Character and Consciousness in Eighteenth-Century Comic Fiction

Elizabeth Kraft

The eighteenth-century novel developed amid an emerging emphasis on individualism that clashed with long-cherished beliefs in hierarchy and stability. Though the comic novelists, unlike Defoe and Richardson, avoided total involvement in the mind of any one character, they were nonetheless fundamentally concerned with the nature of consciousness.

In Character and Consciousness in Eighteenth-Century Comic Fiction, Elizabeth Kraft examines the kind of consciousness central to comic novels of the period. It is, she asserts, individual identity conceived in social terms—a character's search for his or her place in a precarious secular order. Understanding this concept of character is vitally important to a full appreciation of eighteenth-century comic fiction. To respond validly to these fictional characters, Kraft claims, the twentieth-century reader must recapture, or recreate, the eighteenth-century self.

In readings of five novels—Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, Charlotte Lennox's Female Quixote, Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Tobias Smollett's Peregrine Pickle, and Fanny Burney's Cecilia—Kraft explores the relationships among consciousness, character, and comic narrative. Fielding, Lennox, and Sterne, she argues, question the validity of narratives of consciousness. Each seeks to define the limitations as well as the virtues of the form in representing the individual and communal lives. Smollett and Burney, on the other hand, address a readership that expects the novel to offer meaningful renderings of person experience. These novelists accept the validity of the narrative of consciousness but place this narrative within the context of the larger community.

As a thorough analysis of relations between narrative and the construction of character and consciousness, Kraft's study is an important addition to our understanding of the theoretical formulations of eighteenth-century fiction.

Page count: 224 pp.
Trim size: 5.875 x 9


List price: $46.95

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Elizabeth Kraft is a professor of English at the University of Georgia. Among her other books, she is the author of Character and Consciousness in Eighteenth-Century Comic Fiction and coeditor of The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld (both Georgia).