18th-Century British Literature and Culture: Literature of Nation and Empire
How did the beginnings and slow growth of the British Empire transform literature? How did English literature engage with empire? This class will respond to these questions by exploring the voracious internationalism of English writers in the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They derived great inspiration from places and histories outside of England and the British Isles. Indeed, the ideal of a national literature—its themes and formal innovations, its models of English culture, politics, and ethics—emerged from overlapping international and domestic concerns. Literary texts engaged with the expansion of British commercial power and colonial territories across the oceans, and with interconnected changes at home. We will also think about the critical methods that offer the most rewarding readings of these texts 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, The Conquest of Granada; Behn, The Rover, Pope, The Rape of the Lock; Defoe, 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.
Assignments will take the form of a class presentation, a short essay and a longer final project.