Literary and Visual Culture
in Eighteenth-Century Britain
(incorporating a special unit on Women and the Visual Arts in Eighteenth-Century Britain)

Maureen Harkin

Course Description and Context

Literary and Visual Culture in Eighteenth-Century Britain is a course developed to address the connections between literary and visual culture, and through the kinds of work done in the class, to extend the range and reference of the students' interpretive skills. The class draws English Literature majors and a smaller contingent of Art History majors and other humanities students. We meet for an hour and a half twice a week, with the class format incorporating lecture (generally the first hour of the class) and discussion. (This arrangement is dictated to some extent by demands of the lecture-class size of the enrolment, usually about 35 students, combined with my desire to engage students in some seminar discussion.) Students also participate in smaller one-hour section meetings weekly.

Eighteenth century texts and practices display compelling interests in making and representing landscape, a fascination with the sublime, a drive to codify and quantify aesthetic sensation, and, in the case of Hogarth and Reynolds, a self-conscious attempt to build a distinguished British school of painters. Such characteristics of the period in Britain, as well as the social and professional links between artists and writers like Hogarth and Sterne, Reynolds and Johnson, mark it as one where the links between writing and image-making are particularly strong. This class is designed, first, to focus attention on these prominent aspects of eighteenth-century British culture, and to investigate both the larger categories of aesthetic pleasure and the specifics of our chosen texts. Secondly, the course aims to provide an opportunity for developing some familiarity with visual culture and interpretation alongside a consideration of linked literary texts, an exercise which in turn requires some reflection on habits of analysis and disciplinary boundaries.

The majority of the students enrolled are majoring in English. This predominance of English majors is due to the fact that the course is one of several that fulfils their requirement for a class in eighteenth-century British literature. This means the class also needs to function as something of a survey course, moving students through a chronologically organized series of landmark texts, the difference here being that the texts are both verbal and visual. Thus the course interweaves the sessions on visual art and aesthetics with a sequence of classes following linked developments in different literary genres. A second aspect of the English Department framework for the course is that the course's demands—for the development of some skill in formal analysis and some sense of the conditions of production of visual works—are made of students who have generally not had much experience of this kind of work, but who are fairly confident interpreters of literary texts by this stage.

Most of our work on visual art concerns prints and paintings, time constraints ruling out much exploration of other fields. The course requires that students go beyond using these images as a means of documenting historical phenomena or establishing cultural background and that they interpret the works in detail. Literature majors are generally well prepared to try this kind of analysis, as they approach works of visual art already attuned at least to the narrative elements of pictures. These narrative elements are, of course, particularly strong in the work of artists like Hogarth and Wright of Derby, and in the theory of Reynolds, for instance. Building on this familiarity, early class discussions and assignments direct focus on how to write a formal analysis, or close reading, of visual works. (As a way of loosening things up, the first, mandatory formal analysis assignments is graded only as pass/fail.) In this way we emphasize the materiality of the image first, avoiding the reductive or overly simple interpretations that can result from engaging with images simply as responses to prior events or institutional frameworks.

There have been two primary issues organizing the diverse texts included in the course as taught thus far. First, the sense of the new spaces of eighteenth-century Britain: urban space and its crowds, colonial settlements abroad and outlying or distant parts of the "United Kingdom" itself, the struggles over the changing countryside, the landscapes of grand tour Europe. I have students read several chapters from Raymond Williams, The Country and the City on the representation of rural space in literature and specifically in eighteenth-century poetry, and we also draw on the work of Edward Said on imperialism and John Barrell on the forms of idealization of the landscape in British painting to provide a framework for understanding the mix of fear and pleasure with which the literary and visual treatments of landscape we encounter are infused. Second, the problem of collaborative or contested authorship of the image, especially in the work of Stubbs and in the commissioned portraits of other artists, is raised to focus attention on the variety of ways in which images were produced and derived their authority.

