Showing posts with label eighteenth century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label eighteenth century. Show all posts

Sunday, 4 October 2015

'To Autumn' - John Keats

‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;’
(lines 1-4)
‘To Autumn’
John Keats
(written 1819)
It’s a poem often quoted around this time of year, and it’s not hard to see why.  Right from its first few lines, Keats’ glorious ode ‘To Autumn’ epitomises everything that is so wonderful about the season, not just the misty days and glowing fruit but also the sense of warm friendship inherent in the cultivation and distribution of harvest bounty. 
The poem is divided into three stanzas (posh term for ‘verses’), and, to me, this has always seemed to reflect the three distinct phases through which a British autumn appears to pass.  First there is the abundance of life, the almost celebratory culmination of the year’s growth, exemplified here through the sun ‘budding more, / And still more, later flowers for the bees, / Until they think warm days will never cease’ (lines 8-10). 
Just because I thought this needed some autumn leaves...
Photo taken at Ness Gardens, 21/9/2013, © C.J. Readioff
In the second stanza, it is the drowsy rest after activity that is depicted and celebrated.  When I first read this poem (many years ago now!), this section actually rather confused me, but the clue is in the opening rhetorical question: ‘Who hath not seen thee oft amidst thy store?’ (line 12).  The ‘thee’ here addresses autumn as if it were an individual capable of joining in a conversation; yet this also slides neatly into the next ‘thee’ which refers to a farm worker ‘sitting careless on a granary floor’ (line 14), exhausted after bringing in the harvest.  Essentially, what Keats is suggesting is that the spirit of autumn is embodied and personified by characters such as the tired harvester lying ‘on a half-reaped furrow, sound asleep’ (line 16).
The final stanza shifts the tone still further.  This is the end of autumn now, and there is a definite sense that winter is just around the corner.  The images created now are bleaker, as ‘full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn’, and the ‘gathering swallows twitter in the skies’, ready for their seasonal migration to sunnier climbs (lines 30 & 33).  Indeed, it is perhaps this sense of departure more than anything else that contributes towards the commonly held view that this poem is, at least to some extent a metaphor for the progression of life.  The Encyclopaedia Britannica entry claims that ‘the question of transience is hardly raised’, yet for me it is actually the transience of life and the unstoppable continuum of the seasons which Keats celebrates here.  The sense of passing time is subtle, but it is there.  The bees ‘think warm days will never cease’; it is the poignantly reflective ‘think’ that is important here.  This transience is not necessarily a bad thing however, as he writes: ‘Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? / Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-’ (lines 23-4).
To me, this is one of the most beautiful and perfect poems in the English language.  Autumn has always been my favorite season – a time of new beginnings (academically speaking), and of plotting new projects for the winter, a time of cosying into warm woolly jumpers and of crunching through heaps of brown-gold leaves.  The beauty of Keats’ poem is that it remains understated, and thus simply yet powerfully creates a succession of images that effectively   encapsulate the natural environment of the season, and thus everything that really makes autumn. 
You can find this poem: -
(a free online version of the text at Poetry Foundation!)
(an Oxford World’s Classics anthology of some of Keats’ best loved poetry; if, like me, you don’t want to stop at Autumn, this is the book for you!)
N.B. ‘To Autumn’ is a poem of such profound fame that it is frequently reproduced in popular poetry anthologies.  If you have any collections of ‘nation’s best-loved poems’ lurking on your bookshelves, have a root around: you’ll probably find this one tucked away somewhere!
You can find out more about Keats:
(a fascinating biography of Keats’ sadly short life; Encyclopaedia Britannica looks a lot like Wikipedia in layout, but is more accurate, and also sounds more intellectual in dinner conversation!)
(the website of the house in Rome where Keats died in 1821, which is now a museum; if you are lucky enough to be going to Rome anytime soon, this looks as if it would be very much worth having a look at)
(the website of the Keats-Shelley association)

