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  • Recent Studies in the Restoration and Eighteenth Century
  • Clifford Siskin* (bio)

Classification is not the beginning of the study of a problem—it’s the end.

—Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan’s generalizations, observed one admirer, were “designed not to give ultimate answers, but to shed light on dark places.” With eighty-eight books piled around me waiting for review, my study has seemed particularly dark and the task endless; I have thus been open to enlightenment in any form. Happily, this particular assertion does bring an end into sight—an end that gives a sense of continuity to the whole reviewing process. Classification is not just prefatory, according to McLuhan, but conclusive; it is the shape knowledge takes so that more can be known. Thus SEL began this review by classifying “books received” into historical periods. I will end it with yet more of the same: a reclassification that will, I hope, enable others.

This approach is, of course, particularly appropriate to this review, for the long eighteenth century was the great age of classification in Western Europe. In the taxonomic spirit of that time, I will begin with the following scheme: leaving aside three soft-bound journal issues, I have separated out editions from the books received, and then categorized the rest according to their organizing concerns—genre, issues/topics, or author. Each category and subcategory is listed in order of frequency, and then alphabetically when the numbers are the same. [End Page 597]

  1. I. GENRE—31

    1. A. Novel—15

    2. B. Poetry—5

    3. C. Satire—3

    4. D. Drama—2

    5. E. Artisan Autobiography—1

    6. F. Ballad—1

    7. G. Dialogue—1

    8. H. Fable—1

    9. I. Periodical—1

    10. J. Prose—1


    1. A. Literature and Aesthetics—6

    2. B. Gender—4

    3. C. Publishing and Editing—4

    4. D. History—3

    5. E. Nationalism and Colonialism—3

    6. F. Politics—2

    7. G. Madness—1


    1. A. Novels—5

    2. B. Non-fiction Prose—4 (including a 2-volume set)

    3. C. Drama—3

    4. D. Translation—3

    5. E. Correspondence—2 (2-volume set)

    6. F. Poems—2

    7. G. Annotations—1

    8. H. Engravings—1

    9. I. Miscellany—1

    10. J. Periodicals—1

  4. IV. AUTHOR—11

    1. A. Robert Burns—1

    2. B. Robert Chambers—1

    3. C. Charlotte Charke—1

    4. D. John Dryden—1

    5. E. Henry Fielding—1

    6. F. Samuel Johnson—1 [End Page 598]

    7. G. John Locke and William Blake—1

    8. H. Alexander Pope—1

    9. I. Tobias Smollett—1

    10. J. Laurence Sterne—1

    11. K. Jonathan Swift—1

Genre was clearly the dominant rubric in 1998. Over one-third of all books were studies of particular genres. Generically centered efforts outnumbered single-author projects by almost three to one. The importance and variety of form was evident as well in the new editions; the twenty-three volumes represent ten different genres. As with gender studies and its recovery of writing by women, this turn to genre enacts the ongoing and underlying critical imperative of “new” work on the eighteenth century: exploring the full range of the period’s proliferation of print. These adventures in genre, then, are less a break with recent practice than a newly clear manifestation—and forwarding—of it.

That is not to say, of course, that the century’s variety of kinds has not previously drawn attention. The current batch of books, however, appears particularly adventuresome—a phenomenon due, perhaps, to what new technologies (computer/Web) do to old ones (print). Not only do they make texts and databases (ESTC) more available; they provide a background of new configurations against which the particular shapes and power of print stand out. Thus, no less than three books see satire in newly broad terms, offering not only reinterpretations of individual works, but also extraordinarily broad claims about its social reach and effect. So, too, the fable emerges as a newly significant form, and the ballad becomes the basis for grasping fundamental changes in women’s lives.

The form drawing the most attention, however, is not a surprise. The novel occupies center stage in almost half of the genre studies, and in just under one-fifth of all of the books. Also unsurprising is the dominant concern in this novel criticism—gender—but the extent to which it does dominate...

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