The Secret Life of Things

Mark Blackwell (Ed.)

Animals, Objects, and It-Narratives in Eighteenth-Century England

365 pages
ISBN 0-8387-5666-9
Bucknell Studies in Eighteenth Century Literature and Culture


This collection enriches and complicates the history of prose fiction between Richardson and Fielding at mid-century and Austen at the turn of the century by focusing on it-narratives, a once popular form largely forgotten by readers and critics alike. The volume also advances important work on eighteenth-century consumer culture and the theory of things. The essays that comprise The Secret Life of Things bring new texts, and new ways of thinking about familiar ones, to our notice. Those essays range from the role of it-narratives in period debates about copyright to their complex relationships with object-riddled sentimental fictions, from anti-Semitism in Chrysal to jingoistic imperialism in The Adventures of a Rupee , from the it-narratives of a variety of whore's biography to a consideration of its contributors to an emergent middle-class ideology. Other essays situate it-narratives in the context of changing attitudes toward occult powers, the development of still-life painting, the ethical challenges posed by pet ownership and slavery to the culture of sensibility, the circulation of books in the public sphere, the cult of Sterne and the appearance of genre fiction, and the emergence of moral-didactic children's literature at the turn of the nineteenth-century.

Contributors: Liz Bellamy, Barbara M. Benedict, Bonnie Blackwell, Mark Blackwell, Aileen Douglas, Markman Ellis, Hilary Jane Engler, Lynn Festa, Christopher Flint, Nicholas Hudson, Anne Louise Kibbie, Jonathan Lamb, Deidre Lynch, and John Plotz.

"Mark Blackwell has assembled a group of lively, provocative, and readable essays. We are lucky to have them.... The Secret Life of Things is an erudite and enjoyable guide, well-written and wide-ranging." -- Review of English Studies , Vol 58: 237, November 2007

"The Secret Life of Things fully realizes the ambitions that Mark Blackwell established for the volume - both to leaven the history of prose fiction and to contribute to our understanding of eighteenth-century attitudes towards the new object world - amibtions that square with those of the Bucknell series in which it appears, devoted to eighteenth-century literature and culture." -- Eighteenth Century Fiction, 21.4, 2010

"Blackwell's collection brings together some of the best previously published essays on eighteenth-century thinginess, such as Aileen Douglas's essay on it-narratives and empire (1993), and important new work by Barbara Benedict, Jonathan Lamb, Deidre Lynch, Markman Ellis, Lynn Festa, and Blackwell himself, among others...[This] is a valuable collection for eighteenth-century studies and for 'thing-theory' more generally..." -- Modern Philology, 108.1, 2010

"The Secret Life of a rich treatment of the picaresque "it-narratives" that flourished in the later half of the eighteenth century." -- Studies in English Literature 2009: 703.

"By bringing our attention to a genre that realizes the apparently impossible condition of material objects behaving as narrative protagonists, Blackwell's collection destabilizes our received impressions of eighteenth-century narrative as an evolving institution of realism...[I]ntriguing analyses and claims fill The Secret Life of Things." -- Eighteenth-Century Life 34.3 (2010)

"I think (this volume) represents essentially the best-case scenario for the edited collection of literary criticism that is organized not for a series or as primarily a teaching tool but as the best way of compiling a field's state of knowledge on an emerging topic... (it) remains an indispensable resource for scholars working on a host of topics related to the it-narrative and the animated objects of eighteenth-century literature."
- Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Volume 56, Number 3, Summer 2016

About the editor:

Mark Blackwell is Associate Professor of English, Chair of the English Department, and Chair of the Department of Rhetoric, Language, and Culture at the University of Hartford. He won the 2004-5 James L. Clifford Prize, sponsored by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, for an essay on live-tooth transplantation in eighteenth-century England. Dr. Blackwell has published in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Modern Philology, Studies in Romanticism, and Eighteenth-Century Life. His research interests include prose fiction, practices of allusion, aesthetic theory, and theories of personal identity in the eighteenth-century.


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