While historiographical superlatives are out of place, eighteenth-century literature was certainly especially concerned with questions of morality and ethics; literature was a significant forum for discussing pressing issues of how to live in times of profound cultural changes and transition (‘Enlightenment’, Formation of the (bourgeois) ‘Public Sphere’ are relevant keywords). The newly emerging genre of the novel played a significant role in this: Above all, Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Pamela, Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, Sterne’s genial Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy all testify to the concern with morality, be it in terms of their subject matter or their impact on the audience, or both. If critics and the public debated and worried over their respective virtues (or lack thereof), by the mid-century the novel was often allocated a moral function similar to sermons, or even replacing them as Carol Stewart (2010) and others have shown. The novel (unlike romance) was considered to be especially capable of drawing the reader into its fictive scenario to thus teach by way of narrative what constituted a good life. However, other genres also played a prominent role: periodical essays, too, in particular Samuel Johnson’s The Rambler, were self-consciously concerned with issues of morality.
Literature thus tied in with the contemporary discourse of moral philosophy. Responding to, anticipating, and even at times critiquing key tenets of moral thought, it also reflected about the nature of morality, about its issues and dimensions, intricacies, paradoxes, thus taking an ethical turn.
It is the nexus of literature’s concerns with virtue, ethical reflection, ethics, and poetics that this seminar will explore. Our principal focus will be on narrative fiction, but other genres will also come into play.
Core Reading (please obtain your own copy; further texts to be agreed upon in week 1):
-- Samuel Richardson, Pamela (Penguin Classics)
-- Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey (Penguin Classics).
A Moodle course with some of the shorter primary plus secondary materials will be available.
The Lektürekurs offers further in-depth reading and discussion of materials related to the seminar syllabus, focussing on theoretical angles. A Moodle course will be available.