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The Afterlife of Character, 1726-1825

By David A. Brewer

Publication Year: 2005

The Afterlife of Character, 1726-1825 reconstructs how eighteenth-century British readers invented further adventures for beloved characters, including Gulliver, Falstaff, Pamela, and Tristram Shandy. Far from being close-ended and self-contained, the novels and plays in which these characters first appeared were treated by many as merely a starting point, a collective reference perpetually inviting augmentation through an astonishing wealth of unauthorized sequels. Characters became an inexhaustible form of common property, despite their patent authorship. Readers endowed them with value, knowing all the while that others were doing the same and so were collectively forging a new mode of virtual community.

By tracing these practices, David A. Brewer shows how the literary canon emerged as much "from below" as out of any of the institutions that have been credited with their invention. Indeed, he reveals the astonishing degree to which authors had to cajole readers into granting them authority over their own creations, authority that seems self-evident to a modern audience.

In its innovative methodology and its unprecedented attention to the productive interplay between the audience, the book as a material artifact, and the text as an immaterial entity, The Afterlife of Character, 1726-1825 offers a compelling new approach to eighteenth-century studies, the history of the book, and the very idea of character itself.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Material Texts


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p. vii

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Cottagers upon the Textual Commons, an Introduction

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pp. 1-24

I began with the desire to read with the dead. Or, more accurately, with the desire to read one book with one dead person, to understand how and why Lady Mary Wortley Montagu read The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle in the way in which she did. In a letter to her daughter, Lady Mary...

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1. The Invention of the Fictional Archive

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pp. 25-52

We begin with a sustained look at a key moment in the transformation of British reading practices: the later 1720s. The first decades of the eighteenth century saw a decisive reduction in domestic political tensions compared with those that had gripped the nation for most of the previous...

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2. Visualization, Theatricality, Fame

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pp. 53-77

My next two chapters trace the principal forms taken by imaginative expansion in the generous half-century following the invention of the fictional archive. In this chapter, we will investigate what I would like to term “visualization,” a practice in which readers devised quite elaborate gestures and expressions for literary characters in order to make them appear...

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3. Character Migration, Detachability, Old Friends

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pp. 78-120

If some devotees of imaginative expansion busied themselves with visualizing the passions involved in key moments of an originary text, other readers took a cue from a different aspect of theater (the revival of popular characters in new plays) and invented further adventures for beloved characters which stepped outside the chronological bounds of that text...

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4. Lewd Engraftments and the Richardsonian Coterie Public

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pp. 121-153

The first half of my narrative has been largely concerned with the textual commons as the invention of individual readers, often to the effacement or exclusion of authors. As my discussion of Henry Fielding at the close of the last chapter should suggest, however, many canonically ambitious writers...

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5. Shandyism and the Club of True Feelers

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pp. 154-188

If Richardson’s readers positioned him at the center of the coterie public, they did so in ways which largely preserved their own readerly autonomy and thus implicitly thwarted his efforts to promote his own authority as final or even controlling. Two decades later, Laurence Sterne was not about...

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Scott's Parental Interest, an Afterword

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pp. 189-206

At the outset of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle worries that Holmes, like “one of those popular tenors who . . . are still tempted to make . . . farewell bows to their indulgent audiences,” may have overstayed his welcome. To console himself for the inevitability that...


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pp. 207-233


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pp. 235-251


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pp. 253-259

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pp. 261-262

I always read acknowledgments first, in large part to see how a scholar has dealt with his or her own belatedness in such a hyperconventionalized genre. I doubt I can provide much formal innovation, but it is one of the great pleasures of my life as a writer finally to record the debts I...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812201437
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812238648

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Material Texts
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Roger Chartier, Joseph Farrell, Anthony Grafton, Leah Price, Peter Stallybrass, Michael F. Suarez, S.J. See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 759158232
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Afterlife of Character, 1726-1825

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Intellectual property -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • English literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism
  • Characters and characteristics in literature.
  • English literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism
  • Authors and readers -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century.
  • Sequels (Literature).
  • Authors and readers -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Intellectual property -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century.
  • Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.) -- History -- 18th century.
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