Friday, 10 July 2015

'Evelina' - Frances (Fanny) Burney

‘This moment arrived.  Just going to Drury-Lane theatre.   The celebrated Mr. Garrick performs Ranger.  I am quite in extacy.  So is Miss Mirvan.  How fortunate, that he should happen to play!  We would not let Mrs. Mirvan rest till she consented to go; her chief objection was to our dress, for we have had no time to Londonize ourselves; but we teized her into compliance, and so we are to sit in some obscure place, that she may not be seen.  As to me, I should be alike unknown in the most conspicuous or most private part of the house.
   I can write no more now.  I have hardly time to breathe – only just this, the houses and streets are not quite so superb as I expected.  However, I have seen nothing yet, so I ought not to judge.’
(from Letter X)

Evelina or The History a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World

Frances (Fanny) Burney

A mother abandoned by her husband; a paternity dispute; a child brought up by a foster carer; a quest for identity as the child becomes a young woman; her struggle to assert her own worth amidst a crowd of embarrassing relatives.  All sounds like it could be from a modern-day TV drama, doesn’t it?  In fact, all these elements combine within Frances Burney’s first (and in my opinion best) novel Evelina, or The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World.   

One of Hugh Thomson's superb illustrations
from a 1903 publication of the novel.
Written in the form of an exchange of letters (technically known as an epistolary novel), there is an immediacy to the story that simply leaps off the page.  The quotation I have included for today’s header is a good example of this: the events of the story are not simply narrated to the reader.  Rather, we get to live the events with the heroine, the Evelina of the title (the technical term for this is the eponymous heroine; a useful word with which to dazzle people at parties and pub quizzes).  It’s a bit like having an eighteenth-century pen-pal.  Evelina is an extremely easy person with whom to empathise: keen for adventure, longing to sample life in the big city, yet inexperienced and thus often getting things a little bit wrong.  Kind, intelligent, sensitive, and always trying to do the right thing, she is continually caught up in the ludicrous, pretentious, and sometimes downright dangerous behaviour of relatives whom it is socially impossible for her to avoid; it is perhaps this more than anything else that sweeps you up into the story, making you cheer for her every success, and wince with her at every unintentional faux pas.

Characters’ reactions may occasionally seem a little overblown (there is one point later on in the book where there is a lot of bursting into tears and dropping onto knees in a context that, perhaps surprisingly, has absolutely nothing to do with marriage proposals).  The only thing I can say about this is just to remember that the book was written at a time when sentimentality was a highly prized attribute.  If Evelina seems a little susceptible to what might today seem rather theatrical displays of emotion in one or two places, it is only eighteenth-century code for her general worth as a character. 

One of the most vibrant and engaging of eighteenth-century novels, this is a book that deserves to be savoured and enjoyed.  It is the story of a young woman’s entrance into the world, into life, into love, and it is the story of her quest for a sense of identity and of belonging. 

Happy reading!! And, as always, feel free to ask questions  in comments!  

You can find this book:

(this is a free edition of the text, and thus a quick, economical way of reading it!  A word of caution though: readers unfamiliar with some eighteenth-century words and phrases might enjoy enhanced reading pleasure by obtaining an edition of the text that has helpful annotations to explain unusual or archaic terms)

 Free editions may be available for Kindle, also a great way of accessing a text or taking it with you on the bus; just be aware that such editions might not have had the benefit of proper editorial production and thus may contain errors and spelling mistakes. 

(Oxford World Classics edition! I am slightly biased in recommending this, as it is the edition that I first read the novel from in my early teens.  It is full of really useful explanatory notes and so is a great way to read this story.  As this book frequently occurs on students’ reading lists, there is a plentiful supply of economically priced second-hand copies continually available from reputable second-hand dealers.)

(Penguin Classics edition!  This does have a snazzy cover, but I can’t see anything online about whether it has any explanatory notes.  Worth checking before purchase: I cannot overstate the importance of a healthy scattering of notes when first approaching a text like this!)

