Literature, Commerce, and the Spectacle of Modernity, by Paul Keen

By Paul Keen

Paul willing explores how a shopper revolution which reached its top within the moment 1/2 the eighteenth century formed debates concerning the position of literature in a well mannered sleek kingdom, and tells the tale of the resourcefulness with which many writers answered to those pressures. From dream reveries which mocked their very own entrepreneurial commitments, reminiscent of Oliver Goldsmith's account of promoting his paintings at a 'Fashion reasonable' at the frozen Thames, to the Microcosm's mock plan to set up 'a authorized warehouse for wit,' writers insistently tied their literary achievements to a cosmopolitan knowing of the doubtful complexities of a latest transnational society. This booklet combines a brand new realizing of overdue eighteenth-century literature with the materialist and sociological imperatives of publication background and theoretically inflected methods to cultural background.

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The Microcosm’s plan to establish “a l ic e ns e d wa r e hous e f or w i t ” with a “Patent” for selling “Jokes, Jests, Witticisms, Morceaus, and Bon-Mots of every kind,” as well as a full range of “names and titles” for novels in “the most fashionable and approved patterns” (1787: 1: 92, 2: 73), or the proposal in the Connoisseur, to convert “the now useless theatre in Lincolns Inn Fields” into “a L i t e r a r y R e g i s t e r- O f f ic e … a mart for the staple commodities of the literary commonwealth,” which would be staffed by authors “who will be employed from time to time in supplying the public with the requisite manufactures,” were animated by a tone of ironic celebration rather than satirical denunciation (3: 188).

As Emma Clery notes, it was J. G. A. Pocock’s analysis of these changes which first highlighted the central role of gender in me­diating tensions between the inherited discourse of civic humanism and the impact of commerce. As Pocock argued: Economic man as masculine conquering hero is a fantasy of nineteenth-century industrialisation (the Communist Manifesto is of course one classic example). His eighteenth-century predecessor was seen as on the whole a feminised, even an effeminate being, still wrestling with his own passions and hysterias and with interior and exterior forces let loose by his fantasies and appetites.

Warning yet again about the dangers of “swindlers of literary reputation,” he insisted that “[c]ounterfeit coin ought to be cried down and stopt in its circulation, lest they who, in the honesty of their hearts, take it as lawful currency, should suffer a loss which they have not merited” (Winter 1785: 2: 120, 1: 221, 3: 248, 3: 252). Adopting the same metaphor, the Monthly declared that “the literary state, like the political, depends much on proper currency,” but this more hybrid model which fused intrinsic and symbolic value (real versus fake bills and coins) assumed rather than explained how the consensus which ought to underpin this currency was to be realized (1777: 56: 133).

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