“Daily Life and Immediate Perspectives”

In “The novel and social/cultural history” (Chapter 2 of The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth-Century Novel), J. Paul Hunter discusses what he terms “the New Cultural History” of the eighteenth century. Hunter explains that approaches to studying the eighteenth century have changed dramatically in the last fifty years. This “new, more integrated ‘cultural’ history considers all kinds of documents, texts, and material artifacts” from that period, and gives “more attention to daily life and immediate perspectives and less emphasis on patterns that emerge retrospectively” (Hunter 14). This broadened perspective of life in the eighteenth century is particularly useful when reading novels from that period. As Hunter notes, life in the eighteenth century was a radically unstable thing, with “change – often rapid change – as the one constant” it possessed (Hunter 18). As such, it is necessary to know “what particular decades, or years, or days were like” if we want to truly understand the context in which these novels were written and disseminated.

Interestingly, the focus of the New Cultural History on “daily life and immediate perspectives” parallels a shift in literary tradition that is often associated with the rise of the novel (Hunter 14). While more traditional literature “promised universal solutions because human nature was constant across culture and times”, eighteenth-century novels depicted “a present-day individual in a recognizable social and cultural context” and then “offered varied, circumstantial, and individual outcomes” (Hunter 9-10). This shift from the universal to the individual as literary subject matter mirrors the current shift from the public to the private as historical subject matter.

Hunter asserts that the New Cultural History is “more conscious of the domestic, the material, the everyday, and the interconnected, and more ready to study ordinary people who seem powerless and neglected” (Hunter 17). The same can be said of novels we have studied in this course. Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko tells the story of a slave, illustrating in acute detail his personal experiences and simultaneously offering a unique insight into perceptions of the slave trade in the late seventeenth-century. Daniel Defoe’s Roxana tells the story of one woman’s experience with the problematic marriage laws of the time, and there is a significant focus on material objects (money, clothes) within the text. Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey depicts an individualized journey through Europe. Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is acutely “conscious of the domestic” and the narratives that can take place within a single home. All of the novels we have read focus on individual characters whose circumstances and experiences give us as readers a glimpse into the everyday life of their time.

One issue mentioned by Hunter that I found particularly interesting was his discussion of the significance of the city of London in eighteenth-century culture. He notes that “one reason that the social norms of novels had such cultural power in the eighteenth century was that they usually reflected the values of ‘modern’ London life” (Hunter 23). This point immediately made me think of Evelina, and how London seems to represent the high society to which Evelina rightfully belongs, as opposed to the lower status associated with her life in the country. According to Hunter, “Older Britons tended to hate [London’s] trendiness and distrust its fickleness and shifting standards; younger ones looked to it hopefully for their own futures…” (Hunter 24). Reverend Villars’ attitude toward London and his uneasiness about Evelina’s travelling there aligns him with those “Older Britons”, and Evelina’s youthful hopefulness for her future mirrors the appeal felt by the “younger ones”.

Hunter, J. Paul. “The novel and social/cultural history.” The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth-Century Novel. Ed. John J. Richetti. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. p. 9-39. Print.

“Bad Girls World”

Women who do not behave within the societal norms of the eighteenth century are marginalized; however, those very characters are often the most interesting through the novel. In Roxana Roxana is on the outskirts of society because she chooses to remain a kept woman for various men. It is that very free spirit and strong will that draws readers in. In Evelina Mrs. Selwyn’s sassy attitude puts her at odds with many of the men, but her outspokenness is what makes her an interesting foil character to Evelina. Victoria’s questionable behavior is treated in the same way in Zofloya, she is one of the few women characters we read about that truly went after what she wanted and ends up in Satan’s arms at the end of the novel. Fanny Price is kept on the outskirts of her family, not because she stands up for herself but the opposite; because Fanny cannot speak up she becomes an afterthought for her family, but her insightful quips help move the novel’s plot along. I will only focus on Mrs. Selwyn and Victoria.

