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The Making of the Modern Self

The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    The Making of the Modern Self
    Book Description:

    Toward the end of the eighteenth century, a radical change occurred in notions of self and personal identity. This was a sudden transformation, says Dror Wahrman, and nothing short of a revolution in the understanding of selfhood and of identity categories including race, gender, and class. In this pathbreaking book, he offers a fundamentally new interpretation of this critical turning point in Western history.Wahrman demonstrates this transformation with a fascinating variety of cultural evidence from eighteenth-century England, from theater to beekeeping, fashion to philosophy, art to travel and translations of the classics. He discusses notions of self in the earlier 1700s-what he terms the ancien regime of identity-that seem bizarre, even incomprehensible, to present-day readers. He then examines how this peculiar world came to an abrupt end, and the far-reaching consequences of that change. This unrecognized cultural revolution, the author argues, set the scene for the array of new departures that signaled the onset of Western modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13459-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface Before the Self: The Ancien Régime of Identity and the Revolution
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  6. Part I

    • Snapshot: On Queen Bees and Being Queens
      (pp. 3-6)

      Shortly after the Glorious Revolution, one Joseph Warder, a physician from Croydon, published a tract that went through no fewer than nine editions in the next half-century; a tract that sang the praises of a particular matriarchal society headed by a “glorious” queen. This warlike queen, “Terrible to her Enemies”, was so powerful that “the Grand Seignior with all his janizaries about him . . . is not half so absolute”, nor commands such “Loyal Awe” from his subjects. When the second edition came out in 1713, Warder could not but dedicate it to his own female monarch, Queen Anne:...

    • 1 Varieties of Gender in Eighteenth-Century England
      (pp. 7-44)

      If bees are good to think with, as early-modern people certainly believed, let us inquire further into the cultural currents that intersected in the driving of the Amazon queen out of the beehive by the late eighteenth century and in the emergence of the queen mother as her most likely replacement. This chapter therefore begins by tracing the evolution of both sides in this balance – the image of the Amazon on the one hand, and that of the mother on the other. Both, I want to suggest, went through parallel shifts during the same period: shifts from understandings capacious enough...

    • 2 Gender Identities and the Limits of Cultural History
      (pp. 45-82)

      The previous chapter has led this inquiry head-on into what is perhaps the most problematic methodological quagmire of cultural history. It can be described as the difficulty of the “weak collage”:¹ the historian, identifying a seemingly similar phenomenon in several disparate cultural spheres at the same historical moment, declares it to be a pattern of historical significance. This pattern is therefore reified as a “thing” that has an existence independent of these spheres, and then extrapolated beyond them to a larger swathe of culture, perhaps even to culture as a whole – a “zeitgeist” event touching on everything and everyone that...

    • 3 Climate, Civilization, and Complexion: Varieties of Race
      (pp. 83-126)

      In the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War, the Swiss-born professional soldier Colonel Bouquet led a dangerous expedition to the Ohio country against the Delawares, Shawnees, and Seneca Indians who appeared unaware of the fact that the war had officially ended. After a successful military encounter in the Battle of Bushy Run, Bouquet entered into negotiations with the Indians. Benjamin West’s engraving of this diplomatic exchange at the fork of the Muskingum river in late 1764, which accompanied the anonymously published account of the expedition (fig. 17), shows the two rival parties, the Indians and the colonists, clearly separated by...

    • Wide-Angle Lens: Gender, Race, Class, and Other Animals
      (pp. 127-154)

      The last quarter of the eighteenth century, then, witnessed the first stages of a shift in the understandings of race, as Britons – to summon once more James Dunbar’s perceptive diagnosis – suddenly moved toward new ways of “imagining specific differences among men”. Before this transitional moment, race had been basically mutable: changeable either through the effects of climate and the environment, or, in a more specifically eighteenth-century twist, through human interventions in the form of social customs or even individual choice. From the 1770s onward, by contrast, race was gradually and haltingly reconceptualized as an essential and immutable category, stamped on...

  7. Part II

    • Bird’s-Eye View: The Eighteenth-Century Masquerade
      (pp. 157-165)

      Imagine one of those attractive photograph albums that unfold the radical transformation of a modern city by taking the reader on a tour of the townscape through pairs of “then” and “now” shots of key sites taken from exactly the same angles. The first part of this book has performed just such an argumentative function, offering a series of before-and-after contrasts of key sites in the eighteenth-century English cultural landscape. The city album shows the transformation of one neighborhood after another by juxtaposing photographs of changes in a variety of specific locales. I have likewise tried to show the transformation...

    • 4 The Ancien Régime of Identity
      (pp. 166-197)

      In the middle of the eighteenth century one A. Betson, an idiosyncratic writer with a scholarly bent, published a treatise on masquerades, setting the scene with a seemingly innocuous definition: “Masquerades, or Masqueraders, arePersons in Disguise, representing or acting other Personages, than what they are commonly known to be.” Now read this definition again, paying particular attention to how its ending betrays an archaic way of thinking. We might say, “masqueraders are acting personages different than what theyare”, but we are less likely to say that they act personages different than what theyare commonly known to be....

    • 5 Religion, Commerce, and Empire: Enabling Contexts of Identity’s Ancien Régime
      (pp. 198-217)

      We are coming close to the end of our tour of the short eighteenth century. Within the itinerary constraints resulting from the limitations of the vehicles that have been carrying us from one viewpoint to the next, and none more disabling than our very restricted access to the countryside, we have surveyed the eighteenth-century cultural terrain from a great many angles, and have come up with a remarkably consistent set of observations. I have given the patterns that emerged from these observations – patterns insistent, widespread, and distinctive enough to be considered as defining properties of this terrain – the label “the...

    • 6 The Ancien Régime and the Revolution
      (pp. 218-264)

      In early 1776, two English clergymen had an argument over tea. The first was Richard Price, the pro-American Dissenting minister whoseObservations on the Nature of Civil Libertywas one of the most influential pamphlets in the runup to the American Revolution. In arguing the case of the colonists, Price commented on their struggles against the tax on tea; “and at BOSTON”, he reminded his readers in passing, “some persons in disguise buried it in the sea.” Our second interlocutor was the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, who penned one of the most influential responses to Price. Writing with the...

    • 7 The Modern Regime of Selfhood
      (pp. 265-311)

      In May 1783 James Sayers published the print “The Mask”, which I offered at the end of the previous chapter as an example of the continuing resonance of the language of disguise and masquerade immediately after the American war (fig. 38). And so it was. But on second glance it becomes clear that what this print called a “mask” was in truth the antithesis of one: it revealed duplicity rather than hid it, and represented an identity transformation or doubling that was grotesque rather than successful. This print was as much about the conspicuous failure of masquerading as about duplicity....

    • The Panoramic View: Making an Example of the French
      (pp. 312-321)

      The previous section has brought into sharp relief a question that may have been at the back of the reader’s mind for some time: what is the relationship between the specifics of the English case and the broader Western history of identity and self that this book purports to retell? Of course this question is important for every stage of the argument, but for none more so than for the linking – however tentative – between the new political departures of the Age of Revolutions and the new regime of identity: a new regime that has been laid down here in detail...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 322-402)
  9. Index
    (pp. 403-414)