Fictions of intelligence: Eighteenth-century English novels and the commerce of information, 1700--1760
Kahan, Lee Fredrick
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This project brings together theories of media and information, the public sphere and economy to examine novels throughout the eighteenth century in the context of cultural anxieties about the growing social and commercial impact of printed intelligence. While eighteenth-century readers longed for information about people and events beyond their immediate horizons, they likewise recognized that the world, as it appeared in newspapers and magazines, might be the fictional construct of an invisible, though hardly impartial, narrator. This concern was informed by a hyper-awareness that intelligence was not a disinterested medium but a commodity of a peculiar kind, one that could also fulfill the role of capital. Writers from the period described it not only as a branch of "manufacture"---a status which itself implied that news writers created rather than related information---but also as a kind of "specie" or "coin," a narrative expenditure that could accrue value as it circulated. Focusing on the works of Delarivier Manley, Daniel Defoe and Tobias Smollett, I argue that novelists throughout the period deployed such fictions of intelligence as foils to mark the disinterestedness of their own mode of representation. In dialectical fashion, they used their characters to critique the intelligencer's economy of information while modeling their authorial positions on a sanitized version of this very figure. This dialectical relationship between periodical and novelistic discourse, I argue, helped to shape what we now call the omniscient narrator, who pretends to the intelligencer's monopoly on information but without the personal investment that makes such power dangerous to the reading public.