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British Literature of the 1750s

British Literature of the 1750s

This course will be intensely focused on the middle decade of the eighteenth century. Following the fall of Walpole in the early 1740s, the satiric project which had occupied writers since the 1720s (that is, undermining the Walpole administration) had yielded to different uncertainties. In 1745, Jacobite forces had attempted to unseat the Hanoverian regime; they were defeated at the battle of Culloden. The event, however, ushered in anxieties about the direction of the country's governance and ambitions. Some of these anxieties found direct expression in literary focus on the theme of leadership, while some were manifested in nationalistic projects (such as Samuel Johnsons' Dictionary of the English Language). A certain melancholia also began to emerge, in the poetry of Thomas Gray and Edward Young,for example. Moral and religious expression became more somber, in some cases (Johnson's Rambler essays, for example) or more personal and passionate in other cases (the writings and preaching of John Wesley). Culture wars were (as always in this period) intense--and often quite hilarious.

The course will begin in the year 1749, with Henry Fielding's novel Tom Jones and Samuel Johnson's "Vanity of Human Wishes" (published in the same year.) From that point, the course will progress chronologically, with examples from each year of the decade. We will conclude with the 1759 publication of vols. 1 and 2 of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy.

Some possibilities for course readings follow; I will revise this description when I make my final decision:

1750 selections from Johnson's The Rambler; Charlotte Lennox's Life of Harriot Stuart; Edward Young's Night Thoughts

1751 Francis Coventry's Pompey the Little, Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

1752 Samuel Foote, Taste (a comedy in 2 acts)

1753 Christopher Smart from the Hilliad 

1754 Sarah Fielding and Jane Collier The Cry; John Duncombe, The Feminead, or Female Genius

1755 Henry Fielding, Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon; Charles Wesley letter to John Wesley

1756 John Home, Douglas; Children’s versions of Pamela, Clarissa, Sir Charles Grandison; John Wesley address to the clergy

1757 Edmund Burke, Philosophical Enquiry into . . . the Sublime and the Beautiful; John Wesley, Doctrine of Original Sin; Fememiad (answer to 1754)

1758 Horace Walpole, "Dialogue between two great ladies," James Macpherson "The Highlander"

1759 Johnson, Rasselas; Lauence Sterne, Vols 1-2 Tristram Shandy; Edward Young "Thoughts on Original Composition"

 Students will write three short essays (4 pages each), weekly ELC postings, and a final paper of 10-12 pages.