The sequence of the class runs as follows: we begin with Hogarth's prints, focusing on his visual style, his sense of his own and a general British ambivalence in relation to continental painterly traditions, and the way the prints "read". We draw on texts including Hogarth's later analysis of visual pleasure in The Analysis of Beauty, and Ronald Paulson's readings of Hogarth's works. We look at Swift's two well-known London poems for other descriptions of London urban life and spend a session on Gay's Beggar's Opera and the iconography of Hogarth's paintings of scenes from the play. Students write their first formal analyis of one of Hogarth's prints or paintings.

We then move on to Defoe's Moll Flanders, which of course provides a continuation of Hogarth's and Gay's interests in scenes of London's underworlds and also introduces the novel as form. I focus discussion on the novel's fascination with the anonymity and freedom of London's urban spaces, with the problem of spatial description generally, and Moll's status as author-figure.

Next we look at some texts which explicitly articulate aesthetic values of the early and mid-century: Pope's various versions of neo-classical aesthetics and, in more detail, Burke's Enquiry. These are juxtaposed as a means of displaying some of the variety, and contentiousness, of eighteenth-century writing on aesthetics. The Burke in particular is a central text in the course, its articulation of the sublime aesthetic of intensity and depth of individual response, primarily to works of nature, providing a series of concepts which reverberate through our subsequent readings (Johnson, Austen, Wordsworth, early Wright of Derby, Stubbs and Reynolds). Discussions of the efforts of Wright of Derby and Stubbs as attempting to extend the range of paintings considered serious to "genre" and landscape works are followed by a consideration of contesting representations of the rural landscape in the poetry of Gray, Goldsmith, Duck, Collier and, briefly, Wordsworth. Raymond Williams' discussion of struggles over land and their transformation in poetry is a guiding critical text here, a discussion which links up with the problem of Gainsborough's specific idealization of English landscapes, as John Barrell has described it. The issue of landscape and Gainsborough's contribution to elevating the genre is contextualized by a reading of Reynolds' Discourses with its promotion of grand or sublime style. The discussion of these texts, of the exemplary careers of Reynolds and Gainsborough, and of the institutional framework of the Royal Academy, provides our lead-in to a discussion of women and the visual arts in the special unit which I discuss in detail below. In brief, the unit looks at women's roles as professional painters, as patrons and models, and as amateurs and participants in the discourse on taste.

We then read Johnson's Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and excerpts from Montagu's Turkish Letters, with their complex engagement with narratives of New World discovery and orientalism and consideration of Britain's imperial drive. The course concludes with Austen's Northanger Abbey, focusing on its account of the conventionality of the means of producing sublime or gothic effect and its presentation of correct taste as a social imperative.

Unit on Women and the Visual Arts

In the course as taught thus far we look at the very different material circumstances of engaging in various forms of artistic production and collaboration, from the nature of formal training to finding an audience. It will already have become evident from this description that gender as a category of analysis is important in the class, and especially in work on the visual arts. The obstacles hindering eighteenth-century women from making careers as painters were more difficult to circumvent than those facing women taking up the position of author, especially given the power of the Royal Academy over training and exhibition. Barring the still fairly isolated example of Angelica Kauffman whose successful career in Britain from 1766 to 1780 has received quite a bit of critical attention, and very recent work by scholars like Marcia Pointon on other less well-known professional woman painters, women's contributions to visual culture in eighteenth-century Britain took, by necessity, many forms other than that of image-making, and often remain in the background of scholarly investigation. For this reason, it had been somewhat difficult in the course, as I have taught it, to incorporate women into discussions of the main trends in eighteenth-century British visual art.

In considering this problem, however, I realized that the more limited opportunities for advanced training and public exhibition for women artists in the period did not close off other roles in the visual arts, and in fact made it especially important to consider roles in addition to that of professional painter to give a full sense of women's involvement in the field. One of the effects of feminist and new historicist methods of enquiry of the last fifteen years or so has in fact been a general questioning of the relations between text and context, between producers and consumers: reminders that in fact ideas of "backgrounds" and "foregrounds" are created by the point of view of the reader or onlooker, and are not inherent in a given group of texts, works or practices.