About the Author:
France Burney, painted by her cousin Edward
Francesco Burney.  This is the most popular,
and frequently reproduced, portrait of Burney.
This image was, er, 'borrowed' from Wikipedia.
Frances (Fanny) Burney had a long and enormously fascinating life; indeed, to try and condense this into one neat paragraph has been one of the greatest challenges of this blogpost.  The daughter of the musician Charles Burney, Frances was a personal friend of countless major eighteenth-century figures, including the actor David Garrick and Dr Samuel Johnson (the author of the subject of a previous blogpost, ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’).  Later, in 1786, she became the second keeper of the robes to Queen Charlotte, a post which she greatly disliked and which she was very glad to leave in 1791.  In 1793 (aged 41) Frances married Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard D’Arblay, a French émigré who had escaped to Britain in the wake of the French Revolution; they had one son, who died in 1837.  When Frances Burney died in 1840, she left behind a copious wealth of literary material, including an extensive collection of letters exchanged with some of the most prominent figures of the eighteenth-century, and also four major published novels, of which Evelina is the first. 

You can find out more about Frances Burney:

(Encyclopædia Britannica: kind of like a more sophisticated version of Wikipedia.  Do try and follow up the little blue links to other eighteenth-century figures, such as the wonderful David Garrick: it can lead you round an absorbing who’s who of eighteenth-century society)

(this is an engaging radio programme aired this year; I don’t want to sound like I’m namedropping or anything, but I have actually been fortunate enough to make acquaintance with two of the guests on the programme, Dr Nicole Pohl and Prof. Judith Hawley, and was impressed by their friendliness, enthusiasm and kind encouragement!  If you have a spare forty minutes, this programme is definitely worth a listen!) 

(Claire Harman’s Fanny Burney: A biography.  Apologies for only giving a link to this on Amazon: it is available at numerous other retailers, including independent bookstores!)

Information for this blogpost was taken from the following resource:
Pat Rogers, ‘Burney, Frances (1752-1840)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2015 [accessed 9 July 2015]
(unfortunately, access to this resource is by subscription only)  

Monday, 6 July 2015

'Soliloquy on an Empty Purse' - Mary Jones

‘Like wax thy silver melted down,
Touch but the brass, and lo! ‘twas gone:
And gold would never with thee stay,
For gold had wings, and flew away.’

Soliloquy on an Empty Purse

Mary Jones
published 1750 in Miscellanies in Prose and Verse

I read this poem a few weeks ago and I have to admit I fell in love with it at once.  It might have been written over two hundred and fifty years ago, but the subject is one that remains poignantly relevant: money, and the lack of it.  By addressing the ‘Empty Purse’ of the title as if it was an actual character (a technique known as personification), Jones is able to diminish the sense of a lonely poverty.  This then contributes to the ultimately positive tone of the whole poem, in which she optimistically looks for the good in her situation.  Now, she realises, she is safe ‘Amidst temptations thick and strong’, and from those who would want to abstract her money, namely the imagined ‘pick-purse’ and ingratiating ‘flatterer’ to which she refers.

There are a couple of unusual words in the poem which it might be helpful to have clarified before reading.  The word ‘disembogue’ means to ‘emerge or be discharged in quantity’; in the poem this refers to the constant emergence of money from the purse (eventually leaving it empty).   ‘Prorogue’ means to discontinue or interrupt something.  Thus Jones writes to the purse that:

‘Yet used so oft to disembogue,
No prudence could thy fate prorogue.’

In other words, the purse is so used to pouring out its wealth that no prudence on her part could have prevented its ultimate, sad fate of emptiness.

 The final image with which she consoles herself is simply masterful with its employment of the traditional image of the poet/artist figure starving in a garret:

Two eighteenth century purses; I found this image on Pinterest,
but I believe it originally derives from a listing on Christies website.
The Pinterest page is here:

'For who a poet’s purse will rob?
And softly sweet in garret high
Will I thy [the purse’s] virtues magnify;
Outsoaring flatterers’ stinking breath,
And gently rhyming rats to death.’

Samuel Johnson (author of the subject of a previous blogpost, The Vanity of Human Wishes, and a tremendously important figure in the eighteenth-century literary scene) approvingly described Mary Jones as ‘The Chantress’. Whether he meant this in terms of poetic ‘chanting’ or as an ‘enchantress’, or both, is perhaps open to debate; what is certain, however, is that this poem is pure eighteenth-century magic.

