Death in the eighteenth-century novel, 1740-1800
This thesis examines the development of the novel in the eighteenth century in relation to changing attitudes to death, and looks at how far shifting notions of the moral purpose of the novel and subsequent changes in its treatment of deathbed scenes, murders, duels, suicides and speculations about heaven and hell reflect changing beliefs and the modification of strict Christian ideals to accommodate or combat new feelings and philosophies. In establishing this background, the thesis draws upon popular devotional literature, sermons, minor novelists (such as Sarah Fielding and Henry Mackenzie), periodicals, plays, poetry, biography, paintings and funeral iconography. Each chapter attempts to establish the typicality and individuality of a particular author in relation to the period in which he was writing. My starting-point is Richardson, who uses the novel to question both old and new attitudes, paving the way for the novel's predominantly emotional approach to mortality. Fielding's comic novels provide a striking contrast to this, whilst also revealing a concern for emotional comfort which is at once typical of the period and highly individual. Sterne is seen as questioning not only the ways in which we evade and find consolation for our mortality but also our self-indulgent response to death in fiction. The last two chapters deal with the closing decades of the century, when hopes and fears roused by revolutionary ferment led to fresh uncertainties concerning death and the afterlife. In Ann Radcliffe's sentimental-Gothic novels, religious uncertainty is exploited as a source of sublime terror, while the English Jacobins, Godwin, Holcroft and Bage, attempt to modify the conventions of death in the novel in order to communicate a wholly secular philosophy in which Clarissa's hope of heaven is replaced by the hope of man's perfectibility on earth.