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Space, limitation and the perception of female selfhood in Samuel Richardson’s Pamela

This chapter aims at mapping the female self represented in Samuel Richardson’s first epistolary novel by investigating a possible correlation of spatial situatedness and emotional condition. The changing inside/outside setting, which for Pamela has received little critical attention, reflects the different emotional states of the heroine. In four central scenes the expression of the passions, considered essential for the female self, manifests itself outside the house, whereas its memorising representation – which in the early editions is strikingly indeterminate as to Pamela’s own sensations – transpires inside the closet. Her emotional outbursts occur in the spaciousness and proximity of nature, where she is overwhelmed by sentiment. Similarly, Mr B.’s advances, his confession of love and the marriage proposal take place in a peripatetic outdoor situation: physical movement becomes vital where change is envisaged. Pamela addresses a young woman’s struggle for the acknowledgement of her identity, which she performs and insists on; but while restraint and withdrawal prevail in her conduct the moments of agitation and demonstrative emotionality come to pass during the breakouts from her ‘shell’ or ‘confinement’. The issues addressed also show that the novelistic contention and philosophical debate about ‘individual’ and ‘identity’ are equally topical in Britain around 1740.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century
Burke’s poetic (Miltonic) reading of the sublime

In the eighteenth century, the aesthetic quality of the sublime was discussed and thematised by various authors who focused on the relation between the human and the divine, emphasising the creative power of imagination in the aisthesis of the sublime experience. It seems that the interpretation of the sublime displays the limits of the human mind, while also speaking of the possibility of transgressing those limits either in the imaginative functioning or the bodily experience. This chapter, after a thorough introduction, focuses on Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Although the Lockean ‘clear and distinct’ ideas greatly influenced Burke in his philosophical argumentation, John Milton’s poetic impact is emphatically displayed in the ‘dark and obscure’ rhetoric of the work. Discussing the Miltonic obscurity, Burke is able to provide a complex sense not only to the concept but also to the self since he lays special emphasis on the importance of writing the self and reading – the writing and the reading self.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century

This volume of twelve essays, preceded by an introduction that succinctly frames the problematic and history of the notion of the ‘self’, examines the various ways the ‘self’ was perceived, fashioned and written in the course of the long eighteenth century in Great Britain. It highlights, in particular, the interface between literature and philosophy. The chapters include discussion of philosophers such as Locke, Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Hume, Hutcheson and Smith, churchmen such as Isaac Barrow and John Tillotson, the novelists Eliza Haywood, Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne, the poets Anne Killigrew, Alexander Pope, William Blake and William Wordsworth, the writers and sometime diarists Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, and the radical writer Sampson Perry.

The originality of the studies lies in their focus on the varied ways of seeing and saying the self, and what Locke called personal identity. They foreground the advent of a recognisably modern, individualistic and ‘sustainable’ self, which, still today, remains plural and enigmatic. The book should appeal to a wide public, both undergraduate and graduate students working in Literature and the Humanities, in particular those interested in the Enlightenment period, as well as researchers and the general public interested in questions related to identity and consciousness and their formulation in the past and present.

The volume follows a chronological narrative which surveys the intriguing and protean nature of the ‘self’ from varied perspectives and as expressed in different genres. It assembles contributions from both confirmed and young researchers from Britain, Europe and the United States.

David Matthews explores how Caxton’s awareness of linguistic change informed his editing methods. Caxton’s editing of Trevisa's translation of Higden’s Polychronicon, for example, shows a distinct diachronic consciousness and a desire to forge something new out of Trevisa's ‘old’ English. This stands in contrast to his more deferential treatment of Chaucer. Matthews thus differentiates between philology as a tool for understanding another language and as an editorial practice focused on rendering texts transparent.

in Contemporary Chaucer across the centuries

Andrew Lynch recuperates an overlooked aspect of Chaucerian reception in the nineteenth century: Chaucer’s Catholicism. By the nineteenth century, to be Catholic meant to be un-English, even unpatriotic. Lynch reviews the different strategies employed by literary critics to dilute the idea of Chaucer as a Catholic believer. Chaucer’s Catholicism was subjected to processes of infantilisation in order to promote his status as the father of English poetry.

in Contemporary Chaucer across the centuries

Ruth Evans explores the under-recognised but striking use of rhyme-breaking in Chaucer’s poetry, present in the Canterbury Tales, the Book of the Duchess, the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde. Evans draws upon a recent resurgence of critical interest in the politics of form to argue that Chaucerian rhyme-breaking warrants closer attention not only for its ironic effect, but also for its potential to illuminate Chaucer’s position within the multilingual context of late-medieval England.

in Contemporary Chaucer across the centuries
Essays for Stephanie Trigg

For 700 years, Geoffrey Chaucer has spoken to scholars and amateurs alike. How does his work speak to us in the twenty-first century? This volume provides a unique vantage point for responding to this question, furnished by the pioneering scholar of medieval literary studies, Stephanie Trigg: the symptomatic long history. While Trigg's signature methodological framework acts as a springboard for the vibrant conversation that characterises this collection, each chapter offers an inspiring extension of her scholarly insights. The varied perspectives of the outstanding contributors attest to the vibrancy and the advancement of debates in Chaucer studies: thus, formerly rigid demarcations surrounding medieval literary studies, particularly those concerned with Chaucer, yield in these essays to a fluid interplay between Chaucer within his medieval context; medievalism and ‘reception’; the rigours of scholarly research and the recognition of amateur engagement with the past; the significance of the history of emotions; and the relationship of textuality with subjectivity according to their social and ecological context. Each chapter produces a distinctive and often startling interpretation of Chaucer that broadens our understanding of the dynamic relationship between the medieval past and its ongoing re-evaluation. The inventive strategies and methodologies employed in this volume by leading thinkers in medieval literary criticism will stimulate exciting and timely insights for researchers and students of Chaucer, medievalism, medieval studies, and the history of emotions, especially those interested in the relationship between medieval literature, the intervening centuries and contemporary cultural change.

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‘Snail-horn perception’ in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde

Elizabeth Robertson brings together Keats’s ‘snail-horn perception’ with medieval theory of the senses, especially optics, and medieval theology, to analyse the first tenuous encounters between Troilus and Criseyde. During their sensually-charged optical exchanges, both physiological and psychological processes are at work to create great emotional force in the text and impact on the text’s readers.

in Contemporary Chaucer across the centuries
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William Morris’s News from Nowhere and Chaucer’s dream visions

John Ganim unpacks William Morris’s eroticised but anxious politics in News from Nowhere. Ganim highlights the significance of the emotional attachment to environment in the formulation of Morris’s utopia. He also considers the enabling influence of the medieval dream vision, especially Chaucer’s, for promoting ‘psychological experience and fantasy’. Both themes illuminate Morris’s conflicted approach to subjects that caused him discomfort due to his perverse familial situation.

in Contemporary Chaucer across the centuries
Chaucer in the nineteenth-century popular consciousness

Stephen Knight offers an array of new material from nineteenth-century media (newspapers and magazines) made accessible by the digitisation of archival records. Knight showcases extraordinary examples of extra-canonical Chaucer reception that highlight the emerging literary proclivities of the reading public, and the interest of nineteenth-century editors in re-presenting Chaucer’s works to larger audiences and targeting specific groups: women, children, the well-read. These newly available sources open up avenues for further enquiry into the roots of modern medievalism.

in Contemporary Chaucer across the centuries