About today’s author:
Mary Jones would seem to have had a fairly ordinary background.  Born in Oxford in 1707, she lived there all her life, mostly with her brother Revd Oliver Jones (who became senior chaplain of Christ Church College).  The entry for her in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is frustratingly short, and notes that ‘Information on Jones’s life is mostly drawn from her Miscellanies in Prose and Verse’.  Roger Lonsdale (one of the true greats of eighteenth-century literary scholarship) describes Jones as ‘one of the most intelligent and amusing women writers of her period’, a claim more than justified by today’s poem.

You can find this poem:

(a free copy available from the Poetry Foundation)

Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-century women poets: an Oxford anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, new edn. 1990)
(This looks to be an enormously absorbing read: I went looking for its publishing details for the reference here and ended up buying a (delightfully economical second-hand) copy)

Some more of Mary Jones’s poetry has been published in this volume:
(a brand new copy of this book might be a little on the pricey side for modest budgets, but fortunately its incorporation on university reading lists means that there is usually a ready supply of substantially cheaper second-hand copies available from reputable dealers)

You can find out more about Mary Jones:

(this looks to be an enormously absorbing book, and when my own purse is a little less empty I might have to go shopping… In the meantime, this free preview on googlebooks gives access to much of the chapter on Mary Jones)
(not forgetting the ever useful Wikipedia)
(This has nothing to do with Mary Jones, but if you are on Pinterst these eighteenth century purses are well worth looking at.  It should always be kept in mind, though, that it is typically more elaborate/expensive objects that survive through history; the poet’s purse about which Mary Jones writes would probably have been somewhat less glamorous)

Information for this blogpost was derived from these sources:

Richard Greene, & Revd William R. Jones, ‘Jones, Mary (1707-1778)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press 2004-15.  [accessed 3/7/2015]

Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-century women poets: an Oxford anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, new edn. 1990)
Oxford Dictionaries Online
(a smaller, but free, version of the Oxford English Dictionary; a very useful resource!)

Lorna Sage, Germaine Greer, & Elaine Showalter, The Cambridge Guide to Women’s Writing in English (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) p. 356 (the reference to the publication date of her poem)

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner - James Hogg

'I felt a sort of invisible power which drew me towards him, something like the force of enchantment, which I could not resist'

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
James Hogg
(Novel, first published 1824)

Catchy title, huh?  I suspect this book is one of those whose title is probably its worst enemy.  What it sounds like you’re going to get is a lengthy biographical account of a religious devotee.  What you actually get is a weird little story of doppelgangers and devilry, in which murder and mayhem abound, and where two women finally turn detective to uncover the truth. 

It begins, somewhat unconventionally, with a wedding scene in which a disgruntled bride is disgusted with her new husband’s dissipated partying, but quickly takes up the story of their two sons (well at least, there is some scope for debate about the parentage of one of the boys… but I won’t spoil it for you!).  The important thing to know before reading this book is that the ‘Justified Sinner’ of the title refers to an offshoot of Christianity called Antinomianism which adopts the belief that ‘Christians are by grace set free from the need to observe any moral law’ (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ‘antinomianism’ definition).  More simply put, this system states that a person can only gain a place in heaven through faith and the grace of God, and not by earning it through good deeds.  What James Hogg does in his book is to explore a bigoted, extremist version of this idea, in which one man comes to believe that, no matter what crimes he commits, it cannot be morally wrong because he believes he is one of God’s chosen people.

Underlying this is a brilliantly subtle, and typically eighteenth-century, conflict of supernatural vs scientific explanation.  One of my university tutors argued that, despite appearances, it is possible to provide a rational explanation for everything that occurs in the text... but then there are others (myself included) who simply cannot believe that there is not (quite literally) some devilry at work…

One other thing I should mention, when it says ‘Editor’s Narrative’ at the beginning, this is not some tedious explanation of abstract editorial practice, it is actually the start of the story.  As a way of giving the tale an enhanced realism, Hogg creates the character of an editor into whose hands have come the interesting documents in which the story continues.  Kind of a way of writing himself into his own story; neat, eh?
Set in Scotland, much of the action of the narrative occurs in Edinburgh, and as I’ve just got back from a brief visit there I couldn’t resist including a photo of Arthur’s Seat (the scene of an important encounter in this novel, but as I don’t want to give away any spoilers I had better say no more…)

With its emphasis on religious zealotry and the tragic absurdities to which this can lead, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is actually an extremely modern narrative, and a truly absorbing read.  Think Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights is an intriguing character?  Just wait until you meet the elusive Gil-Martin…
Happy reading!  As always, feel free to ask questions in comments!


