Enlightenment in Ruins

Michael Griffin

The Geographies of Oliver Goldsmith

226 pages
ISBN 9781611485059

Now in Paperback

Oliver Goldsmith (1728 - 1774) moved between the genres and geographies of enlightenment writing with considerable dexterity. As a consequence he has been characterized as a passive purveyor of enlightenment thought, a hack, a harried translator of the French enlightenment for an English audience, an ideological lackey, and a subtle ironist. In poetry, he is either a compliant pastoralist or an engaged social critic. Yet Goldsmith's career is as complex and as contradictory as the enlightenment currents across which he wrote, and there is in Goldsmith's oeuvre a set of themes - including his opposition to the new imperialism and to glibly declared principles of liberty - which this book addresses as a manifestation of his Irishness. Michael Griffin places Goldsmith in two contexts: one is the intellectual and political culture in which he worked as a professional author living in London; the other is that of his nationality and his as yet unstudied Jacobite politics. Enlightenment in Ruins thereby reveals a body of work that is compellingly marked by tensions and transits between Irishness and Englishness, between poetic and professional imperatives, and between cultural and scientific spheres.


"This volume...offers a vital contribution toward understanding the work of an often underappreciated author."
--Choice (February 2014)

"This book is a model of historically informed literary analysis, beautifully written and assiduously researched. It is a relief to encounter Goldsmith free of Boswell's anecdotage. His disagreements with Edmund Burke and the famous lines from Retaliation, that Burke, "born for the universe, narrowed his mind, / And to party gave up what was meant for mankind", are given deep background in the context of Irish debate in the 1740s; and followed through to Goldsmith's support in 1773 of the absentee tax which Burke opposed. Even deeper background offers an unlikely connection between Goldsmith and Tom Paine, who in 1772 sent Goldsmith his pamphlet, The Case of the Officers of Excise, on the grounds that Goldsmith cared about the working poor. Griffin begins with this moment. It symbolizes some of the ironies around the word "liberty" that he explores. English liberty, rooted in the legacy of 1688, had become synonymous with trade and empire. The poor and the colonized had at best a fraught relationship with the concept."
--Times Literary Supplement (2014)

"Enlightenment in Ruins offers a critical revaluation of Oliver Goldsmith's contributions to enlightenment thought, focusing particularly on elements that align with Irish strains produced by contemporaries such as Edmund Burke...Griffin finds in Goldsmith imaginative geographies that subvert the discourses of imperialism by demonstrating that these "contain within them the possibility of their own parody and critique" (6)."
--Jill Bradbury, Gallaudet University; The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer[//i] Volume 29, no. 1, (March 2015)

"Throughout this study Griffin negotiates sure-footedly between the opinions Goldsmith produced under the exigencies of writing-for-hire and the letters, poems and passages of texts where he felt freer to express his convictions. One of the pleasures of this account is the number of places outside Grub Street where Griffin finds his subject...This valuable study updates Goldsmith criticism by placing him squarely within the political debates and geographies of enlightened modernity, and should appeal to readers interested in eighteenth-century culture both Irish and global."
--Megan Kitching, Queen Mary, University of London; Irish Studies Review, Vol. XXIII, No. 2 (March 2015)

About the author:

Michael Griffin lectures in eighteenth-century and Irish studies at the University of Limerick, where he is Director of the Eighteenth Century Research Group. He has published widely on eighteenth-century studies, utopian satire, and Irish writing in English.

Also available in paperback, ISBN: 978-1-61148-689-6, Price: $24.95


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