Novel Machines: Technology and Narrative Form in Enlightenment Britain

ISBN : 9780198792383

Joseph Drury
272 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Nov 2017
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Eighteenth-century fiction is full of mechanical devices and contrivances: Robinson Crusoe uses his gun and compass to master his island and its inhabitants; Tristram Shandy's conception is interrupted by a question about a clock and he has his nose damaged at birth by a man-midwife's forceps; Ann Radcliffe's gothic heroines play musical instruments to soothe their troubled minds. In Novel Machines, however, Joseph Drury argues that the most important machine in any eighteenth-century novel is the narrative itself. Like other kinds of machine, a narrative is an artificial construction composed of different parts that combine to produce a sequence of causally linked actions. Like other machines, a narrative is designed to produce predictable effects and can therefore be put to certain uses. Such affinities had been apparent to critics since Aristotle, but they began to assume a particular urgency in the eighteenth century as authors sought to organize their narratives according to the new ideas about nature, art, and the human subject that emerged out of the Scientific Revolution. Reading works by Eliza Haywood, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and Ann Radcliffe, Novel Machines tracks the consequences of the effort to transform the novel into an Enlightenment machine. On the one hand, the rationalization of the novel's narrative machinery helped establish its legitimacy, such that by the end of the century it could be celebrated as a modern 'invention' that provided valuable philosophical knowledge about human nature. On the other hand, conceptualizing the novel as a machine opened up a new line of attack for the period's moralists, whose polemics against the novel were often framed in the same terms used to reflect on the uses and effects of machines in other contexts. Eighteenth-century novelists responded by adapting the novel's narrative machinery, devising in the process some of the period's most characteristic and influential formal innovations.


1 Narratives and Machines in Enlightenment Britain
2 Libertines and Machines in Love in Excess
3 Realism's Ghosts: Science and Spectacle in Tom Jones
4 The Speed of Tristram Shandy
5 The Machine in the Ghost: Sounds and Sensibility in The Mysteries of Udolpho
Coda: The Novel and the Industrial Revolution

About the author: 

Joseph Drury is Assistant Professor of English at Villanova University. He completed his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania and has published articles in Novel: A Forum on Fiction, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction.

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