Mrs. Selwyn’s owns the people around her. When “three gentlemen” confront her and Evelina she promises to “give [her] servant the trouble of teaching [them] better manners” (Burney 265). Her comment and “commanding air struck them, yet they all chose to laugh” (B 265), in a way dismissing her bold statement. Mrs. Selwyn’s boss like ways do not stop at amazing men, but in fact surprises Evelina with her “severity” despite Lord Merton “disgusting” Evelina upon first speaking to her. Rather than Evelina taking issue with Lord Merton’s bad behavior, she takes issue with Mrs. Selwyn standing up for herself and for Evelina. Mrs. Selwyn has a fantastic quip for each scene she is in. When the “gentlemen” of the house opt to race old women, Mrs. Selwyn says, “These enterprizes, are very proper for men of rank, since ‘tis a million to one but both parties will be incapacitated for any better employment” (B 279). Such a wonderful line about their choice of sport, and no one chooses to recognize what Mrs. Selwyn says. As much as Mrs. Selwyn is ignored, Victoria out of Dacre’s novel is rarely ignored.

Victoria’s motives were questionable from the moment Dacre introduced the vain girl. Her murderous ways are only apparent after she meets Zofloya, to whom she is extremely attracted and half acts on that via her potion exchanges with him. Victoria’s relationship, though unknown to the other characters in the novel, put her on the outskirts of their society. Victoria feels alive when she is with Zofloya, “Speak on then, Zofloya; your words are magic, they soothe my soul, and I feel hope!” (Dacre 153). Victoria does not feel this way with anyone else, and has to fake her relationship with Berenza in order for him to marry her. Henriquez even wants nothing to do with her, and he barely knows her. Victoria is not “cast out” solely because she tries to attain what she wants, but in part because she practices morally repugnant behavior in her efforts to obtain Henriquez. Her obsession with death, specifically killing those closest to her, is what keeps the plot moving, and her moving into the arms of Satan.

“Bad people” are not evil by nature

In chapter II, Olaudah Equiano was forced into a ship of slaves by the crew, and he lived in hell for weeks with other slaves. During his stay with the crew, Equiano found they were not “bad” by nature. Instead, they were institutional slaves themselves and victims, having been trained and ordered to treat slaves in a rough, stone-hearted and subhuman manner. All this, in their eyes, was the right thing to do and their obligation to fulfill just like soldiers executed orders from their commander. In short, the so-called bad people are not evil by nature; instead, they are trained and shaped into what they are in a specific social, economic and culture context.
Collins, Janelle (2001) said Equiano “was immediately handled and tossed up to see if I were sound by some of the crew” when forced into a slave ship (45). He rated the way the black ship crew checked on himself, their peer no different from the way customers checked and bought products preferred, so as to ensure the “products” were sound and valuable. Later, Collins, Janelle (2001) said Equiano realized “I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me” (48) because the crew was told to finish the whole procedure exactly as they were told, no matter whether they liked it or not. This fact revealed the poor situation of the crew where they were the slaves to their superiors because both the slaves and themselves lost free will and feelings for anger, happiness and hatred. As such, the crew was walking dead men. Moreover, when they tossed the slaves around on the ship and beat them with a whip to blood, they felt nothing themselves-no guilt, no sympathy for slaves, and thus no awareness of treating slaves who were their peers in a soft and discreet way. This revealed the “evilness” of the crew and their lack of the ability of thinking for themselves which was the core symbol of their free will and humanity, Unfortunately, their humanity had been deprived. Likewise, they did not feel satisfied when finishing this task assigned by their superiors, because they had been depersonalized through numerous killings and tortures of others unconsciously which made them feel nothing. Also, Henry Louis (1989) said Equiano was “surprised by the way they relate to each other, as they are even cruel between themselves” (113). For example, the crew would swear at others and kick others in their stomach without hesitation if their bread was eaten accidentally by others. At this point, the white people were institutional slaves just like the slaves they prison, because they were originally pure and good people, and it was the cruel organizational mechanism of indifference, exclusion and self-interest orientation that made them evil and felt nothing by treating others roughly over time. At this point, it is concluded people are not what they are born; instead, they are defined by the way in which they are cultivated and what they are told to do.
Collins, Janelle. Passage to Slavery, Passage to Freedom: Olaudah Equiano and the Sea. Midwest Quarterly, 2006, 45-48.
Henry Louis. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. Oxford University Press, 1989, 113.
The interesting narrative of Olaudah Equiano. Retrieved 14 December 1998.

