Withdrawing from History: Wordsworth, Scott, and Dickens and the Afterlife of the Scottish Enlightenment
Jackson, Jeffrey Edward
Patten, Robert L.
Doctor of Philosophy
In this project, I use Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, and Charles Dickens to trace the emergence of what I call a poetics of private life. I argue that a literature of individualized, interior domesticity developed in response to the effacement of the Scottish Enlightenment and its local specificity at a time of British assimilation. In the eighteenth century, metropolitan Scotland, buoyed by hopes of cultural and economic renewal, developed and popularized antiquarian studies of local folk culture and theories of history positing telic models of societal development. Such concepts and practices were the intellectual fruits of the universities, learned societies, and philosophical circles that typified Scotland's heavily institutionalized Enlightenment. In the wake of the Act of Union, a new literature emerged, one exchanging models of universal human progress for narratives of private life. This arc coincides with Scott's renunciation of regional, historically inflected Scottish poetry in favor of three-volume fiction and Wordsworth's corresponding need to develop an increasingly autobiographical (and generically "British") Romanticism. These dual developments would significantly alter the shape of British literature for Scott's novelistic successors such as Dickens. Thus, this dissertation resituates the emergence of British Romanticism and the nineteenth-century three-volume novel both historically and geographically, within a narrative beginning in the eighteenth century, with Scotland's assimilation into an increasingly urban, homogenous Britain.