This seminar will examine the following questions: did a voracious internationalism define the world—and the thematic concerns and formal conventions—of English writers in the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? Did writers extend the engagement of early modern writing with places and histories outside of England and even the British Isles? Does the ideal of a national literature—its representational concerns, its models of English culture, politics, and ethical subjectivities—emerge from such international and intra-provincial concerns? How do literary texts engage with the expansion of British commercial power and colonial territories across the oceans, and with the changes attendant upon such expansion within Britain? How do we best develop the critical methods that offer the most rewarding readings of these texts (and even of the historical archive) in the century in which “Great Britain” came into being as a political entity and as a claim on the world?
Our texts will be chosen from a list that ranges from writing in the 1660s to that produced over a century later: Dryden (his heroic drama The Conquest of Granada); Behn (The Rover and Oroonoko), Pope (Windsor Forest and The Rape of the Lock); Defoe (Journal of the Plague Year and Robinson Crusoe); Lillo (The London Merchant); Gay (The Beggar's Opera); poems by Goldsmith and Crabbe that debate changes in the countryside, enclosure, and depopulation; Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent, and some anti-slavery poems written late in the century.
We will also read critical essays on the text under consideration or on issues important to the literary and cultural history of the period in order to alert ourselves to the different critical vocabularies and methods that have revitalized interest in "the long eighteenth century" in Britain.