Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
This dissertation argues that friendship operates in mid-eighteenth-century English fiction as a privileged category of virtue, knowledge, and aesthetic value. By representing social tensions raised by extra-familial friendships and appealing to readers as friends, Samuel Richardson, Sarah Fielding, Sarah Scott, and Laurence Sterne, develop ideal friendship into a reflexive trope for cultivating authorial identity, framing literary response, imagining a public sphere, and theorizing social reforms. Amiable Fictions offers a new way of thinking about the ethical frameworks that shape experimental narrative techniques at a moment when the English novel is just emerging into cultural prominence.
In this study, I analyze the ways that these four novelists represent friendships as allegorical meditations on interpersonal ethics so as to imagine literary exchange as a virtual form of friendship. I explore how the idealized communicative intimacy of friendship becomes a basis for imagining more perfect spiritual and economic unions. On the level of plot, these fictions unpack the philosophical values of real friendship by staging its antagonism with persistent forms of patriarchy, aristocracy, and economic individualism. Drawing from the values of friendship that arise in the plot, these authors shape narrative exchanges as a tie of friendship. In cultivating an amiable ethos, they avoid appearing as slavish flatterers in a commercialized literary marketplace, or as overly didactic figures of institutional authority.
Amiable Fictions builds on studies of the novel genre by accounting for the way a rhetoric of friendship motivates experiments in narrative form. I offer insights into developments in epistolary style, free indirect discourse, unreliable narration, anonymous authorship, and autobiographical form. I suggest that the concept of friendship orients these writers in their exploration of techniques, propelling them as they articulate a range of possibilities available for future authors of narrative fiction.
This dissertation also engages current scholarly understandings of sociability, sensibility, domesticity, and public and private life in the mid-eighteenth century. These novelists deploy friendship as a moral category that challenges codes of sociability, refines understandings of sympathy, and often antagonizes the emerging cultural authority of the domestic sphere. Reframing questions of gender and sexuality and their influence on literary forms, the project highlights how male characters imitate friendship between women (and vice versa), how social reform impulses raise the need for heterosexual friendship, and how non-familial friendship conflicts with domestic norms as an alternative mediator of public and private character.
authorship, eighteenth century, ethics, fiction, friendship, novel
vi, 218 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 207-218).
Copyright © 2013 Bryan Paul Mangano