Moreover, given the complex and evolving role of the author, it made particular sense to consider here ways in which women who were not painters or sculptors but models and/or patrons contributed to the iconography and shaping of various images, especially in the case of pictures representing their likeness. It also became clear that the study of the place of the amateur painter and of art education would make an interesting pendant to considering the career of the most successful woman painter in eighteenth-century England, Angelica Kauffman.

Hence four class sessions now address women's involvement in the visual culture of eighteenth-century Britain.

The first session focuses on the issue of the female model, questioning whether we should see this figure as object of representation or potential co-author of the image. There is a powerful group of images of actresses and performers to draw on here, possessing real force and coherence as a group, where the presentation of woman as actress actively seeking a male gaze brings up potent ideological issues concerning the nature of feminine display, of women adopting (dis)guises, and of attitudes to theatricality. Students in the course will already have viewed some of these images, which include Hogarth's "Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn," (1738); Reynolds' portraits of Mrs. Siddons and Mrs. Abington (1771), and especially Romney's portraits of Emma Hamilton from the 1780s, including "Emma Hamilton as a Bacchante," 1786. The accompanying readings will include Marcia Pointon's discussion of the circulation and use of images of Emma Hamilton and Susan Sontag's extraordinary fictional recreation of Emma Hamilton, her talent for creating "tableaux" and her participation in the making of the Romney portraits in two extracts from The Volcano Lover.

The second session addresses the career possibilities open to the professional woman artist, focusing primarily on Angelica Kauffman as having the most successful, and widely documented career of any female professional in the field, but also looking at two less well-known instances, that of Mary Grace and Mary Moser. Our examination of Kauffman's career focuses on her use of allegorical self-portraits to produce an acceptable public image of the woman artist, her history paintings, and her handling of the various professional and social networks necessary to achieving success in the dominant form of the portrait.

The third session introduces women as patrons, collectors and collaborators. We mark the particular importance of the patron in eighteenth-century theorizing about visual arts from Shaftesbury to Reynolds, where the gaze of the viewer/patron typically tends to be accorded a greater privilege than that of the artist/producer, as already demonstrated in our earlier discussions of Stubbs. The roles of the patron and collector and their influence both on specific works and on visual culture in general are explored here, noting of course that such roles are hardly restricted to women, and comparing the situation of the visual arts to literature in respect to patronage. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is the central figure here, with her portraits by Jonathan Richardson, Charles Jervas and Jean-Baptiste Vanmour. Readings include Johnson's letter to Chesterton on patronage, Cynthia Lawrence's essay on women as patrons and collectors, and Pointon's study of Montagu's series of portraits.

The final session deals with amateur artists and the place of the visual arts in women's education. The visual record here is naturally sketchier, but a reasonable number of works from painters like Susanna Drury, Lady Amabel Polwarth and Lady Diana Beauclerk survive. This class will draw more heavily on textual sources, looking at the role of taste and artistic training in women's education.

This focus on women's involvement with the arts, for the most part following trajectories outside the established career paths offered by training and exhibiting with the Royal Academy, brings women's diverse cultural practices into focus and additionally, shows how the field of visual arts becomes increasingly complex over the course of the eighteenth century in Britain. The enormous significance and power of the Royal Academy (after 1768) in conferring and controlling reputation and hence commissions is undeniable, but histories of visual arts can tend to accord it a rather monolithic position, overlooking or underrating the significance of the kinds of work produced by those (men as well as women) outside or marginalized by the Academy, such as animal painters, botanical illustrators and amateur painters of all kinds. Thus, in addition to the unit's goals of examining the complex nature of authorship and the variety of ways in which women engaged with visual culture, the unit also attempts to offer a challenge to such an institution-dominated notion of art history in the period.

In the final week of term we read Austen's Northanger Abbey, which, with its discussion of the picturesque and theme of training women's taste, forms a kind of coda to the concerns of these discussions. Students can then opt to focus their major assigned paper for the course on issues covered in the unit.

