The Beautiful, Novel, and Strange. Aesthetics and Heterodoxy / Edmund Burke. A Life in Caricature / Honore Daumier

Article excerpt

RONALD PAULSON

The Beautiful, Novel, and Strange. Aesthetics and Heterodoxy Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, 413 pp.; 39 b/w ills. $39.95

NICHOLAS K. ROBINSON

Edmund Burke. A Life in Caricature New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996, 240 pp.; 50 color ills., 150 b/w. $45.00

BRUCE LAUGHTON

Honore Daumier

New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996, 244 pp.; 60 color ills., 130 b/w. $55.00.

Ronald Paulson's The Beautiful, Novel, and Strange. Aesthetics and Heterodoxy situates the origins of aesthetics in 18th-century England, around 1712, in empiricism and religious forms of heterodoxy, such as deism, showing how the discourse on beauty came to replace blind faith in God. He pays close attention to concepts of Taste, the Sublime, the Novel, and the Great, with accompanying debates on their definition by their advocates and practitioners. The artist William Hogarth and the writer Henry Fielding become key figures for Paulson in demonstrating how a realist aesthetics of the Novel-in its upper-case sense as the new or uncommon as well as in its lower-case definition as an emergent literary formcounteracts the third earl of Shaftesbury's idealism of the Beautiful, until the sense of the Novel supplants the Beautiful and Great in much of the progressive literature and art of the period. At issue is the school of thought represented by Martin C. Battestin, Aubrey Williams, and J. Paul Hunter, who claim that Fielding and his literary progeny are orthodox Church of Englanders. Paulson contests this view by setting out to prove how the tradition of the novel that Fielding launched took much of its rationale from a heterodox aesthetics. Paulson also aims to establish what he sees as a countertradition to the civic humanist version of the English School of painting, primarily represented by John Barrell's The Political Theory of Painting from Reynolds to Hazlitt.1 Paulson characterizes the contemporary discourse on British art and much of British literary theory as Joshua Reynolds redux, an attempt to aggrandize and privilege theoretical academic discourse over works of art. By focusing on how Hogarth's work elaborated on Joseph Addison's interest in the Beautiful, the Novel, and the Strange, Paulson reveals how Hogarth's modern moral subject set itself up against the Shaftesburian tradition that inspired Reynolds's strong advocacy of history painting. What results is a demonstration of the role Hogarth's visual imagery played in elucidating key tenets of theoretical discourse and influencing subsequent artistic and literary practice.

The origin of English aesthetics is most often paralleled with the rise of empiricism. Paulson adds rational religion into this mix and, in a densely argued chapter, shows how aesthetics became religion, empirically challenged. He reads Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress (1732) as a visual rebuttal of the Shaftesburian tenet that Hercules' choice of Virtue over Pleasure should provide the model for history painters. He also asserts that the series simultaneously serves as a demystification of the Virgin Birth, with the Passion of the Mother overriding that of the Son. Hogarth's use of critical deism as a model for his conversion of morality into aesthetics is then traced through other prints from The Analysis of Beauty (1753), where the Host is replaced by a dish of serpentine eels; to the Lottery ( 1724), where the artist entwines a Christian parody of Raphael's Disputa with the classical Choice of Hercules; and to The Sleeping Congregation (1736), where God is absent from the symbol of the monarch and the Trinity Paulson seeks to validate how Hogarth provided the artists and writers of his time with the tools "to secularize, iconoclast, modernize, and aestheticize the major religious topoi" (p. 22). This chapter would have proved far more effective if Paulson had followed Hogarth's work chronologically, showing a development in the artist's beliefs, and if he had shown the South Sea Scheme, which predates The Lottery, and whose details are discussed but not illustrated. …