1st Edition

The Eighteenth-Century Novel and the Secularization of Ethics

By Carol Stewart Copyright 2010

    Linking the decline in Church authority in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries with the increasing respectability of fiction, Carol Stewart provides a new perspective on the rise of the novel. The resulting readings of novels by authors such as Samuel Richardson, Sarah Fielding, Frances Sheridan, Charlotte Lennox, Tobias Smollett, Laurence Sterne, William Godwin, and Jane Austen trace the translation of ethical debate into secular and gendered terms. Stewart argues that the seventeenth-century debate about ethics that divided Latitudinarians and Calvinists found its way into novels of the eighteenth century. Her book explores the growing belief that novels could do the work of moral reform more effectively than the Anglican Church, with attention to related developments, including the promulgation of Anglican ethics in novels as a response to challenges to Anglican practice and authority. An increasingly legitimate genre, she argues, offered a forum both for investigating the situation of women and challenging patriarchal authority, and for challenging the dominant political ideology.

    Contents: Introduction; Secularizing ethics: from Pamela to Tom Jones; Opposition and persuasion: from Roderick Random to Humphry Clinker; Rewriting ethics: David Simple, The Female Quixote and Memoirs of Miss Sidney Biddulph; Tristram Shandy: latitudinarianism and liberty; 'Hurtful insignificance'? The novel in the later 18th century; Works cited; Index.


    Carol Stewart is a lecturer in eighteenth-century literature at Queen's University, Belfast.

    '[This book] provides a broad overview of the eighteenth-century novel’s increasing and changing moral legitimacy and makes gender politics a crucial part of this history.' English Studies 'A significant contribution to the study of the relations between Sterne’s fiction and his religious beliefs...' The Scriblerian 'Given its subject, literary scholars will be particularly interested in this book, but others whose interests span the history of ideas in eighteenth-century Britain should not overlook it either.' Notes and Queries