Historical Notions of the Novel

According to John Richetti piece, the novel in what we commonly think of it today is a twentieth century notion. Novel what we term as “prose fiction” is a current perception. Today, we view novel as Richetti notes, “long prose narrative about largely fictional if usually realistic characters and plausible events.” The term in the eighteenth century was fluid. There were no set boundaries for what was concerned the novel. It was only toward that the latter part of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century with Jane Austen and Walter Scott that readers considered the importance and the significance of this new literary piece. Even in the eighteenth century there were many notions of the novel that differed to our conception of what the novel is perceived today. For example, Richetti notes the line of fiction and fact was blurred. He notes that fiction was presented as fact in the eighteenth century. He notes the issue that arises for most students is, “Why expectations for prose fiction seem to have shifted so clearly during the middle of the century, and why by the end of the century something called the novel very clearly exists in the minds of readers and writers. The novels in the eighteenth century presented the news of the affairs and lives of the aristocrats. These novels were read by readers, in order for readers to gather news about the world in which they lived. Also, the novels captured, as Richetti, states, “the myth of personal possibility.” They normally, told the story of a young man who goes from the familiar of family, in order to make a successful living and create a family for himself. The ideas for the novel can be captured with the social and historical events that had occurred during the time. This was the period of the Enlightenment. Many historians are not sure when the first novels appear. These historians mark Behn and other writers for having been the first novel writers.
An interesting note that Richetti also states is that the novels were called histories. He states that the novels “chronicled the daily experience, conflicts, and thoughts of ordinary men and women. The novel was a very popular form of fiction in England. According to Richettie, “When the novel came to be accepted, it represented the acceptance of the narratives about contemporary life and times of the period.”
Richetti notes the changes in which the novel underwent. For example, he states, “the novel when through many changes and it began as a short tale of romance love, gradually was broadened to include longer fiction of various kinds and then narratives, again to describe the new “realistic” forms that features ordinary people in familiar, everyday, contemporary circumstances.” He notes, “exactly when and where the novel originated is hard to say.” He also states, “the novel is just what histories depicts, the history of a present-day individual in a recognizable social and cultural context. The plot might involve ongoing or even enduring- human issues, and the hero or heroine might be “typical” or representative” of its time and place. The emphasis was on the individual, the local, and the particular.” He mentions, “unlike traditional literary genres, the novel sought to record and privilege the specific details that shaped the daily contingent lives or ordinary people, unlike solutions because human nature was constant across cultures and times, the novel offered varied, circumstantial, and individual outcomes a freedom from formal determination that left texts open to tell whatever individual stories they chose by referring causes and effects to local choices and cultural particulars.”
He notes that the novel was first rejected for many reasons. The main reason he notes for the rejection of the novel was primarily based on “cultural particulars.” These include critical theories of formalism, structuralism which were hostile to historical questions and texts and showed little interest in any text that was not already considered a “great book.”
In think it is interesting how the author notes the changes in which the novel took place, and the difference between how the novel was first perceived to how we understand the novel today.

Equiano and Style

Olaudah Equiano is an individual who seeks to appeal to the sentiments of his readers. He uses first person narration, and discusses the events that have happened within his life, as if he were recalling the past life in which Equiano lived before becoming enslaved. His story and the details of the plot are very vivid and descriptive.
It is first important to discuss the method Equiano uses in order to narrate his narrative. He tells the story as if he is remembering the past. He first starts his novel by recounting life in Guinea, West Africa before becoming enslaved and traveling to the West Indies. He describes his life before coming to the West Indies and enslavement, as very simple, and it is inferred that Equiano was unaware or unfamiliar with the world outside his community. Even the names and events in the story in which the narrator describes provide credibility. In understanding Equiano’s style, it is important to note the literary techniques in which Ian Watts discusses that are significant to the rise of the novel. For example, Ian Watts’s biggest discussion is on style, and the ways in which the authors of novels discuss topics, whose purpose is to provide a “realistic affect. “For example, Watts notes, “The novel’s plot is also distinguished from most previous fiction by its use of past experience as the cause of present action: a causal connection operating through time replaces the reliance of earlier narratives and disguises and coincident, and this tends to give the novel a much more cohesive structure” (22). This novel is definitely told in time sequenced method, from the beginning before the main character was enslaved to the time he was placed in captivity.
The narrator’s use of word choice and diction is important. The narrator often draws on the sympathy of his readers by appealing to their Christian values. For example, within the beginning of the novel, Equiano states,
“I believe it is difficult for those who publish their own memoirs to escape the imputation of vanity; nor is this the only disadvantage under which they labour; it is also their misfortune, that whatever is uncommon is rarely, if ever, believed; and what is obvious we are apt to turn from with disgust, and to charge the writer with impertinence. People generally think those memoirs only worthy to be read or remembered which abound in great or striking events; those, in short, which in a high degree excite either admiration or pity: all others they consign to contempt and oblivion. It is, therefore, I confess, not a little hazardous, in a private and obscure individual, and a stranger too, thus to solicit the indulgent attention of the public; especially when I own I offer here the history of neither saint, a hero, nor a tyrant…I regard myself as a particular favourite of Heaven, and acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life…” (31).
Hence, the author seeks to gain credibility among his readers.
The author uses powerful diction to discuss the events within his life. For example, when discussing his life in Guinea, he uses terms such as “admiration,” “pity,” “oblivion” to describe the life he lived before becoming enslaved (31). The author even states, “obscure individual” (31). These terms denote unfamiliarity with the customs outside his neighboring community. When the author describes his being taken captive. He uses terms such as “unknown,” “terror,” “horror,” “astonishment,” “horrible,” when he describes when he was placed on a ship after being enslaved (55). These terms definitely paint a mental picture for readers.
In my opinion, Equiano’s style is worth noting. His use of narration and the diction in which he uses to recount his experiences, definitely create sympathy for readers.

