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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.1 (2001) 137-139
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Reading the Self
Barbara M. Benedict
Trinity College, Connecticut
Richard A. Barney. Plots of Enlightenment: Education and the Novel in Eighteenth-Century England (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999). Pp. xii + 402. $49.50 cloth.
Leah Price. The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel: From Richardson to George Eliot (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Pp. vii + 224. $54.95 cloth.
After a decade of books on novelistic themes, scholarship on the form of the novel is back in vogue. Both of these scrupulously researched and innovative studies use hitherto neglected texts and specific cultural history to explain the formal development of the eighteenth-century novel as a vehicle for the expression of individual identity in society. Both, moreover, find that the true subject of the novel is the reader--or, more specifically, the process of readers' education. Whereas Richard A. Barney explores the novel's prehistory in educational theory, Leah Price analyzes its mirror life in abridgements and anthologies. Both identify the genre as a protean youth on its way to Victorian maturity.
Richard A. Barney's Plots of Enlightenment participates in the tradition of historical analyses of the novel dating from Ian Watt's 1957 Rise of the Novel, but it calls on a rich supply of contemporary visual, political, and popular sources to show how eighteenth-century culture shaped the educational function of fiction. Strangely, Barney barely nods to J. Paul Hunter's seminal history of the novel's birth, Before Novels, but in differentiating his approach from those of Michael McKeon, Nancy Armstrong, and a host of other scholars, Barney explains that he seeks to show how educational theory--not merely conduct books, nor only epistemological treatises--from the first half of the eighteenth century supplied both the narrative form for the genre and its ideological basis as a vehicle for the reader's enlightenment. Barney concentrates on how this theory modeled ways to negotiate the contradiction between, on the one hand, nourishing individual liberty, and, on the other, endorsing the social control of identity.
Plots of Enlightenment explores the representation of education as a sequence of events both in early eighteenth-century novels and in Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), Mary Astell's A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694), Judith Drake's An Essay in Defense of the Female Sex (1696), and François Funelon's Instructions for the Education of a Daughter (1708). After its dense, theoretical introduction, it explicates Lockean educational theory as the promotion of a gender-neutral "'modern' English disposition" combining reflection, reflex, cooperativeness, and integrity (79). The first three chapters examine these texts' use of metaphors of performance, growth, empire, and medicine as ways to balance development and control, exploring the problems of theatricality in representing women's education, the trope of the lover-as-mentor, and the political implications of physiognomy (a section, however, that ignores Deidre Lynch's The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business of Inner Meaning (1998) and under-uses Graeme Tytler's Physiognomy in the European Novel (1982), cited in the bibliography). Further chapters explore the cultural conditions of education at the turn of the century by analyzing Locke's proposal for a school for poor children and Mary Astell's proposal for a women's academy. [End Page 137] The final chapters splendidly explicate the dynamic between public and private raised by pedagogical theory in three novels. In Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Robinson models the successful integration of public and private identity; in Lennox's Female Quixote, Arabella fails to imagine a true female identity apart from political and social conventions; and in Haywood's Betsy Thoughtless, Betsy improvises a progressive, social self that points the way to Burney's and Austen's heroines. Barney's analyses of these novels as exegeses of cumulative learning and self-limitation sketch an important theme in the history of gender in eighteenth- century literature...