The Eighteenth-Century Novel and Contemporary Social Issues: An Introduction

The Eighteenth-Century Novel and Contemporary Social Issues: An Introduction

The Eighteenth-Century Novel and Contemporary Social Issues: An Introduction

The Eighteenth-Century Novel and Contemporary Social Issues: An Introduction

Synopsis

This study introduces readers to the eighteenth-century novel through a consideration of contemporary social issues. Eighteenth-century authors grappled with very similar problems to the ones we face today such as: what motivates a fundamentalist terrorist? What are the justifiable limits of state power? What dangers lie in wait for us when we create life artificially?The book discusses key authors from Aphra Behn in the late seventeenth century to James Hogg in the 1820s, covering the 'long' eighteenth century. It guides readers through the main genres of the period from Realism, Gothic romance and historical romance to proto-science fiction. It also introduces a range of debates around race relations, anti-social behaviour, family values and born-again theology as well as the power of the media, surveillance, political sovereignty and fundamentalist terrorism. Each novel is shown to be directly relevant to some of the most urgent moral issues of our own time. Key Features
• Relates the novels of the eighteenth century to current social and political debates
• Accessibly and engagingly written for non-specialists
• Covers the key authors and texts of the period including Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Pamela, Northanger Abbey, Tristram Shandy and Frankenstein

Excerpt

The eighteenth century has become something of a Cinderella area in English literary studies. While it attracts a substantial amount of critical attention, it is less successful in its appeal to students or to a more general readership. Yet it was a period that saw the emergence of the modern English novel, and although most people will have heard of such works as Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Tom Jones (1749) in this respect, its public profile is not currently very high. This is an unfortunate state of affairs given the richness and variety to be found in the eighteenth-century novel. From the cultural subversiveness of Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson through the philosophically informed wit of Laurence Sterne to the Gothic terrors of Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley, this is an area of literature which positively invites reassessment.

The eighteenth-century novel (to be understood here in the ‘long’ sense historically, running from the Restoration of 1660 to c. 1840) is particularly to be admired for its engagement with social issues, and it is fertile territory for the exploration of moral dilemmas. In many cases those dilemmas remain with us, taxing us as much as ever they did. What motivates a fundamentalist terrorist? (see James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, 1824). What are the justifiable limits of state power? (see William Godwin’s Caleb Williams, 1794). What can be done to ensure public order? (see Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, 1749). What dangers lie in wait for us when we create life artificially? (see Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 1818). Does popular culture corrupt the minds of impressionable youth? (see Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey . . .

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