The Afterlife of Character, 1726-1825

The Afterlife of Character, 1726-1825

David A. Brewer
Series: Material Texts
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Afterlife of Character, 1726-1825
    Book Description:

    The Afterlife of Character, 1726-1825 reconstructs how eighteenth-century British readers invented further adventures for beloved characters, including Gulliver, Falstaff, Pamela, and Tristram Shandy. Far from being close-ended and self-contained, the novels and plays in which these characters first appeared were treated by many as merely a starting point, a collective reference perpetually inviting augmentation through an astonishing wealth of unauthorized sequels. Characters became an inexhaustible form of common property, despite their patent authorship. Readers endowed them with value, knowing all the while that others were doing the same and so were collectively forging a new mode of virtual community. By tracing these practices, David A. Brewer shows how the literary canon emerged as much "from below" as out of any of the institutions that have been credited with their invention. Indeed, he reveals the astonishing degree to which authors had to cajole readers into granting them authority over their own creations, authority that seems self-evident to a modern audience. In its innovative methodology and its unprecedented attention to the productive interplay between the audience, the book as a material artifact, and the text as an immaterial entity, The Afterlife of Character, 1726-1825 offers a compelling new approach to eighteenth-century studies, the history of the book, and the very idea of character itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0143-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Cottagers upon the Textual Commons, an Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    I began with the desire to read with the dead. Or, more accurately, with the desire to read one book with one dead person, to understand how and why Lady Mary Wortley Montagu read The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle in the way in which she did. In a letter to her daughter, Lady Mary wrote that she was “sorry not to see more of P. Pickle’s performances.”¹ I was struck by this desire for “more” of a literary character, and puzzled by why it should be couched in theatrical terms (after all, Smollett’s work is generally regarded as a novel)....

  4. Chapter 1 The Invention of the Fictional Archive
    (pp. 25-52)

    We begin with a sustained look at a key moment in the transformation of British reading practices: the later 1720s. The first decades of the eighteenth century saw a decisive reduction in domestic political tensions compared with those that had gripped the nation for most of the previous century. Certainly not even the most Whiggish of historians would deny the presence of real divisions and resentments in the years leading up to 1730—tensions perhaps best exemplified by the abortive Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1719—but these paled in comparison to those surrounding the Popish Plot, the expulsion of...

  5. Chapter 2 Visualization, Theatricality, Fame
    (pp. 53-77)

    My next two chapters trace the principal forms taken by imaginative expansion in the generous half-century following the invention of the fictional archive. In this chapter, we will investigate what I would like to term “visualization,” a practice in which readers devised quite elaborate gestures and expressions for literary characters in order to make them appear so vivid to the mind’s eye that the readers could imagine themselves as witnesses to the action—a condition Lord Kames would term “ideal presence.” Most of these gestures and expressions were drawn from a stock repertoire of modes for representing the passions and...

  6. Chapter 3 Character Migration, Detachability, Old Friends
    (pp. 78-120)

    If some devotees of imaginative expansion busied themselves with visualizing the passions involved in key moments of an originary text, other readers took a cue from a different aspect of theater (the revival of popular characters in new plays) and invented further adventures for beloved characters which stepped outside the chronological bounds of that text. In this chapter we will investigate this second principal form of imaginative expansion, what I would like to term “character migration.”¹ Through this practice, readers imagined characters’ lives as extending off-page in ways which suggested their fundamental independence and detachability, their capacity to migrate both...

  7. Chapter 4 Lewd Engraftments and the Richardsonian Coterie Public
    (pp. 121-153)

    The first half of my narrative has been largely concerned with the textual commons as the invention of individual readers, often to the effacement or exclusion of authors. As my discussion of Henry Fielding at the close of the last chapter should suggest, however, many canonically ambitious writers were discontent with the ease with which their intentions and desires could be set aside by readers engaged in imaginative expansion. To better approximate the sheer contestedness of the literary field, then, I would like to consider the cases of three prominent authors—Samuel Richardson, Laurence Sterne, and (more briefly) Sir Walter...

  8. Chapter 5 Shandyism and the Club of True Feelers
    (pp. 154-188)

    If Richardson’s readers positioned him at the center of the coterie public, they did so in ways which largely preserved their own readerly autonomy and thus implicitly thwarted his efforts to promote his own authority as final or even controlling. Two decades later, Laurence Sterne was not about to make the same mistake. Sterne was every bit as eager as Richardson to turn the canonizing and community-inventing effects of imaginative expansion to his own account. Unlike his predecessor, though, Sterne saw that the best way through which to write “not [to] be fed, but famous” was to cajole and flatter...

  9. Scott’s Parental Interest, an Afterword
    (pp. 189-206)

    At the outset of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle worries that Holmes, like “one of those popular tenors who … are still tempted to make … farewell bows to their indulgent audiences,” may have overstayed his welcome. To console himself for the inevitability that Holmes “must go the way of all flesh, material or imaginary,” Doyle muses that “one likes to think that there is some fantastic limbo for the children of imagination, some strange, impossible place where the beaux of Fielding may still make love to the belles of Richardson, where Scott’s heroes may still strut,...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 207-234)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-252)
  12. Index
    (pp. 253-260)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 261-262)