The Meek Shall Inherit a Fistful of Teeth

Fanny’s character in Mansfield Park represents a sort of underdog that is seen in other Austen novels and in Burney’s Evelina. Austen’s novels typically end in a happy ending for the heroine of the novel. The same occurred for Evelina: finding, and claiming, her true parentage, becoming the young woman out in society Mr. Villars could be proud of, and finding herself married to Lord Orville, the man of her dreams. Fanny is no different than Evelina, born of poor circumstances, taken in by wealthier people than she, and through hardship finds herself married to the man she—secretly—loves. In typical society Fanny would not be the woman to envy, but the Maria and Julie Bertram girls, and Mary Crawford’s of the world are. Austen uses Fanny’s meek temperament in direct contrast to the aforementioned woman to place Fanny in a shining light.
Fanny’s inability to speak up for herself, opting instead for Edmund to speak up for her, portrays her as kind in comparison to Miss Crawford. Fanny insists that men “can write long letters” when “they are at a distance from all their family” (57). She never actually rejects Miss Crawford’s opinion that all men write short letters, simply thinks of her experience with William instead of actually explaining her situation as evidence against Miss Crawford’s strong opinion.
Fanny seems accustomed to being trampled on by women who surround her. When showing Miss Crawford to a guest room, Fanny takes the verbal and non-verbal abuse given to her. Miss Crawford “shook her head at Fanny with arch, yet affectionate reproach” to follow up those actions with this verbal quip: “Sad, sad girl! I do not know when I shall have done scolding you” (331). By being patient, Fanny is able to wait for Edmund’s obsession with Miss Crawford to pass; ultimately securing Edmund’s hand in marriage.
Edmund, no longer entertained by Ms. Crawford, gives Fanny the attention she deserves as his companion. Once Fanny is “at liberty to speak freely” (426) her “friendship was all that [Edmund] had to cling to (427). This conversation led, in part, to Edmund’s ceasing to “care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire” (436). Fanny is arguably the most sensible woman throughout the novel, the other taking queues from Mrs. Norris: barely tolerable.

Marriage as Prison for Maria

In Maria’s tragic life, she had a terrible marriage and was finally imprisoned in a mental institution by his husband, George Venables. As a matter of fact, Maria has done nothing wrong, but her entire life was abused and destroyed by her husband. The marriage for Maria was like a prison, and she only served as a slave in the marriage.

During Maria’s flee from home, she fell in love with George and they were married later. George turned out to be a terrible husband since he spent time and money in gambling and finding prostitutes and never cared about the family. Although George should shoulder the responsibility of supporting the family as a man, he would choose to lift the burden to Maria, which was utterly unfair to Maria. As an outstanding feminist writer, Mary Wollstonecraft stated in her masterpiece A Vindication of the Rights of Women that, “But not content with this natural pre-eminence, men endeavor to sink us still lower, merely render us alluring objects for a moment.” (Wollstonecraft, A Vindication p121) Apparently, in Mary Wollstonecraft’s opinion, men were naturally taking women as inferior to them, so they would never treat women with equality. Therefore, it made sense that George should leave everything in the family to Maria and take it for granted that Maria should take care of the household.

