- Fictions of Friendship in the Eighteenth-Century Novel by Bryan Mangano
Two literary studies on ideal friendship in the eighteenth-century novel have been published in the last two years, Katrin Berndt's Narrating Friendship and the British Novel, 1760–1830 (2017), and this one. This renewed interest in friendship comes from the field's ongoing work on publics and privates, intimacy and affective relationships, and literary sociability. What is remarkable about these two studies is that while Berndt argues the importance of philosophical conceptions of friendship to developments in the novel, Mangano's argues instead that writers used friendship to represent "idealized novel reading," fully embracing a modern perspective of the potential reader/consumer as friend. While both studies are worth a read, I think that his is more versatile because of the implications he draws for further work on literary sociability.
Mangano asks the question, "Can authors genuinely befriend their readers and vice versa?" He explores how prominent eighteenth-century novelists answer this question in the affirmative, using differences of class and gender among authors to inform his readings of friendship in each novel. The study is predicated on the notion that friendship virtues construct a "humanizing" aspect of the modern public sphere, and are not a part of domestic intimacy. He explains this by describing domestic relations as bound by "household proximities, ties of blood, and patriarchal authority" and friendship, at least in the cases he explores, as "evok[ing] remote and anonymous contact, extra-familial affection, and reciprocal authority." The study focuses on friendship represented through epistolary mediation: authorial addresses to readers and critics, as well as epistolary friendships between characters. Mangano contends that these representations of friendship provide the reader with the perfect blend of pleasure and instruction, while reconciling conflicting feelings of intimacy and alienation that novels on the whole create. [End Page 216]
The study begins with a reading of Montaigne against Bacon that illustrates well why eighteenth-century friendship embodies contradictions between "disorderly confession and orderly moral discourse, of writing and conversation, of classical models and modern practice, of masculine and feminine virtues" and ties to the public sphere as envisioned by Addison and Steele. It also supports Mangano's decision to reject readings of the eighteenth-century novel in the context of domesticity, which is provocative given that Janet Todd and Ruth Perry remain the foundational critics for studies of friendship, gender, and the novel, and both use changes in the domestic sphere and developments in the domestic novel as essential to understanding eighteenth-century friendship and intimacy. Mangano's novel selections also intersect with critics who have emphasized the domestic and include Clarissa, Tristram Shandy, and Frankenstein as well as Fielding's David Simple and Scott's Millenium Hall.
Mangano's reading of Clarissa takes a complex and nuanced approach to gendered representations of friendship and reader reception of the novel. He argues that the relationship between Clarissa and Anna Howe and the discourse surrounding this relationship in the novel unites divergent reading publics because it represents the many different expectations that eighteenth-century readers hold for friendship as a traditional or modern ideal. Mangano illustrates that even in the relative comfort of authorial success, Richardson was beholden to his readership, and thus finds friendship to be the most effective means of building a community of readers. He understates the patriarchal aims of the novel and problematic representation of female friendship by focusing on how the epistolarity of this relationship escapes domestic tyranny and serves as a model for the optimistic representations of friendship in works by Sarah Fielding and Sarah Scott.
In the two chapters that follow, Mangano makes the commendable decision to build on Catherine Gallagher's work on "nobodies" by reading epistolary friendship as a means for women writers to overcome exclusionary practices of fraternal friendship in the publishing business and cultivate contradicting feelings of intimacy and alienation within the novel form. In his chapter on Sarah Fielding, he convincingly argues that the comic optimism of friendship in David Simple is...