Suggestions and Conclusions

While I haven't yet taught the new version of the course incorporating all the material on women in the arts, I have presented earlier versions of the course and can make some brief suggestions for further adapting it. First, I think the course would work well in a slightly longer, semester-length, version. That would permit significantly more time on poetry, a discussion of landscape theory, the inclusion of a full gothic novel, and further pursuit of some of the theoretical implications of the topics. Although each session is fairly focused, the course does cover a lot of ground. (And in fact it feels at the moment like it is starting to evolve into two distinct courses, one on landscape in literature and visual art, the other on women and varieties of authorship.) I also think the class would adapt very well, and might even work better, in a seminar format. I devote a portion of almost every class to discussion of specific images or textual passages and problems, but with 35 or so students discussion is necessarily somewhat directed.

There are some features of the course that I wouldn't change or adapt, though. First, the website I set up last year adds a lot to the smooth running of the class. The site is not very elaborate—it has the course syllabus and supplementary materials including other useful web addresses—but it has e few dozen of the most important or frequently discussed images for the class. I plan, with funding for student assistance, to scan many more images in, but even this relatively small sampling of major works makes it easier to get students familiar with studying iconography and style. In the past I've noticed a definite reluctance on students' part to actually make their way over to the non-virtual Art Library Reserve Desk to study reproductions. For kids who even order pizza delivery via the internet, the website is a much better way to deliver images you want them to get to know. Secondly, the requirement that the students jump in early and write a formal analysis of a print after we spend a couple of class sessions on Hogarth and the qualities of a formal analysis seems to eliminate a lot of the tentativeness students express about writing on visual works at the outset of the class. And finally, the variation and increasing demands of the writing assignments ask that students practice a consciously descriptive mode of writing for their first assignments, while clearly distinguishing between this and setting up the larger rhetorical situation for their final pieces.

Course Outline/Syllabus

Course Overview: This course is designed to introduce students to the literary and visual cultures of eighteenth-century Britain and their interconnections. We will read prose by Defoe, Johnson Montagu and Austen, drama by Gay, poetry by Pope, Swift, Gray, Goldsmith, Collier and Duck, and discussions of aesthetics by Burke and Reynolds. We will also look in some depth at the work of the artists Hogarth, Stubbs, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Kauffman and Wright of Derby, as well as at some of their models, patrons and contemporaries in the art world.

Assessment: Students are required to read all the assigned materials, to attend class faithfully, and to come to class prepared to contribute to discussion. Students are responsible for catching up on class-work they have missed due to absence.

There will be three required writing assignments in this class, including two exercises and a long paper. There will also be two brief in-class quizzes on the readings. Details and due dates are given below. NB: These are strict deadlines.

Class participation and quizzes (10% each) 30%
Exercise #1 (3 pages) 10%
Exercise #2 (3-4 pages) 20%
Final paper (10 pages) 40%

Required Texts:

Course Reader, EGL163G (Literary & Visual Culture in Eighteenth-Century Britain)

Martin Price, The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century

Sean Shesgreen, ed., Engravings by Hogarth

Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders

Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful

Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Select Bibliography of Materials for Reserve:

Malcolm Andrews, The Search for the Picturesque (Stanford, 1989)

John Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting 1730-1840 (Cambridge, 1980)

———, ed., Painting and the Politics of English Culture: New Essays on British Art 1700-1850 (Oxford,1992)

John Bender, Imagining the Penitentiary (Chicago, 1987)

Ann Bermingham, Landscape and Ideology (Berkeley, 1986)

Judy Egerton, Wright of Derby (London, 1990)

John Hayes, Gainsborough: Paintings and Drawings (London, 1975)

William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty (New Haven, 1997)

Derek Jarrett, England in the Age of Hogarth (New Haven, 1986)

Cynthia Lawrence, ed., Women and Art in Early Modern Europe (University Park, PA, 1997)

Iain Pears, The Discovery of Painting (New Haven, 1988)

Ronald Paulson, Breaking and Remaking: Aesthetic Practice in England 1700-1820 (New Brunswick, 1989)