Worse still, in the marriage, George even forced Maria to participate in the sexual encounters, which led to Maria’s pregnancy. Maria’s willingness in the sexual relationship was also controlled by her husband, so she nearly had no freedom or rights between her relationship with her husband. As Maria said, “Men, more effectually to enslave us”, (p66) so she seemed to be the slave of her husband in her eyes. When George used up all the money in the family, it became extremely hard for Maria to maintain the family. The blows for Maria could be tremendous, but she could do nothing to change her situation in the marriage since women were expected to stay at home and take care of the family, and only men got the opportunity to participate in education, politics and so on. Thus, when women had no rights, their destiny could only be controlled by men, which was just like Maria’s marriage.

Evidently, George was in the dominant position in the marriage, and Maria was deemed as inferior to him as a slave. Therefore, Maria had no rights in the family and merely had to suffer from her husband’s insult and humiliation. When she was suffering from the misery of the marriage, nobody could or would like to save her since women possessed no rights at that time. Because Maria was a woman, so she had no rights, and she could only live as a prisoner in the family and stay invisible to the entire society. Thus, a woman like Maria was doomed to be controlled by man for her whole life at that time.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Wollstonecraft and Style

Mary Wollstonecraft’s style in Maria, The Wrongs of Woman, is interesting, as seen in the diction and sentence structure. The language is very formal, and it is as if the author is making a declaration to the audience about the particular situation and circumstances in which individuals of her gender have to undergo. It is interesting how the author discusses the difficulties that certain individuals have to undergo. It is similar to how Watts discusses novel writers. Ian Watts is concerned about the style and how writers describe the circumstances, of the form in which a novel occurs. Watts notes the ways in which novel writers describe the circumstances in which their characters undergo, is enough to shed light to readers about the struggles of the characters. For example, Watts notes, “Here, however, we are concerned with a much more limited conception with the extent to which the analogy with philosophical realism helps to isolate and define the distinctive narrative mode of the novel. This, is has been suggested, is the sum of literary techniques whereby the novel’s imitation of human life follows the procedure adopted by philosophical realism in its attempt to ascertain and report the truth” (31). Hence, it is the ways in which novelists describe situations, or the literary techniques that the writers apply which brings the novel to life, or perhaps appears as if the situations are real. Therefore, style is important. Thus, is the way Wollstonecraft describes her characters experiences that is the reason we come to sympathize with her characters. Also, Watts states the importance of the character’s names. For example, he adds “Characters in previous forms of literature, of course, were usually given proper names; but the kind of names actually used showed that the author was not trying to establish his characters as completely individualized entities. The precepts of classical and renaissance criticism agreed with the practice of their literature in preferring either historical names or type names. In either case, the names set the characters in the context of a larger body of expectations primarily formed from the past literature, rather than from the context of contemporary life.” (18-19).
In the introduction, Moira Ferguson recognizes Wollstonecraft as having a “pivotal position in the history of humanist thought (9). She notes that Ferguson notes that individual of her gender in England in the eighteenth century, were denied or were placed in the situation were they had “No money was theirs by right…if they were heiress…and they married, their money automatically transformed to their husbands” (10). Ferguson even notes, “They were denied child custody,” and these individuals were forbidden to separate from their husbands unless extreme circumstances occurred (10). Ferguson also notes that Maria’s house servant, Jemima is an example of how “women from the lowest social class fared even worse” (10). She notes, “though the novel is incomplete, it is clearly articulated and offers a graphic picture of the wrongs done to women” (10). Ferguson adds, “In Maria she depicts in a fictional setting how the denial of all civil and political rights keeps every class of women from true fulfillment in their day-to-day existence” (10).
The diction or word choice that Wollstonecraft uses is interesting. She uses terms such as, “abodes of horror,” “mansion of despair,” and “scattered thoughts” (23). The sentence structure is complex as well, for example, the author writes, “Abodes of horror have frequently been described…conjured up by the magic spell of genius to harrow the soul, and absorb the wondering mind. But, formed of such stuff as dreams are made of, what were they to the mansion of despair, in one corner of which Maria sat, endeavoring to recall her scattered thoughts” (23). The diction, word choice, and the sentence structure are interesting. All these factors depict the complex situation in which Maria finds herself with “scattered thoughts” as fi she is pondering over some distressing thought.
Therefore, I agree with Watts that form plays a significant role in shaping a novel, in which case we are allowed to see through the powerful use of word choice the distressing situation of the characters in the novel