A thousand wrecks! : rakes' progresses in some eighteenth century English novels
This thesis examines the figure of the rake as portrayed in the eighteenth-century English novel, a character strangely neglected in critical studies. The first chapter examines 'libertine' writers of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, notably Bernard de Mandeville; and the dilemma faced by educators of the day over the benefits of virtue on the one hand, and of worldly wisdom on the other. While Mandeville and other lesser defenders of the rake were very much a scandalous minority early in the eighteenth century, it appears that by about mid century a more moderate strain of libertinism received wider, but by no means universal acceptance (Johnson, Chesterfield, Smith, Hume). The second chapter seeks to define the classic conception of the rake as a young upper-class prodigal, and the standard anti-libertine view that gentleman rakes, by their neglect of social and political duties, were a serious threat to established social and political order. The chapter concludes with various examples of the standard rake in minor eighteenth-century novels that both defend and vilify him. Chapters III to V concentrate on each of the three principal novelists of mid century (Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Tobias Smollett), and their par- ticular uses of and moral conclusions about the conventional rake. The sixth chapter suggests some conclusions to be drawn, mainly from the previous three chapters, and especially the ways in which Fielding, Richardson and Smollett com- ment on the rakes in each other's fiction; and examines the continued use of the rake topos right to the end of the century and at least into the early nineteenth, in differing types of fiction (novels of manners, of Sentiment and of radical ideas, the Gothic novel).