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SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900
Rice University MS-46
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Robert S. Newman
Abstract: Critics usually argue that Dryden's heroic plays are mainstream epicromances; unfortunately this view makes the plays much too solemn and distorts literary history: Aureng-Zebe comes at the end of the epic tradition, not the beginning, and implies that heroic traditions either do not quite match un-heroic men or that heroes are sometimes inefficacious in their idealistic do-or-die postures. (To be sure, Dryden does suggest that certain aspects of the heroic ethos represent true values in chaotic societies.) This comic or satiric thesis has been advanced by some critics, but in an overstated form and without attention to methodology. Dryden's heroic plays are not merely comic fancies (Jefferson) nor simple satires of egoistic heroism (King) but rather ironic works which at once affirm and deny particular aspects of the heroic ethos. This ironic and mixed quality can however be demonstrated only by the use of methods, heretofore slighted, which reveal ironic plot structures, mixtures of mode, and contrasts, shifts, qualifications, and progressions of tone. Use of such methods should help answer critics who see no comedy in heroic drama, refine upon the satiric thesis of yet other critics, and demonstrate generally Dryden's hopeful yet skeptical attitude towards idealized love and honor.
Ronald Berman
Abstract: The poetry of Waller is very much present in The Man of Mode, being invoked at appropriate moments by the hero, Dorimant. The purpose of these invocations is to supply a context for the play's action. Waller established for the Restoration an ideal of heroic love which Etherege felt it necessary to criticize; his libertine hero uses Waller to emphasize the materialism of his own sensual life and to discredit the idea that ideal love is an alternative for men and women of the Restoration. Having discarded the example of faithful and romantic love to be found in Waller's lyrics, Dorimant finds himself at a loss to comprehend his relationship with Harriet; it is neither sensual nor, in the worst sense of the term, "passionate." The two intentionally discard the older and conventional ways of expressing love, and attempt to avoid the mere sensuality that was the Restoration model for affairs of the heart.
Joseph M. Gilde
Abstract: The primary target of satire in The Virtuoso is not—as previous commentators have supposed—the experimental scientists of the Royal Society. On the contrary Sir Nicholas Gimcrack and Sir Formal Trifle, Shadwell's two major fools, exhibit specific follies which are best understood in the light of Royal Society strictures against false science and elaborate rhetoric. The Society's position that no scientific inquiry is valid unless it serves a utilitarian end is opposed to Sir Nicholas's conviction that the practical application to be derived from scientific experiments is irrelevant and that knowledge is an end in itself. Moreover the fact that Sprat and others connected with the Society were contemptuous of such pretenders to knowledge as the Rosicrucians and the alchemists illuminates another of Sir Nicholas's predominant follies—his confusion of scientific with non-scientific data. Similarly, the Society's insistence that language should be a utilitarian vehicle in the service of reason and scientific pursuit sheds valuable light on Sir Formal Trifle for whom the practice of oratory is an end in itself. Thus the Royal Society, far from being the object of the play's satire, provides a standard for judging the follies of the two principal fools.
John G. Hayman
Abstract: In his explicit concern with literary personae and in his use of such personae, Shaftesbury displays his preoccupation with both the formulation of a correct character in society and the arrangement of proper modes of literary discourse. In Letter concerning Enthusiasm (1708) and Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour (1709), he directly embodied within his pose as a letter-writer the social manner that he consistently recommended; urbanity and a well-mannered raillery are the vehicles for an underlying seriousness of concern. But in some of his later treatises, a specialized persona is created. In Soliloquy: or Advice to an Author (1710), he adopted the socratic pose of a "language master or logician," and in this guise he recommended the discipline of "inward colloquy" (or self-examination). And in Miscellaneous Reflections (1711), his most sustained and successful attempt at creating a persona, the guise of a miscellany writer enabled Shaftesbury both to satirize the miscellany mode and to take advantage of its loose organization and varying moods. In this satiric use of a persona, Shaftesbury may be related to Swift—most specifically, to Tale of a Tub. But Shaftesbury was uneasy about such satire. Essentially, he seems, like Pope, to have aimed for a character that would embody flexibility and composure, off-hand grace and penetration. His complex aims and varying devices distinguish him as a deliberate artist, and they also illuminate some of the parallel concerns of Pope and Swift.
William Bowman Piper
Abstract: The conversational poems of Pope provide a broad range of examples of Augustan common sense. The earliest of Pope's conversational poems, An Essay on Criticism, presents us with the easiest, the most fully achieved, and in consequence the least dynamic example. In those poems Pope composed between 1730 and 1738, during which period he wrote almost nothing but conversational poetry, we find a remarkably developing style, a remarkably deepening sense of the problems and perils involved in rendering serious public topics in a broadly ingratiating way, in formulating such topics as the character of women, the uses of riches, and the nature of fame, for example, so that a whole society can be convinced to agree and approve. The best poems of these years are tremendously lively essays in conversation, tremendously dynamic exercises in common sense. Pope's last conversational poem, Epilogue to the Satires, an essentially explosive work, reveals a terrible gulf between an honest speaker and the hypocritical society he inhabits, a gulf which all the speaker's politeness and all his dedication to the best ideals of society cannot repair. All these conversational poems, taken as a group, give dramatic illustrations of the possibilities and the limitations of public discourse.
