminine in such a course. In her process of "unlearning assumptions" of European thought and feminism, Maurer seeks another restoration: "All too often, then, gender has come to mean `feminine gender identity,' a classification that not only removes masculinity from the critical gaze but also fails to recognize the dialectical nature of gender formation." As she demonstrates, gender, like genre, is an ongoing cultural construction in early eighteenth-century texts.
Course Description My proposed course selects five pairs of writers for study in these contexts and highlights a set of reciprocally defining terms for scrutiny during students' reading and discussiongender, class, author, print culture, and literatureterms that were being negotiated in the four decades following the Revolution of 1688, a crucial period in the refashioning of British culture. During the last Stuart monarchies and the first Hanoverian one, amid the contest of aristocratic and bourgeois ideologies and texts challenging patriarchy, the literary marketplace included more women writers and more forms (such as periodicals and novels) competing with poetry and drama for audiences. Students' reading assignments will reflect the variety of literature in the period: two plays, William Congreve's The Way of the World (1700) and Mary Pix's The Beau Defeated (1700); two kinds of cultural criticism, Mary Astell's A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694, 1697) and Some Reflections upon Marriage (1700) and Richard Steele's and Joseph Addison's The Tatler (1709-1711) and The Spectator (1711-1714); the poetry of Alexander Pope and Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, mostly poems from their collections of 1717 and 1713, respectively; two novels, Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722) and Eliza Haywood's The City Jilt (1726); travel books and poems by Jonathan Swift and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, with emphasis on Gulliver's Travels (1726) and Turkish Embassy Letters (written 1716-1718, published 1763).
Part One: The course begins with Congreve and
Pix, whom I have paired often in a drama course since publication of
the anthology Female Playwrights of the Restoration: Five Comedies a
decade ago. Their plays, both performed by the company at Lincoln's
Inn Fields in the same month, foreground the difficulties of being
Part Two: Following plays that represent marriage and the education of women, we will turn to Astell's more systematic, polemical treatment of these topics; her essays set the agenda for selections from Addison's and Steele's periodicals, which are experiencing a recovery of their own in scholarly interest. By considering the categories "Enlightenment feminist" and "bourgeois public sphere" and the rhetorics of harsh critic and conciliatory personae, students will begin to understand the active social construction of The Tatler and The Spectator and the deconstruction of Some Reflections upon Marriage. For example, Bickerstaff's paternalist concern for his half-sister's marriage provides a stark contrast to Astell's view of marital enslavement; her exposure of the sexual contract sets off Mr. Spectator's linking "the fair sex" to the ends of empire. On the other hand, Addison's and Steele's program for reforming the conduct of men, as well as women, complements the Christian austerity of Astell's Serious Proposal. Their genres, essays formal and periodical, reflect two ways in which print culture accommodated the desire for reform in post-Revolution Britain.
Part Three: Here we will examine "poet" as the privileged case of authorship in the period and set poems from Pope's collection of 1717 (which includes The Rape of the Lock, An Essay on Criticism, Windsor Forest, Eloisa to Abelard, and shorter poems) alongside of poems included in and withheld from Finch's collection of 1713. The intersection of two models of authorshipcoterie and professionalwith issues of gender also inform this section. Pope's Preface and confident neo-Horatian Essay distinguish his volume from Finch's divided public and private self-presentations (seen acutely in a poem like "The Introduction"). On the other hand, Finch's poems (such as "Ardelia's Answer to Ephelia," "Friendship between Ardelia and Ephelia," "The Spleen," "The Unequal Fetters") bring into sharp relief the gender ideology of the most celebrated and most often taught poem of the era, The Rape of the Lock. Finch's affectionate poems to her husband and her evocation of her secluded life evince an aspect of early eighteenth-century culture not found in these Pope poems. Studied together, the authors demonstrate alternate possibilities for Augustan poetry.
Part Four: Defoe's Moll Flanders and Haywood's The City Jilt provide a case study of the popular literature so despised by the guardians of high culture like Pope, who mocked both of these professional writers in The Dunciad. Comparing the novels' protagonists, Moll and Glicera (who are both seduced and abandoned as young women), students will consider the problems of libertinism and money that shape these characters' lives and thus return to aspects of sexuality and marriage with which the course began; in addition, like the texts of Steele and Addison, the novels participate in the refashioning of male manners. As students examine the varying successes and independence of the heroines amid patriarchy, they will also explore the authors' different strategies of representationDefoe's allegedly true story of Moll, "written from her own memorandums," and Haywood's "secret history" of Glicera, Melladore, and Grubguard. Finally, this pairing will permit discussion of the historical process that later welcomed this genre into the literary canon, even as it excluded women's amatory fiction by Haywood and others.
Part Five: The course concludes with a pair of
authors whose best known texts, Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Montagu's
Turkish Embassy Letters, will bring the greater Britain of empire into
the course even more fully as students examine the ways in which Swift
and Montagu participate in or resist imperialist discourses.