You can find this book:
Oxford World Classics edition:
(always hugely recommended: these offer just the right balance of historical information to understand the story without intruding on the text too much!)

Edinburgh University Press edition:
(a detailed scholarly edition) 

(an affordable edition, with some explanatory notes; apologies for the commercial bias of referencing Amazon here, this edition is available in various other shops)

All these editions have various quantities of annotation, a useful tool when reading texts this old, and something that I hope to discuss further in future blogposts.  Don’t worry, though, what are known as ‘scholarly editions’ don’t have to cost the earth: check out sites such as Ebay, etc. for second hand copies, as these are often readily available at very economical rates!  Free versions may be available for e-readers, though it should be remembered that such texts have not always been prepared carefully for publication.  I cannot overemphasise the importance of the helpful little notes that a publisher like Penguin or Oxford World Classics would include in illuminating obscure or archaic references!

If you want to know more about James Hogg:
(a useful starting point)

(includes an extensive reading list for those thirsting to know more!)

The James Hogg Society blog:
(contains lots of interesting info)

The quotation in this blogpost is from:
E.A. Livingstone, (ed.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.  Oxford Reference, 2006.  Online version [accessed 15 June 2015]

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

'Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat: Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes' - Thomas Gray

‘The hapless nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
      With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
     What cat’s averse to fish?’
                                                    (lines 19-24)

Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat: Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes
Thomas Gray

In some ways it’s a shocking title: a beloved pet has died in tragic circumstances.  Yet, in typical eighteenth-century style, there is an element of satiric bathos.  It is a poem about death, a tribute to a treasured feline companion; yet it is also an attempt to construct a funny side to an otherwise dismal situation.  Certainly, it would seem to have been an attempt that succeeded: Horace Walpole, the owner of the unfortunate cat, had the first verse of the poem engraved onto a pedestal upon which he displayed the China vase in which his pet had met its end (apparently this is still on display in Walpole’s gothic mansion Strawberry Hill). 

The artist and writer William Blake was commissioned to produce an illustrated edition of Thomas Gray’s poetry; I’ve included one of the illustrations here, because I think it helps to understand the doubling of images in the poem.  What makes it funny is the way that the events are presented with such exaggerated solemnity: the two goldfish are ‘genii of the stream’, while the tragic victim is the ‘hapless nymph’.  The serious aspect of the final moral that ‘all that glisters [is not] gold’ also transforms the incident into a useful life example.  The concept itself is by no means original: Shakespeare includes an almost identical phrase in the play The Merchant of Venice, and, long after Gray’s death, Tolkien incorporated a similar idea into his description of the returning king, Aragorn, in The Lord of the Rings.  Yet the glorious juxtaposition of humour and solemnity that Gray achieves surely makes this the most unique and stunning depiction of this proverb.

Happy reading!
If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section!
Picture: Illustration for Gray's 'Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat,' William Blake, 1798.  The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume C, The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, edited by James Noggle and Lawrence Lipking, p. C.8. (It should be noted, that the original was much better quality than my low-resolution image)
You can find this poem:

A lovely free version of the poem available online!  This site also has a wealth of information surrounding Gray to suit all levels of interest and enthusiasm!

Another free version of the poem available online! if

The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume C, The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, edited by James Noggle and Lawrence Lipking, pp. 3050-3051
If, like me, you prefer a good solid book, this is an excellent place to find the poem! 

For more information about Thomas Gray:

Wikipedia!! Always a good place to start…
A stunning resource!! Don’t be put off by all the talk about scholars and academics: this site is for anyone interested in Gray and his poetry!

Strawberry Hill, the gothic-castle-home of Horace Walpole, is now an exceedingly interesting museum: definitely worth a look!


