And speaking of periodicals . . .

Is anyone trying to teach these canonical or non-canonical essayists in their classes?  I’ve had some success at the grad level, as part of a multi-genre overview of the period, but it’s always seemed odd to read a big chunk of the Tatler or Spectator in one week.  They make great supplementary texts while teaching other stuff, though.  Any stand-alone courses out there?  Public sphere courses?  Is there such a thing as a non-fiction 18th century course any more?  Or have we completely capitulated to the hegemony of the novel?


8 responses to “And speaking of periodicals . . .

  1. I do it (obviously). I’ve taught grad classes and undergrad honors seminars that focused exclusively on reading a bunch of periodicals: usually some Tatler, less Spectator, a chunk of the Female Tatler, and the stuff in the Augustan Reprints Contemporaries of the Tatler and Spectator. Makes for a great course in historicism and method: my undergrad honors seminar put up a website after researching essays that showed up in the Gentleman’s Magazine; we put up the GM (edited) versions and the originals side-by-side and they wrote about what the silent edits suggested about contemporary tastes, authorial and editing practices, and so on.

    In undergrad courses, I like to do the novel from a formalist perspective: spending about 3 weeks on the Tatler and Female Tatler at the beginning is a great way to talk about periodicity (epistolary novels), constructing a persona/authorial voice, and the ways that merging fiction with historical detail is (and isn’t) an adequate beginning to formal realism.

  2. Tedra, these sound like really good courses. I’m getting particularly dissatisfied with my undergrad novel course, and a segment like the one you describe sounds like a good way in. How did the students respond? And would you be willing to share a syllabus?



  3. Happy to. Alas, my university uses WebCt, so they’re not publicly available, but I’ll email a syllabus and associated assignments to you, just so you can get an idea.

  4. And how did the students do with these? Did they grasp the connections you were making?


  5. Kamille Stone Stanton

    Hi Dave,

    For so many reasons, I use selections from The Spectator and The Female Spectator in my undergraduate Eighteenth Century Course, and I am looking to incorporate more essays for the future. Periodic essays are short and concise (especially compared to anything Richardson ever dreamed of writing) in their illumination of various and particular cultural moments, giving students contemporary evidence of the social debates and concerns that are dramatized in the novels, poetry and plays we cover elsewhere on the course.

    The Spectator No. 69, “The Royal Exchange” gives students a glimpse of something close to commercially induced ecstasy as Addison tearfully expands on the idea that “there are no more useful Members in a Commonwealth than Merchants.” Student essays often make connections between this essay and the brandishing, and miniaturization of, commercial culture in The Rape of the Lock. Post-colonial readings between the two texts are inevitable and very interesting.

    The Female Spectator, Volume 1, Book 2, ‘Military Gentlemen’ offers a fascinating survey of eighteenth century models of masculinity to help students think about socially acceptable, and unacceptable, gender roles and gendered expectations regarding the display of men’s place in the class economy. Student essays sometimes make connections between this essay and the representations of refined effeminacy in Etherege’s Man of Mode or Burney’s Evelina or Cecilia.

    The Spectator, No. 10, “The Aims of the Spectator” and The Female Spectator, The First Number, Volume One, Book 1, offer students glimpses of authorial/generic conformity to the fashionability of moral agendas in literature of the period. Here, the explicitly stated didactic intentions of the periodic essay genre also help illuminate the implicit didacticism of other genres, which otherwise might be lost on the modern day reader. Moral agendas in C18 literature are particularly interesting as they concern women, and these two essays work well in conversation with popular, female-penned treatises that articulate specific plans for the elevation of women’s status within a more moral society, such as Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal or Judith Drake’s Essay in Defence of the Female Sex. Comparing these texts helps students contextualize what previous scholars have deemed to be feminist intentions in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth- century literature.

    My experience is that students readily grasp the connections between the texts and their contexts and sought to articulate and tease out that understanding in their own essays.


  6. Kamille, this sounds quite useful. Do you use periodicals to document contemporary attitudes, or do you try to give students a sense of the periodical as a genre? Not that those are mutually exclusive, but I can imagine doing it either way, or doing it both ways. But each approach would focus on different aspects of those essays.

    In a strange way, it’s easier for my students to deal with 18c language and style in fiction than in non-fiction. Do you have the same experience?


  7. Kamille Stone Stanton

    All of the above. I present the essays as primary texts and discuss the place of periodicals in the drawing rooms and coffee houses of the casual reading public. But I navigate a lot of the discussion around the same cultural debates that we use to talk about the rest of the texts on the course. I try to incorporate a variety of genres into the reading list, in order to give students what I think is a more adequately representative cross section of the literary production of the period.

    I am not sure why, but my students in England much preferred the non-fiction to fiction. They seemed disappointed that they couldn’t identify more with Evelina’s plight, but got some voyeuristic satisfaction out of familiar letters, like those between Pope and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

    This semester I am kicking myself for not having included a similar variety of genres on my Victorian Lit syllabus. We are focusing solely on the Victorian Novel, and the lack of variety seems to be dragging us all into a monogenerically induced stupor. The novel lengths themselves are making them grumpy, and my attempts to liven things up with literary theory just make their noses crinkle.

    What periodicals did you use for your graduate class? Did you use them as primary material?

  8. In my 18c “presem,” the grad course that covers the whole long 18th across genres, we have a brief segment on, yes, Addison and Steele. This works fine, though I think now I’d spend more time talking about the genre itself. We read a fair amount of Johnson’s essays, too, but you get the idea. Canonical writers and their essays.

    We got into some of these issues in a more interesting way when I started teaching a grad 18c autobiography, lifewriting, and memoir class that included material like Ignatius Sancho’s letters, Equiano’s life, plus Wollstonecraft and Godwin’s memoirs and polemical writings. The point was to talk about these genres as a way to enter public discussion, albeit at a cost, and without predeciding the fact/fiction questions that surround these kinds of texts.