Having outlined the five parts of the course, I want to discuss student writing and speaking requirements. I plan to offer this as a writing-intensive course, part of my university's writing-across-the-curriculum program, which requires at least one course in the major and limits class size to 25 students. Students will keep a critical reading journal, which they submit weekly (about 2 pages). During each part of the course they will select one of the recurrent topicsgender, class, author, print culture, literatureas their focus for more specific, informal, and exploratory writing. For example, one student may write about an aspect of gender, such as the representation of widows, in The Way of the World one week and in The Beau Defeated the next; another student may consider how each play responds to attacks on dramatic literature as immoral through the use of comic characterization. Though I will provide some prompts for journals throughout the semester, students are free to find their own entree into the larger topics, perhaps by identifying a significant or problematic character, scene, or passage for their commentary.
Their journal pieces will
subsequently serve as starting points for more formal critical writing,
two essays of 4-6
pages each. ollowing the second and fourth parts of the course, students
will submit these essays, which they develop from separate journal
on one of the pairs of authors. So the first paper will address texts
by Congreve/Pix or Astell/Addison and Steele and the second, texts
Pope/Finch or Defoe/Haywood. Like their reading, students' essays will
be comparative, for instance, examining aspects of authorship in
and Finch's poems, such as contrasting the latter's ironic sense of
herself as "an intruder on the rights of men" with the
former's sense of entitlement to the classical tradition. At the
end of the course,
the sequenced writing assignments will culminate in a longer paper
(10-12 pages), in which students revise and expand one of the revious
by bringing in an additional pair of authors. For example, a student
who had written an essay on gender ideology and the description of
in Some Reflections upon Marriage and The Spectator might develop his
longer essay by bringing in aspects of the topic from Defoe's and
novels or from Congreve's and Pix's plays. Or a student who had written
on women and fashion in The Rape of the Lock and
The format of the course will include some short lectures, ontopics such as the Revolution of 1688, attacks on the stage in the 1690s, and the development of copyright law, but there will be much more opportunity for discussion, as well as invitations for students to read aloud or summarize portions of their journals. Since one of my university's goals is to improve students' oral competency, I also plan to include structured opportunities, primarily in small groups, for students to guide class discussion about one of the topics of inquiry (see instructions in the Syllabus below). Working together, students in each group will select a particular topic, such as class, and then chose aspects of a text like The Beau Defeated that interestingly illustrate the topic, such as the resolution of this play (exposing the beau, praising the merchant, intermarrying upper and middle class characters). As part of their presentations, students will also select and read aloud brief passages that support their interpretations. For instance, if, to present some ambiguities of bourgeois ideology in The Spectator, one group decides to contrast the Spectator's rhapsody at the Royal Exchange with the darker story of Inkle and Yarico, they should read excerpts from those numbers of the periodical.
Suggestions and Conclusions
Although the proposed course concentrates on texts
from the four decades after the Revolution of 1688, the committee reviewing
my presentation at the ASECS meeting asked me to provide other suggestions
for courses that might include more of the long eighteenth century.
Aphra Behn offers a number of possibilities
In developing my initial proposal for ASECS presentation, I looked again at Ann Messenger's His and Hers: Essays in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century literature, a book of eight essays pairing male and female authors of the longer period (Dryden and Killigrew, Montagu and Gay, Pope and Brooke, and others). Messenger's Introduction, "Restoring the Picture," likens her critical project to that of the art restorer, cleaning "one of those large, busy eighteenth-century paintings": "For the Restorer wanted to see the whole picture: clear figures and dim, great figures and small, colors subtle and true, balance and composition not distorted by accidental highlighting." Sharing her comparatist agenda and applying it to pedagogy, I believe that my students will benefit from viewing the crowded canvas of early eighteenth-century culture with the figures and genres restored in clearer relationships to one another, relationships that do not always follow the museum guides of contemporary theory and criticism. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, established in 1891 as a normal school, was, for many years the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina; its founder expressed the public value of educating women in language similar to Astell's Serious Proposal. Given this institutional history and my thirty-year association with it, I feel obligated to present a restored picture of early modern British culture to our students. I plan to offer this course for the first time in the Spring Semester 2001.
Experience in reading and interpretation of British literature of the early eighteenth-century;
Knowledge of varied genres of this literature, including comedy, fiction, poetry, essays, periodicals, and letters;
Understanding of issues in British culture integral to this literature, especially gender, class, authorship, and print;
Experience in formal and informal writing about this literature;
Experience in speaking about and oral interpretation of this literature.
M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt, gen. ed.,
Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders, ed. David Blewett (Penguin)
Eliza Haywood, Selected Fiction and Drama, ed. Paula R.
Paddy Lyons and Fidelis Morgan, ed. Female Playwrights
Erin Mackie, ed. The Commerce of Everyday Life:
Katharine M. Rogers and William McCarthy, ed.
