"Cultures of Whiggism": New Essays on English Literature and Culture in the Long Eighteenth Century

"Cultures of Whiggism": New Essays on English Literature and Culture in the Long Eighteenth Century

"Cultures of Whiggism": New Essays on English Literature and Culture in the Long Eighteenth Century

"Cultures of Whiggism": New Essays on English Literature and Culture in the Long Eighteenth Century

Synopsis

In the preface to his edition of Shakespeare, Alexander Pope noted that his age was one of Parties, both in Wit and State. Much scholarship has been devoted to the complexities of the political parties of the eighteenth century, but there has been a surprising reluctance to explore what Pope implied were the corollaries of those parties, namely, parties in literature. The essays collected here explore the literary culture that arose from and supported what Pitt the Elder referred to as the great spirit of Whiggism that animated English politics during the eighteenth century. From the prehistory of Whiggism in the court of Charles II to the fractures opened up within it by the French Revolution in the 1790s, the interactions between Whiggish politics and literature are sampled and described in groundbreaking essays that range widely across the fields of eighteenth-century political prose, poetry, and the novel.

Excerpt

David Womersley

Most of the papers collected in this volume were first PREsented at a conference held in Jesus College, Oxford, in March 2000. the organizers of that conference—myself, Abigail Williams, and Paddy Bullard—thought that the moment was right to encourage a broad and interdisciplinary group of scholars at various stages of their careers to meet and share the fruits of their current research under the rubric of “Cultures of Whiggism.”

In the middle decades of the twentieth century, a handful of influential political historians created a durable image of English society in the eighteenth century. in contrast with the seventeenth century, during which ideological conflict had inflicted severe wounds on the nation, these historians contended that Englishmen in the years between the Glorious Revolution (1688) and the Great Reform Bill (1832) had created political stability through the narrow pursuit of their own practical interests. This account of the English eighteenth century rested above all on the work of Lewis Namier, whose studies of political behavior seemed to show how little Englishmen of this time cared for ideological allegiances, and of J. H. Plumb, one of whose books described the growth of political stability, and whose unfinished biography of Walpole allowed us to see, as it were from the top down, the substitution of practicalities for principles upon which (so it was contended) political stability had been founded.

In the 1980s this orthodoxy came under energetic attack. Historians began to point out the survival into the “long eighteenth century” of attitudes supposedly extinguished by, or at least difficult to reconcile with, the motivations and behavior described in the works of Namier, Plumb, and their followers. in this emergent historiography, eighteenth-century England was far from the increasingly secular, “modern” society she had until recently seemed to be. in the controversial work of Jonathan Clark, eighteenth-century England was polemically redescribed as an ancien régime, supported by the triple pillars of monarchy, aristocracy, and church. in this . . .

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