———, Hogarth: His Life, Art and Times (New Haven,1971)

Marcia Pointon, Hanging the Head: Portraiture and Social Formation in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven, 1993)

———, Strategies for Showing: Women, Possession and Representation in English Visual Culture, 1665-1800 (Oxford, 1997)

Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art (New Haven, 1975)

Wendy Wassyng Roworth, ed. Angelica Kauffman: A Continental Artist in Georgian England (London, 1992)

Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover (New York, 1992)

David Solkin, Painting for Money: The Visual Arts and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven, 1993)

Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in Eighteenth-Century England (New York, 1977)

Tate Gallery Catalogue, George Stubbs (London, 1984)

Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel (Berkeley, 1957)

Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (Oxford, 1973)

Web Resources:

Our class website address, which includes images from all the artists we will be studying, as well as the course syllabus is:

In addition to the class website at least one other website may of interest to you for locating additional resources on topics in 18th-century British culture. This is Jack Lynch's Eighteenth-Century resources Page, a very useful site with lots of links:

Other Resources

Additional audio-visual materials and museum resources will be discussed in class. Students are also encouraged to see me during office hours to discuss sources for their final papers.

Course Schedule

Week 1 - Introduction; Hogarth

(1) Readings: Shesgreen, Engravings by Hogarth,Introduction; also study the following prints and accompanying entries:

plates 18-23 ("A Harlot's progress")

plates 28-35 ("A Rake's Progress")

plate 41 ("The Distres't Poet")

plates 42-45 ("The Four Times of the Day")

plate 47 ("The Enraged Musician")

plates 51-56 ("Marriage a la Mode")

plates 75-76 ("Beer St." and "Gin Lane")

Week 2 - Hogarth continued; London and its Under Worlds

(1) Readings: Paulson, "The Hogarthian Progress," in Reader.

Swift, "A Description of the Morning," in Price

———, "A Description of a City Shower,"in Price

Class Hand-out and discussion: what is a formal analysis?

First Exercise: Write a 3-page formal analysis of one of the Hogarth prints included in Shesgreen or of one of Hogarth's paintings of The Beggar's Opera. Length: 3 pages. Due: first class, Week 3.

(2) Readings: Gay, The Beggar's Opera, in Price.

Hogarth, paintings from Gay, in Reader.

Week 3 - "Streetwalking on a Ruined Map": Moll Flanders

(1) Reading: Defoe, Moll Flanders

(2) Reading: Defoe, Moll Flanders, continued

Week 4 - Pope and Neo-Classical Aesthetics; Burke and the Sublime

(1) Readings: Pope, "A Discourse on Pastoral"

———, "An Essay on Criticism"

———, "To Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington: Of the Use of Riches"

(2) Readings: Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Idea of the Sublime and the Beautiful, pages 31-87, 109-125, 129-140.

Walpole, from The Castle of Otranto, Course Reader

Week 5 - Stubbs, Wright of Derby and the Sublime; Rural Poetry

(1) Readings: Paulson, "Stubbs: A Look Into Nature," in Reader

Solkin, "Joseph Wright of Derby and the Power of the Aesthetic," in Reader.

Slide Presentation: Wright and Stubbs.

(2) Readings: Gray,"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," in Price Goldsmith, "The Deserted Village," in Price

Week 6 - Rural Poetry Continued; The Royal Academy and Two Exemplary Careers: Reynolds and Gainsborough

(1) Readings: Duck, "The Thresher's Labour," in Reader

Collier, "The Woman's Labour," in Reader

Wordsworth, "The Old Cumberland Beggar,"in Reader

———, "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern

Abbey," in Reader.

Williams, The Country and the City 1-22, 120-141, in Reader.

(2) Readings: Reynolds, Discourses, III, IV, XIV; Idler

essays, in Reader.

Barrell, from The Dark Side of the Landscape, in Reader.

Slide Presentation: Reynolds and Gainsborough

In-Class Quiz.

