Exploring the idea of luxury in relation to a series of neighboring but distinct concepts including avarice, excess, licentiousness, indulgence, vitality, abundance, and waste, this study combines intellectual and cultural historical methods to trace discontinuities in luxury’s conceptual development in seventeenth-century England. The central argument is that, as ’luxury’ was gradually Englished in seventeenth-century culture, it developed political and aesthetic meanings that connect with eighteenth-century debates even as they oppose their so-called demoralizing thrust. Alison Scott closely examines the meanings of luxury in early modern English culture through literary and rhetorical uses of the idea. She argues that, while ’luxury’ could and often did denote merely ’lust’ or ’licentiousness’ as it tends to be glossed by modern editors of contemporary works, its cultural lexicon was in fact more complex and fluid than that at this time. Moreover, that fuller understanding of its plural and shifting meanings-as they are examined here-has implications for the current intellectual history of the idea in Western thought. The existing narrative of luxury’s conceptual development is one of progressive upward transformation, beginning with the rise of economic liberalism amidst eighteenth-century debates; it is one that assumes essential continuity between the medieval treatment of luxury as the sin of ’luxuria’ and early modern notions of the idea even as social practises of luxury explode in early seventeenth-century culture.
Table of Contents
Problems of definition: the meaning of Spenser's 'wastfull luxuree'. Cleopatra's spoils: proto-liberal dimensions of early modern luxury. Sin City: satirizing luxury in early modern London. Riotous luxury: comical satire and the staging of a new order of things. Bad markets: remoralized luxury in mercantile literature. Particularizing abundance: Un-economic luxury in Roman political tragedy.
Alison V. Scott is a senior lecturer in the School of English, Media Studies, and Art History at The University of Queensland, Australia. She is also the author of Selfish Gifts: The Politics of Exchange and English Courtly Literature, 1580-1628.
"[Scott] provides a new aspect to familiar texts that may help scholars better to understand the literature that has survived from the period."
- Sybil M. Jack, The University of Sydney in Parergon: Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, volume 33.1 (2016).