Gerard A. Barker
Abstract: Basic differences between the first and third editions of Clarissa indicate that Richardson made fundamental changes in the novel's design. In the original work, Clarissa comes to love Lovelace, though she remains unconscious of it until his mock illness forces her to recognize her passion in all its intensity. In the third edition, Richardson, stung by repeated charges that his heroine behaves prudishly towards the man she supposedly loves, came to deny that Clarissa had ever felt more than a "liking" for Lovelace. To make the novel conform to this new interpretation, he interpolated two key passages designed to suggest that Clarissa is able to subdue her feelings once she recognizes them. But such a change places undue emphasis upon Clarissa's ensuing struggle with Lovelace while undermining her conflict with herself. Clarissa's sense of guilt and self-contempt after the rape seem, in fact, inordinate and prudish once her creator had disclaimed her love for her persecutor. Ironically, then, Richardson's very efforts to protect his heroine's exemplary status had served to subvert it.
W. B. Carnochan
Abstract: The passage in the Preface to Shakespeare that builds up to and closes with the image of "the adamant of Shakespeare" depends on a dialectical process of reconciliation. Pre-Newtonian and Newtonian theories are evoked metaphorically and reconciled. Dualisms like that of form and content are overcome as the distinction between primary and secondary qualities is effaced. In the adamant, representing unity, permanence, and the affective powers of art, the synthesis becomes explicit and complete.
Leo Braudy
Abstract: The biographer and the linguistic historian dismantle Johnson's Preface according to their individual notions of what is most important. But Johnson's fusion of his linguistic interests with an autobiographical account of his difficulties in making the Dictionary is not merely gratuitous. The need to fix the language—Johnson's so-called "linguistic authoritarianism"—is closely bound to his increasingly acute sense of human mortality and fallibility. In Johnson's version of the poet's claim to bestow immortality through verse, it is language itself that may be the one human creation that can outlast the transience of all else that is human. Through the words that it defines and the language that it orders, the mind can achieve an immortality that its human nature otherwise denies. It is Johnson's double sense of the creative authority of the Dictionary and the human weakness of its creator that gives his Preface its compelling power.
Maxine Turnage, Edmund Spenser
Abstract: Johnson's adverse criticism of Edmund Spenser's work may be understood not only as an extension of his disaffection for the pastoral and for Italianate versification, but also as a result of his work on the Dictionary. Because Spenser's works were useful to Johnson in providing examples of archaic and obsolete words, he concentrated primarily on Spenser's early works, in which the highly contrived and artificial diction is more common than in later and better works. Editorial comment in the Dictionary reveals a steadily growing dissatisfaction with Spenser's linguistic eccentricities.
Mary Margaret Stewart
Abstract: Through an examination of records in Chichester, London, and Richmond, we can now refute P. L. Carver's conclusions concerning William Collins's paternal grandmother, Moy Thomas's report concerning John Caryll's purchase of hats from Collins's father, and the reliability of John Ragsdale's information concerning Collins and his family. Parish records establish that William Collins's grandmother, on his father's side, was Wilmot Duffield, born in Tangmere, Sussex, the daughter of Barnabas and Susan Duffield, both natives of Tangmere, a small village near Chichester. The Account Books of the Caryll family in the British Museum substantiate Moy Thomas's statement that Pope's friend John Caryll bought hats from the poet's father; they also indicate that Collins's mother kept the hat shop open in Chichester after her husband's death. Rate books for Westminster show that John Ragsdale, a goldsmith on New Bond Street while Collins was in London, lived very near George Payne, Collins's cousin, and Sir Harry Burrard, two excellent sources of information concerning the Collins family; Chichester Town Council records and Cackham Manor minutes give support to Ragsdale's remarks concerning the Collins family's financial affairs.
Ruth Marie Faurot
Abstract: Mrs. Shandy, dismissed by critics as passive, phlegmatic, vegetal, proves to have worked out in the predominantly male household a positive way of frustrating that shows her as many-faceted as the prominent members of Shandy Hall. Sterne reveals her personality by dramatic scenes in which we observe objectively her actions; dramatic scenes followed by Tristram's commentary; numerous reported incidents or facts from Uncle Toby's accounts or from Tristram's memorial reconstruction. The dramatic scenes show Mrs. Shandy endowed with an active curiosity. Mrs. Shandy's long suit, however, is to frustrate Walter Shandy's attempts to argue. Though Tristram describes her as temperate of blood, accounts by Uncle Toby, Walter, Susannah, show that Mrs. Shandy fumes, has hysterics, and laughs and cries in a breath. Possibly Sterne intends us to realize that Tristram's splenetic remarks about his mother reveal a kinship of temperament between mother and son which we recognize though the son may not. Certainly details given of Mrs. Shandy suggest rather than a placid, meek wife, an early practitioner of oneupmanship that must be reckoned with at Shandy Hall.
Melvyn New
Abstract: Laurence Sterne's use of time and duration in Tristram Shandy is best explained in the context of eighteenth-century microscopic investigations. His "Fragment Inédit," first published by Stapfer in 1870, demonstrates his interest in the mutability of nature; and as typical a compendium of microscopic theory as Henry Baker's The Microscope Made Easy suggests how the seemingly disparate subjects of the homunculus, duration and the mutability of nature were all related aspects of the same topic for the eighteenth-century writer. For Sterne and Baker both, the new awareness of the relativity of size suggested the relativity of time—the microscopic creature could well live a lifetime in a duration relative to its size. This awareness in turn was used to remind man of his limited duration—a limit which Tristram refuses to acknowledge in the writing of Tristram Shandy. As did the Augustans, however, Sterne converted the findings of science into moral and theological concepts, and for him the microscopic and telescopic wonders which he discusses in the "Fragment Inédit" are a reminder of the fragility and fugacity of all life, evidence of the power of God and the weakness of man. Sterne brings Tristram to an awareness of this in the last volume of Tristram Shandy where the game with time is surrendered with the acknowledgment that "Time wastes too fast... —Heaven have mercy upon us both!"
Marshall Waingrow

©William Marsh Rice University 1970