- Sustaining Literature: Essays on Literature, History, and Culture, 1500–1800, Commemorating the Life and Work of Simon Varey
This collection of essays honors Simon Varey, a scholar of the early modern period who died in 2002. The idea of the collection is to have scholars write on various issues that represent Varey’s interests in the period from 1500 to 1800. As such, this volume is an eclectic mix. Major authors considered are Dryden, Swift (more than once), Hannah More, Defoe, Fielding, and Haywood. Early modern cultural issues scrutinized include journalism, classicism, the occult, anatomy, and, of all things, spelunking. Despite its intriguing variety, however, the collection is a bit uneven. While most of the essays are well-argued, self-contained studies, some seem fragmentary and even dated in their approach. Nonetheless, this volume features a number of first-rate pieces and serves its function as a festschrift admirably.
The first six essays of the collection are personal reminiscences by particular friends and colleagues of Simon Varey. While describing the man’s intellect, energy, wit, learning, charm, generosity, and cooking ability, these accounts also detail interestingly his special scholarly pursuits. Prominent among these interests was his work on Dr. Francisco Hernández, a sixteenth-century Spanish physician and naturalist who traveled New Spain extensively cataloguing its strange plants and animals, as well as observing the local medical practices of the people. Varey was part of a group of scholars at UCLA who undertook an ambitious interdisciplinary enterprise focusing on Hernández. Following this initial section of memorials, the remaining essays of the collection are divided into three general topic areas: Augustanism, Fiction, and History and Culture.
Three of the six essays dedicated to Augustanism deal specifically with Swift. Anne Barbeau Gardiner writes about Swift’s theological grounding in “the norm of [End Page 66] the primitive Church” (109). She argues that his conservatism is based in the religious struggles of the seventeenth century, and Gardiner finds that much of Swift’s satirical anger is directed against theological foes innovating on that old-time religion. Brean Hammond also writes on Swift’s faith and conservatism, but specifically as those beliefs are manifest in his satires. Hammond concludes that Swift opposes the tenets of Christianity “that underlie democratic freedoms now held to be inalienable” (135). The third essay on Swift is by Howard Erskine-Hill, who leads the reader on a stroll to admire the Dean’s bold versification. Otherwise in this grouping are two posthumous and, regrettably, not quite polished pieces, one on Dryden’s Alexander’s Feast and one on late seventeenth-century comedic drama. A very strong essay in this section, though, is that by Bertrand Goldgar on The Grub-Street Journal. His study contextualizes contemporary readers of that newspaper to demonstrate how their level of sophistication helped determine the satiric rhetoric of the writing.
Four essays of this volume are dedicated to early modern fiction. In what is perhaps the best essay of the collection, Mona Scheuermann explores the importance of economics in the work of Hannah More. Scheuermann finds that More, and other novelists of the period, “employed economically directed, politically motivated fictions as a way of socially engineering the actions of readers” (155). In particular, she demonstrates that More sought to convince the underclass to work hard and stay in their place no matter how futile such behavior seemed. Next, in a long essay, Maximillian Novak explores motifs in Robinson Crusoe “that readers thought they saw in Defoe’s work” (172). Much of Novak’s discussion concerns how this novel was seen as a pedagogical work of travel and as a “maritime book.” In a nicely detailed study, Carl Fisher then considers Henry Fielding’s fear of and distaste for the mob, meaning the lower orders of society. The section concludes with Alexander Pettit’s look at the relationship of food and sex in the fiction of Eliza Haywood.
The final segment of the collection dealing with History and Culture is nearly quirky...