Two new books arrived in the mail recently, both about eighteenth-century literature. One of them is Privacy, by Patricia Meyers Spacks, where she tracks 18th C. concerns about privacy and the relationship of privacy and the public sphere in fiction and other prose writings. This interests me, well, because I find the 18th C. fascinating, especially the novel, but specifically because it promises to tell me about changing ideas of the self and of interior life, and, being an introverted person, I’d like to know more about the history of the private world and how reading and writing feed into it. One of the major lessons of the 18th C, it seems to me, is that those things we often take for granted, an interior self, privacy, have a history. This is a very obvious point, but it’s still fun to be reminded of it in new ways.
A story about Spacks: she came to a grad class I was taking quite a few years back as a guest lecturer, and the assignment was Clarissa. I’d done my best to get through the book, and had managed about 500 pages (one third). We were in class, and Spacks told us to open to a particular passage, and, in a moment of silence, a friend of mine opened her book and the spine loudly cracked. We all looked around nervously, hoping Spacks (and my professor) hadn’t heard that sound that made it very clear my friend hadn’t even begun the reading. But, honestly, who can read Clarissa in the middle of a busy semester? I was only able to finish the book over the following winter break.
I also ordered William Warner’s book Licensing Entertainment, a book on the history of the novel and its relationship with other popular prose genres of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This is a book I should have read in grad school, although I didn’t.
I think I did, however, write about it in my comprehensive exams. I wonder if what I wrote made any sense whatsoever?
I do, generally, do my homework; it just takes me a few years sometimes.