The Talk of the Town
Ann C. Dean
Figurative Publics in Eighteenth-century Britain
This study argues that in eighteenth-century Britain, the public sphere was a figure of speech created by juxtaposed images of more limited, local, and particular arenas of discussion. In letters, newspapers, and books, eighteenth-century British writers described the "public" qualities of three different spaces: court, coffeehouse, and meeting. Writers referred to the proliferation of these social spaces, describing multiple coffeehouses, drawing rooms, and meetings, among which the customary language of each was circulated in repeated conversations and printed newspapers. These multiple references created a set of interrelated, competing, and mutually defining metaphors and figurations: figurative public spheres. Identifying the relations between these metaphors requires work in an archive that crosses the boundaries between court, coffeehouse, and Parliament, and between manuscript and print. By following figures from one medium to another, and by examining the contexts in which they were used, it is possible to see a social imaginary emerging from the juxtapositions between them.
About the author:
Ann C. Dean is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Writing Collaborative at the University of Southern Maine. She is a coeditor of Teaching Literature: A Handbook.