This essay offers a critical overview of recent and current debates on the cultural significance of erotic, obscene, and pornographic writing from the long eighteenth century. The period 1660-1800 saw a new emphasis on interiority and the individual, a restructuring of sexual and gender categories, and an increasing division between public and private. Narratives of sexual education and danger were a vehicle through which authors and readers could engage with these broad cultural changes; they also contributed to a view of sexuality as the inmost truth of the self. This essay’s first part addresses theoretical debates over the nature of pornography and its relation to such categories as the erotic and obscene, while the second offers a history of the making of a pornographic canon, overlapping with the canons of amatory fiction and the novel. It reads this history in light of censorial anxieties over the dangers of private reading, especially for women; the threat of foreign contamination of English culture; and the use of voyeurism to penetrate the boundary separating private from public.
This article explores how changing ideas about time and time-telling had a powerful and lasting impact upon the literature of the long eighteenth century (i.e., c. 1660–c. 1830). After a brief overview of the dominant technological, scientific, and philosophical preoccupations, the discussion concentrates on influential recent critical studies of topics such as the relationship between clock time and narrative structure in the novels of Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne, the appearance of poetical subgenres directly inspired by mechanical timepieces, and the characteristic skepticism of certain Romantic authors toward the alleged merits of temporal rationalization. Although most of these studies have focused on how the (quasi-)isochronicity of pocket watches and pendulum clocks directly influenced particular literary forms, structures, and themes, this article concludes by arguing that the relationship between literature and time was (in fact) partially reciprocal, and that the former therefore sometimes profoundly altered contemporaneous attitudes toward the practical business of time-telling.
Travel literature emerges in letters, diaries, journals, biographies, travel narratives, country house guides, ship’s logs, poems, plays—and the novel feeds on them all. From London as a source of topographical mystery to be penetrated even by its inhabitants, to the newly tourable country estates; from the recently domesticated wilds of Scotland and Ireland, to the paths of the Grand Tour in Europe; and from the exotic lands across the seas to life on the sea itself, the rhetorics of travel supplied hosts of models for narrative and imagery in the early novel. The novel every bit as much as travel-writing is an exercise in ethnographic observation, sharing an interest in closely observed and analysed detail, in the similarities and differences of other cultures, in the remarkableness of the ordinary and the sometimes surprising familiarity of the unknown, and with journey at the centre of both.