The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s: Print Culture and the Public Sphere

The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s: Print Culture and the Public Sphere

The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s: Print Culture and the Public Sphere

The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s: Print Culture and the Public Sphere

Synopsis

This book offers an original study of debates that arose in the 1790s about the nature and social role of literature and the new class of readers produced by the revolution in information and literacy in eighteenth-century England. The first part concentrates on the dominant arguments about the role of literature and the status of the author; the second shifts its focus to the debates about working-class activists and radical women authors, and examines the growth of a Romantic ideology within this context of political and cultural turmoil.

Excerpt

In a review of Jean D'Alembert's History of the French Academy, in October 1789, the Analytical Review acknowledged the intellectual preeminence of the author, but rejected his arguments in favour of such academies. D'Alembert was, the review allowed,

a man distinguished in the most learned society in Europe by the universality and depth of his knowledge; by his proficiency in grammar, particular and universal, philology, metaphysics, history, the fine arts, and, above all, geometry. (5 (1789): 161)

D'Alembert's History of the French Academy, though, was written 'rather in the character of an apologist than that of a philosopher', biased by his personal position as the historian to the institution. In fact, the review suggests, the social advantages that D'Alembert attributes to 'academies, or literary societies, will be found, on reflection, to be the very strongest argument that can be brought against them' (163). Such societies may well act as a safeguard against 'licentiousness and extravagance', but at the price of . . .

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