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date: 19 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay on the novel of ideas in the 1790s investigates the sometimes conflicting goals pursue by the ‘Jacobin’ novelists—figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and Mary Hays—and also charts their characteristic preoccupations with the proper relations between reason and passion and mind and body. Revamping the Enlightenment tradition of the conte philosophique, these supporters of the Revolution in France and political reform in Britain advocated a newly ambitious species of novel capable of building bridges between the discursive domains of fiction and political theory. These novelists also set out to claim the power over readers’ emotions they found in sentimental fiction’s stories of suffering individuals. At the same time, contrariwise, they aimed to assemble comprehensive accounts of the social system—of ‘things as they are’, in Godwin’s phrase—and touted their commitment to the promulgation of universal, impersonal truth.

Keywords: Revolution controversy, Jacobinism, novel of ideas, rationality, quixotism, abstraction, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays

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