Reading and Writing Assignments:
Week Reading Writing
Part 1 Comic Drama
2 Congreve: The Way of the World journal piece
3 Pix: The Beau Defeated journal piece
Part 2 Cultural Criticism
4 Astell: selections from A Serious Proposal to
the Ladies and
5 Addison & Steele:
selections from The Tatler and The Spectator
Part 3 Augustan Poetry
6 Pope: Preface to Works,
Essay on Criticism Finch: "The
7 Pope: The Rape of the
Lock, Windsor Forest Finch: "The
"Friendship between Ardelia and Ephelia,"
8 Pope: Eloisa to Abelard journal piece
Finch: "To Mr. F., now Earl of W.," "A Letter to
Daphnis," "A Nocturnal Reverie," "The Unequal
Fetters," "A Supplication for the Joys of Heaven"
Part 4 Novels
9 Defoe: Moll Flanders journal piece
Part 5 Travels
11 Swift: Gulliver's Travels, Parts I & II second essay
12 Swift: Gulliver's Travels, Parts III & IV journal piece
13 Montagu: selections from Turkish Embassy Letters
14 Swift: "A Description of the Morning,"
"A Description of a
Montagu: "The Toilette," "The
Reasons that Induced Dr. S. to
15 Exam week final essay
I expect you to write and submit about two pages during each week of the class, except for weeks excluded on the syllabus. Use this opportunity to focus your thinking about the literature you are reading. Try out ideas that you may want to explore more fully in an essay. You may follow the general suggestions below or more specific prompts provided during the course, or you may write on another aspect of the assignment that interests you. The only requirement is that, in writing about each pair of authors, you consider aspects of the same larger topic, whether gender, class, authorship, print culture, or literature. Write about a significant or problematic passage, scene, or character.
Write about a difficulty, resolved or unresolved, for a character, the author, or the reader.
Write a new episode for a character or write a letter to a character or an author.
1. Shorter essays: You will write two critical essays of 1,000-1,500 words (4-6 pages). Each essay will be based on journal pieces from one part of the course. You will submit one essay after the second part or the course (writing about either Congreve/Pix or Astell/Addison & Steele) and the other essay after the fourth part of the course (considering either Pope/Finch or Defoe/Haywood).
While the journal pieces will be your starting point, you do not have to repeat what you said in them. After more reading and discussion, your thinking may have changed or you may wish to highlight different aspects of the works; in addition, the emphasis of the essays should be more comparative. Do no use secondary sources; the thinking and writing in the essays should be your own. Your paper should have a clear thesis and should use evidence from the works, including brief quotations, to support your ideas. I will discuss my criteria for evaluating your papers later in the semester and will schedule conferences prior to your submitting the first essay.
2. Final Essay: At the end of the semester you will revise and expand one of your previous two essays into a longer piece of writing (10-12 pages), by bringing in an additional pair ofauthors who are pertinent to the topic you investigated earlier. It is not necessary that you already discussed the second pair in your other essay or, if you did, that you discussed them in relationship to the same topic.
Attendance/Participation: I expect your regular attendance and your active participation in class discussion. After four absences your participation grade will be lowered for each additional absence. Occasionally, I will ask you to read aloud or summarize a passage from your journal. While there will be some lectures, you will have a major role in shaping the direction of class discussion.
During the first week of the semester I will organize
the class into small groups (usually three students), which will guide
class discussion several times during the semester for periods of 15-20
minutes. You will receive a schedule of assignments after the groups
are formed. Before each of your assigned classes, your group should
meet together to select the general topic that appeals to you and to
identify some interesting moments in your text (such as key ideas, important
actions, significant speeches or descriptions, or passages that cause
you difficulty). While you do not have to agree about the meaning of
the text or your examples, you should work together in selecting points
on which to focus the attention of the class. Your group should read
aloud some brief passages, interpret them, and raise questions that
involve other members of the class in discussion.
Your final grade in the course will be based on
Selected Books and Articles on Reserve:
Laura Brown. Ends of Empire: Women and Ideology
Helen Deutsch. Resemblance & Disgrace:
Alexander Pope and the
J. Paul Hunter. Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts
Erin Mackie. Market à la
Mode: Fashion, Commodity, and Gender
Robert Markley. Two-Edg'd Weapons: Style and Ideology
Shawn Lisa Maurer. Proposing Men: Dialectics of
Michael McKeon. "Historicizing
Patriarchy: The Emergence of
Ann Messenger, ed. Gender at Work: Four Women
Writers of the
Ruth Perry. "Mary
Astell and the Feminist Critique of Possessive
Julie Stone Peters. Congreve, the Drama, and the
Ellen Pollak. The Poetics of Sexual Myth: Gender
and Ideology in
Roy Porter. English Society in the Eighteenth
Century. New York:
Jonathan Swift. Gulliver's Travels: Complete,
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