Professor Joseph Drury: “Realism’s Ghosts: Science, Spectacle, and the 18th-Century Novel”

Eighteenth-century novelists attempted to legitimize the novel as a form by deploying the language and epistemological authority of experimental science. They thought of their narratives as enlightened machines which would displace the outdated “irrational machinery” of romance, thus disciplining readers rather than merely titillating them. Professor Drury proposes that just as the numerous spectacular frauds, scams and “projects” of the early eighteenth century cast doubt on the social and political implications of the rise of the machine, and suggested that science was proliferating irrationality as much as it was disciplining it, so in its treatment of the supernatural the eighteenth-century novel—Fielding’s Tom Jones, in particular—betrays anxieties about the implications of the rise of fiction and the inherent deception of presenting fiction as a form of rational instruction.

Date: Monday, Feb. 7
4:30 – 6:00 PM
Russell House