Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tom Jones is a typical eighteenth-century hero: he is beaten, bullied, seduced, betrayed, and banished by numerous other characters in the narrative. He performs very little action himself, and that rather unsuccessfully. In one escapade in Book XIII, the hero overwhelmed by London society and ignored by his hosts, Fielding writes that "Poor Jones was rather a Spectator of this elegant scene, than an actor in it" (Tom Jones 451). Tom Jones is a bystander in his own story.
The same might be said of protagonists like Samuel Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe and Maria Edgeworth's Belinda Portman--protagonists who, like Tom Jones, tend to observe more than participate in their own narratives. Belinda is remembered most for having a dry personality, while Clarissa famously spends hundreds of pages willing herself to die. For modern readers, these characters may seem to lack agency. Despite their apparent passivity, however, these characters reveal the powerful agency of spectatorship in eighteenth-century culture.
The spectator figure played a newly dominant role in both the English theater and English society at large across the eighteenth century. Many writers used theatrical imagery to justify spectatorship as more than passive observation. Analyzing depictions of spectatorship in the works of authors ranging from eighteenth-century periodical writers like Joseph Addison and Richard Steele to aesthetic theorists like Adam Smith, and from artists like William Hogarth to romantic playwrights like Joanna Baillie, I show how spectatorship offered a potent form of moral authority more rooted in judgment than action. Moreover, I argue that engaged spectatorship offered an important theatrical model for protagonists in the eighteenth-century novel.
Early novelists tended to scapegoat the theater in order to advance the novel as a morally superior genre. Recent critics have shown how novelists used the theater as a way to critique deception, artificiality, and masquerade, in contrast to novelistic virtues of sincerity, authenticity, and candor. As a result, studies of the relationship between the novel and the theater in the eighteenth century have focused almost entirely on issues of performance: ways that characters, narrators, and authors are literal or figurative "actors."
My dissertation, in contrast, studies the interrelationship between the eighteenth-century novel and theater history through the figure of the spectator. Protagonists in the early novel adopt various qualities of engaged spectators, from common sense to curiosity, demonstrating ways that good judgment may be more valuable in eighteenth-century culture than good behavior. In addition, novelists frequently aligned their definitions of ideal spectatorship with forms of engaged reading, inviting readers to imitate the participatory spectatorship of their protagonists. Spectatorship became a source of empowerment for protagonists in the early novel, but more importantly, spectatorship also became a source of agency for the eighteenth-century reader.
vi, 180 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 164-180).
Copyright 2011 Bridget Draxler