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Title: Faith, feeling and gender in the writing of Hartley, Wollstonecraft and Blake
Author: Rudland, Sophie
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis examines David Hartley’s Observations on Man (1749) and elucidates how Hartley’s mechanical approach to mind, his conception of emotion, and the religious status he awards the body were newly relevant after 1791. In this way it identifies a ‘Hartlean culture’ within the Romantic period and seeks to explore how such an intellectual climate influenced the radical writers William Blake (1757–1827) and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797). Blake and Wollstonecraft were acquainted with the famous bookseller Joseph Johnson, who republished Observations on Man in various forms and versions between 1775 and 1801. They also had an association with Johnson’s circle; the Hartlean concepts found throughout their work evidence Hartley’s latent popularity within intellectual culture, as well as the writers’ engagement with contemporary philosophical ideas. I propose that the renewed curiosity in Hartley during the 1790s reveals a specific religious and revolutionary culture wherein non-conformist views about Christianity and new ideas about the body, emotion and women flourished. Such a cultural moment renders Hartley a particularly important figure for debate since he integrated progressive values about equality and faith alongside advancing understanding of anatomy and mind. Hartley identified how God and happiness could be found physically within each person. He did this by combining a complex theory of vibrations and theory of association, where the body and mind functioned mechanically through a person’s feelings of pleasure and pain. These feelings manifested as physical vibrations and eventually led every person to desire goodness until finally, they can become ‘Godlike’ themselves. Hartley’s amalgamation of Christian and new theoretical concepts appealed to Blake and Wollstonecraft, and was much unlike the approach of Joseph Priestley who abridged Observations in 1775 to promote a wholly ‘scientific’ text. In this way, we can see resonances between Hartley, Blake and Wollstonecraft, even if they existed in different cultural contexts. In rethinking Blake and Wollstonecraft through Hartley, I offer new insights into their feminism. In particular I attend to how Hartlean culture enabled these writers to re-imagine gender and emotion: Wollstonecraft reinstates the female experience back into Hartlean concepts in order to promote women’s emotional potential and what she understands as the special power of the female-female bond. Blake responds to both Wollstonecraft and Hartley with his elevation of the feminine, one that envisions new potential for both sexes, emotionally and spiritually. In both cases, the writers share a fascination for the image of the female saviour, and they use terminology and concepts found in Hartley’s work to communicate their views. In being attentive to the shared vocabulary and ideas of these three writers’ works, this thesis highlights the importance of David Hartley and Hartlean culture for the field of Romantic Studies. It also illuminates Observations on Man as a vital contribution to the intellectual context of the 1790s.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Arts & Humanities Research Council ; British Association for Romantic Studies
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature