Annotated Bibliography: Representations of Violence in the Eighteenth-Century Epistolary Novel

By: Sophia Natasha Sunseri

My research explores the eighteenth-century epistolary novel, focusing on the slippage that occurs between writing and the body and the role that violence plays within this paradigm.

Dickie, Simon. Cruelty and Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental Eighteenth Century. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Simon Dickie discusses a comprehensive—but neglected—body of eighteenth-century comic texts. In examining how these texts represent suffering, Dickie counters prevailing scholarly assumptions about the ways in which eighteenth-century culture literature and culture have been recently characterized: as a transition to modernity and as being inextricably linked to politeness, sentimentalism, and other “middle-class” values. Dickie’s writing on the portrayal of violence in eighteenth-century literature has defined the theoretical approach I take in much of research, which strives to offer an alternative version of cultural history by problematizing notions of enlightenment.

Eagleton, Terry. The Rape of Clarissa. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1982.

Terry Eagleton assesses Richardson’s text through a variety of lenses: Marxist, psychoanalytic, feminist, and post-structuralist. He demonstrates how issues of power, class, and sex—all of which are raised in Richardson’s novels—continue to have critical and political significance. Of particular interest to me and my research are the portions of his book that delve into the symbolic importance of the letter. Eagleton writes that, “The letter is part of the body which is detachable: torn from the very depths of the subject, it can equally be torn from her physical possession … the letter comes to signify nothing quite so much as sexuality itself, that folded secret place which is always open to violent intrusion.” My scholarship aims to build upon Eagleton’s claims by exploring the body as a site upon which values are inscribed and where control can be exerted, displayed, or resisted. I hope to further this stance by tracing shifts that have occurred in feminism since the publication of Eagleton’s work in the early ‘80s.

Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

The Introduction to Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain explores the inexpressibility of physical pain, the political consequences of pain’s inexpressibility, and the nature of material and verbal expressibility. Scarry’s work would be of use to my own scholarship because it articulates an embodied stance (a stance I am considering taking in my research). Considering Scarry’s work within the context of my own raises interesting questions about how representations of pain correspond to representations of subjecthood in the eighteenth-century novel.

Nelson, Maggie. The Art of Cruelty. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty offers a cultural critique of the aesthetics of cruelty and violence in twentieth-century art. Nelson’s various subjects—which range from Sylvia Plath’s poetry to Francis Bacon’s paintings to the Saw franchise to Yoko Ono’s performance art—are contextualized against the backdrop of the century’s many atrocities (“…unthinkable wars, premeditated and spontaneous genocides, rapacious exploitations of resources, environmental catastrophes, and systematic injustices of all kinds…”). I see a distinct correlation between Nelson’s aim to reframe the history of the avant-garde in terms of cruelty and my aim to reframe the eighteenth century in terms of violence.

Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.

Susan Sontag examines a wide array of images depicting suffering—from Goya’s The Disasters of War to photographic documentation of 9/11—and explores the ways in which they impact viewers. She questions whether viewers are incited to commit acts of violence after encountering images of cruelty, whether their perception of reality is eroded by daily barrages of such images, and she articulates what it means to care about the suffering of others who are at a geographic remove. Sontag’s work acts as a visual supplement to my own work, allowing me to situate my research within a historical continuum.

Castle, Terry. The Female Thermometer: 18th-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

“The Culture of Travesty: Sexuality and Masquerade in Eighteenth-Century England,” the sixth chapter of Castle’s book, explores numerous examples of characters manipulating their appearances in public and private arenas. Castle’s work is of interest to me because of its emphasis on the female body. Assessing the female body within the context of the masquerade (where bodies can violate class and gender boundaries through dress) presents compelling ways to think about the body as a vehicle of hierarchal transgression.

Moglen, Helen. The Trauma of Gender: A Feminist Theory of the English Novel. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2001.

In “Clarissa and the Pornographic Imagination” (Chapter 2) Moglen argues that gender are power dynamics are eroticized in Richardson’s text, which renders the male perspective dominant. The ideas outlined in Moglen’s essay would be useful to consider in any feminist reading of eighteenth-century literature.

Tobin, Beth Fowkes. (Ed). History, Gender & Eighteenth-Century Literature. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1994.

Susan Staves’ essay, “Fielding and the Comedy of Attempted Rape” discusses violence against women as it is represented in some of Fielding’s comedic works, including his parody Shamela. Staves’ essay is applicable to my own work, as I too am interested in the intersection of violence and comedy (and whether the prevalence of comedic violence compromises our characterization of the eighteenth century as enlightened).

 Malogne-Fer, Gwendolyn. “Le rôle des femmes dans l’évangélisation protestante de Tahiti et des îles adjacentes”. French Historical Studies 34.1 (2011): 57-86. JSTOR.

Malogne-Fer’s article traces the accounts of eighteenth-century explorers, who fabricated the Tahitian myth of the immense sexual freedom enjoyed by Polynesians. It contrasts the explorers’ praise of such freedoms with the staunch disapproval expressed by British Protestant missionaries from the London Missionary Society (1797-1863). In examining missionary literature of the period, the author elucidates the role played by both Western and Polynesian women in the evangelization of Tahiti and its “adjacent islands,” underscoring the anxiety this caused Western male missionaries, who sought to maintain traditional hierarchies of race and gender. Malogne-Fer’s essay is useful to consider in terms of broadening the scope of my project, both in terms of expanding its geographical parameters and in considering representations of suffering incited by colonialist incentives.

Brouard-Arends, Isabelle. “Espaces du féminin dans le roman français du dix-huitième siècle”.   Revue d’Histoire littéraire de la France 107.1 (2007): 247-248. JSTOR.

This article discusses feminine spaces in French literature of the eighteenth century. Appropriating the discussion of feminine spaces for the purpose of my own research on the eighteenth-century British novel could have fruitful implications. I am thinking specifically of the lady’s dressing room. Though initially satirized by writers like Swift, the lady’s dressing room is eventually utilized by writers like Richardson, Burney, and Edgeworth and comes to be regarded as a space associated with the production of feminine virtue. I would be interested in examining instances in eighteenth-century literature where feminine spaces like the dressing room are violated.