Second Exercise: Choose one of the three following options:

A. Take one or two images by any of the painters discussed for which an interpretation has been offered (Shesgreen, Barrell, Paulson or Solkin) and offer your own counter-reading of its/their significant formal and iconographical features.

B. Critical terms. Discuss some of the meanings of "nature" in Pope, the sublime in Burke or the Grand Manner in Reynolds by means of a close reading of a relevant passage.

C. Describe the kind of visual effects and/or spaces produced in a close reading of a significant passage or passages from Moll Flanders, The Beggars' Opera, or any of the poems.

Length: 3-4 pages. Due: second class, Week 7.

Unit on Women and the Visual Arts in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Week 7 - Women and the Visual Arts I: Painters and Models

(1) The Female Model: Object of Representation or Co-Author?

Readings: Ronald Paulson, "Reynolds' "Mrs. Abington as Miss Prue", in Reader.

Susan Sontag, from The Volcano Lover, in Reader

Marcia Pointon, excerpt on Emma Hamilton and portraiture from Strategies for Showing;in Reader.

Slide Presentation: Hogarth, "Strolling Actresses . . . "

Reynolds, portraits of Mrs.Abington, Mrs. Siddons, Emma Hamilton Romney, portraits of Emma Hamilton, 1780s.

Piroli, engravings of Emma Hamilton's "Attitudes".

(2) The Professional Woman Artist:Angelica Kauffmann and Some Contemporaries

Readings: Wendy Wassyng Roworth, "Kauffman and the Art of Painting in England," in Reader;

Angela Rosenthal, "Kauffman and Portraiture,"in Reader

Marcia Pointon, "Working, Earning, Bequeathing: Mary Grace and Mary Moser -`Paintresses,'"in Reader.

Slide Presentation: Kauffman, "Self-Portrait Hesitating between the Arts of Music and Painting," "Self-Portrait as

Bacchante," "Self-Portrait in Oriental Dress," "Portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds," "Zeuxis Selecting Models," "Bacchus Teaching the Nymphs . . . " Works by Moser and Grace

Week 8 - Women and the Visual Arts II: Patrons and Amateurs

(1) Women as Patrons, Collectors and Collaborators

Readings: Cynthia Lawrence, "Introduction" to Women and Art in Early Modern Europe, in Reader.

Marcia Pointon, "Killing Pictures,"(on Montagu), Reader.

Samuel Johnson, Letter to Chesterfield, Reader.

Slide Presentation: Jonathan Richardson, Charles Jervas and Jean-Baptiste Vanmour: portraits of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

(2) Amateur Artists and the Arts in (Women's) Education

Readings: David Adshead,"The Landscape Drawings of Lady Amabel Polwarth,"in Reader.

M. Anglesea and J. Preston, "A Philosophical Landscape: Susanna Drury and the Giant's Causeway".

Slide Presentation: Susanna Drury, "The East Prospect of the Giant's Causeway"

Lady Amabel Polwarth, landscape drawings

Works by Lady Diana Beauclerk

Week 9 - Travel Narratives: Samuel Johnson & Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

(1) Reading: Johnson, Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland

(2) Thanksgiving - no class.

Week 10 - Johnson and Montagu, continued; Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

(1) Reading: Johnson, Journey, continued; Montagu, selections from Turkish Letters, in Reader

(2) Austen, Northanger Abbey

Week 11 - Austen, continued; Review

(1) Reading: Austen, Northanger Abbey, continued.

(2) Review and discussion of final papers

In-class quiz.

Final Paper: Length: 10 pages. Due: Friday of Exam Week

Note on the Final Paper: You are free to choose your own topics, but a list of topics will also be circulated. (To give you some idea, suggested areas include comparative eighteenth-century representations of rural landscape; the concept of the sublime; the picturesque; the role and influence of the patron; the literature of early travel and tourism; the development of a "British" cultural identity; or an analysis of joint or contested authorship in an analysis of works from the special unit on women and the visual arts.) Whichever option you choose, please drop by office hours to discuss it with me in the second half of the quarter.


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