Social Problems and Literary Interventions in the Works of Baillie, Scott, and Landor
Bucknell Studies in Eighteenth Century Literature and Culture
Taking literally Joanna Baillie's claim that drama can promote social justice, the study explores how plays by Baillie, novels by Walter Scott, and Imaginary Conversations by Walter Savage Landor address problems of capital punishment, poverty, and political participation. Baillie's and Scott's preoccupation with affective responses to criminals and beggars takes on new significance when situated next to nationalist efforts to use legal differences to promulgate an image of Scotland as a more compassionate society than England and when contrasted with Landor's confidence in political claims-making to meet social needs. The study enlists analogies between the "symbolic interaction" prompted by the selected writers and the concepts of "symbolic interaction" still evolving from the sociology of Jane Addams, George Herbert Mead, and subsequent practitioners to recover a belief in the social efficacy of literature that was accepted during the pre-disciplinary Romantic era but contested throughout much of the twentieth century. The study advocates the renewal of literary interventionism in our post-disciplinary age.
"The commentary on Landor's Imaginary Conversations, along with her readings of several works of Baillie...and the three major Scott novels...are imaginative and richly contextualized by discussions of the criminal law, the poor laws, the dissolution of community, and the value/limits of political contention. All in all, Symbolic Interactions contributes not only to our reading of its primary subjects, but to our appreciation of the potential of approaches we've only begun to consider." --Bruce Beiderwell, University of California, Los Angelese (SiR, vol.47, Winter 2008)
"Hewitt [...] is a subtle reader of texts and brings in a branch of social science [...] that most people trained in English studies do not know very well"--Michael Scrivener, Wayne State University (The Wordsworth Circle, Autumn 2006)
About the author:
Regina Hewitt is Professor of English at the University of South Florida. Her most recent book is The Possibilities of Society: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Sociological Viewpoint of English Romanticism (1997). She has also published articles on literature and sociology in journals from both disciplines.
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