Friday, 5 June 2015

'The Vanity of Human Wishes' - Samuel Johnson

‘Then say how hope and fear, desire and hate
O’erspread with snares the clouded maze of fate,
Where wavering man, betrayed by venturous Pride
To tread the dreary paths without a guide,
As treacherous phantoms in the mist delude,
Shuns fancied ills, or chases airy good.’
(lines 5-10)

The Vanity of Human Wishes
Samuel Johnson

It would not be unfair to say that the language and expressions used in many eighteenth-century poems can seem like something of a ‘clouded maze’.  In their excellent commentary on Johnson’s ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’, James Noggle and Lawrence Lipking note that ‘the difficulty of the poem is also related to its theme, the difficulty of seeing anything clearly on this earth’ (p. 2843).  Yet while it might present a challenge, it remains a hugely poignant and engaging text, full of rich rewards for the persevering reader.   

The most important thing to remember when reading a poem like this is that meaning frequently runs on over several lines (also known as ‘enjambment’, pronounced en-jam-ment).  This bit – ‘betrayed by venturous Pride / To tread the dreary paths without a guide’ – then clicks into focus, as an extra little piece of information about the ‘wavering man’.  The clue here is in the punctuation (something too frequently overlooked by those who read poems aloud, even at graduate level!).  The most inspiring of my university tutors used to encourage us all to read out extracts of the text that we were studying rather than just look at it cold on the page, and poetry in particular benefits from this treatment.  For example, if you read the above quotation leaving a pause for breath at the end of every line the whole thing becomes completely unintelligible.  Instead, try reading it out loud leaving pauses only where the commas fall.  Hopefully, the meaning should now start to pop out a bit more clearly. 

In its broadest term, this is a poem about the futility, not of life, but of the fundamentally human desire for wealth, status, and fame.  Although the poem ultimately advises the reader to ‘leave to Heaven the measure and choice’ of their life’s success and direction, the prioritisation of love and patience remains powerfully relevant to those of any or no religion.  The really important thing, Johnson is arguing, is to avoid the mental destruction of self suffered by the numerous examples he depicts of the covetous and vain. 

Happy reading! 
Feel free to ask questions in comments!

You can find this poem:

The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume C, The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, edited by James Noggle and Lawrence Lipking, pp 2843-2851. (This volume is a good investment, as it provides an excellent survey of eighteenth-century literature, as well as containing lots of helpful information about eighteenth-century writers and the history of the period; this is also the edition from which the quotation above was taken). 

Samuel Johnson, The Major Works, edited by Donald Greene (Oxford World’s Classics)
(Absolutely superb series of books, Oxford World’s Classics!! Again, lots of useful extra information and annotation to help even the most inexperienced of readers to access a text)

Be wary of spurious copies of the poem available online or free for e-readers: these may not always have enjoyed the benefit of careful presentation, and as I mentioned above, a comma-pause in the wrong place can really confuse things!  If this is the only way that you can obtain the text however, by all means go for it!

To find out more about Samuel Johnson:

1. Wikipedia! (yes, even academics use this sometimes... but sssh! Don't say I told!)

2. The Samuel Johnson Society  (There is a whole list of helpful links on this page, too!)

3. Dr Johnson's House Museum: especially interesting for those who live in, or are visiting, London!



Monday, 1 June 2015

Reading the Eighteenth Century
When I was a teenager, I wanted to read.  What made me a little unusual, perhaps, is that I wanted to read books about, and from, the eighteenth century.  The problem was that I didn’t really know where to start.  I’d worked my way through all Jane Austen’s novels, but as any eighteenth-century academic will eagerly tell you, there is ever so much more to this most exciting of time periods than peak-bonnets and balls.  In fact, it was a time of science and superstition, of simmering intrigue and sweeping globalisation.  An age of brutal cruelty and beautiful craftsmenship, tragedy and comedy, class division and social transcendence, it is in this bubbling furnace of humanity that so much that characterises our modern world was formed. It is also when some of the finest literature in English was written.

This blog is for everyone interested in discovering more about eighteenth-century literature, whatever your age or knowledge of the period.  Because books are for everyone.