Rhetoric and new contractarianism for figures of gentility in early modern novels
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This dissertation explores the literary representations of British gentility in the early modern fiction as they embrace discourse of enlightened social exchanges, sentimental reforms, and modern contractarianism in an effort to envision an innovative model for political authority of the ruling class. The texts in question—Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, Daniel Defoe's Captain Singleton, and Colonel Jack, and Sarah Scott's Millenium Hall and Sir. George Ellison —all feature characters who have been socially displaced by turbulent capitalist social restructuring but whose genteel accomplishments enable them prove their prestigious pedigree. These heroes and heroines align themselves with nascent modern institutions of the Enlightenment, envisioning themselves as moral reformers and political trailblazers in unparalleled social contracts. In doing so, they stake out their own autonomous sphere of influence. They are in the vanguard of the social workers who police the symbolic and territorial peripheries of the nation including morally ailing chattel slavery in British American colonies, Atlantic high seas beleaguered by unlawful trafficking, and the crippling economy of old manorial governance. With revisionist approaches to civic virtues, these new figures of gentility tap onto their modern, genteel accomplishments that enable fresh ties and thriving connections, and among these heroes’ genteel capabilities stands out their masterful linguistic performance that enacts neo-classical rhetoric, polite social exchanges, or Habermasian rationality in public discourse. In their later developments, these qualities also serve to enforce orderly social hierarchy based on bourgeois managerialism and sentimental benevolence. These genteel figures thus demonstrate the possibility of new contractarianism for redressing the strained relationship between the master and his subjects. In place of Hobbesian political affects of fear and trembling that still place socio-political relations on shaky ground, these gentlemanly figures strive to provide new strategies for construing the organizing political signifier—human passion that frames relations of dominance and submission. This literature therefore suggests that the basis of moral authority for the governing genteel Britons should be derived from exchanges of sociable affections as in the cases of paternalist elites and submissive subjects tied by sympathetic cares and grateful services, or from polite and friendly discourse between the liberal humanist subjects capable of self-enlightenment and critical-rational social exchanges. Furthermore, tropes of gentility provide anchoring schemata for securing and representing social relations with others in the age of imperial expansion. Transcultural encounters at contact zones are subject to uncanny and unsettling experiences such as misidentification, wonder, and bafflement, which tend to threaten the self into dissolution. Genteel contractarianism based on polite social exchanges, rhetorical speech act or sentimental bonds, however, by envisioning amicable exchanges and sustainable social ties with cultural others, affords literary strategies for bringing distant people within the purview of the metropolitan reading community so as to help preserve the singular integrity of the European self.