School of English and Drama

Solitude in Life and Literature in Enlightenment Britain

Module code: ESH6028

Credits: 15.0
Semester: SEM1

  • Semester 1: Thursday 10 am - 12 pm

Contact: Prof Barbara Taylor
Overlap: None
Prerequisite: None

Solitude is an eternal dimension of human experience, but how it is conceived and represented changes over time. In Enlightenment Britain solitude was controversial. Widespread concern about the psychological and moral impact of capitalism prompted fears about the unregulated passions of the lone individual. `Commercial society¿, it was said, was isolating people, turning them into `detached and solitary beings¿ preoccupied with their own interests and indifferent to their fellow beings. Against this, defenders of solitude portrayed it as a site of personal authenticity and creativity, set apart from the shallow and corrupting vanities of `the world¿. These divergent views of solitude appeared in a wide variety of writings, including memoirs, philosophical works, novels, periodicals, travel writings, and of course poetry, the genre mostly closely identified with the valorisation of solitude, although here too anti-solitude sentiments intruded. This module examines these competing visions of solitude in Enlightenment Britain and the cultural and intellectual developments that contributed to them. It is a seminar-based course: each week students are provided with a selection of primary source materials for analysis and discussion. Works by influential writers on solitude, including Daniel Defoe, Lord Shaftesbury, Edward Young, David Hume, Dr Johnson, William Wordsworth , Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, are studied in relation to the changing forms and meanings of solitude in a modernising society.

Connected course(s): UDF DATA
Assessment: 100.0% Coursework
Level: 6