Mere prose: Subjectivity, materiality, and British writing, 1650-1800
Rigilano, Matthew James
MetadataShow full item record
"Mere Prose: Subjectivity, Materiality, and British Writing, 1650-1800," examines the connection between prose and subjectivity in the long eighteenth century in England. It argues that when we look at concepts and practices of prose writing outside the bounds of the realist novel we discover articulations of subjectivity that do not fit the standard images of the modern self: invisible deities, talking coins, scribbling madmen, alchemical experimenters, and the din of chit-chat. These figures force readers to encounter the limit of prose's ability to stabilize the self through signification. Prose, it is argued, tells us more about subjectivity when it fails to provide transparency and clarity, that is, when it encroaches on the material. The limit of the self and the limit of prose mutually reflect one another in an altogether new way in the period -- and the resulting materiality of writing provides a fascinating index to these overlapping limits. "Mere Prose" is structured around four thematic loci: the invisible, and yet embodied, characters of Margaret Cavendish, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood; the disembodied voices of the talking coins in the work of Charles Johnstone and Tobias Smollett; the question of prosification taken up by critics like James Buchanan, Joseph Warton, and Charlotte Lennox; and, finally, the problem of the material transcript that brings David Hume in line with Thomas Hobbes. Ultimately, this dissertation suggests that "prose" -- despite its necessary relation to the "prosaic" -- is still a vital space for literary and historical research.