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|Title:||Peacock and the Idea of Progress: A Background to the Novels of Talk|
|Abstract:||This thesis examines the idea of progress in Peacock's "novels of talk," primarily against the intellectual background of the early nineteenth century. Although much of it is concerned with elucidating specific sources and probable general influences, my aim throughout has been to show how these sources and influences operate in the novels. As Peacock is a highly eclectic writer, critics have found it difficult to disentangle his own views from the many others put forward in his fiction. By examining Peacock's treatment of what was perhaps the most widely diffused and variously applied idea of his century, I attempt to find grounds for reconciliation of the many seemingly opposed views on this idea presented in the five novels of talk. Using Peacock's "Four Ages of Poetry" as a startingpoint, I suggest in my introduction that Peacock's early transition from poetry to satire had an historical premise, rooted as it was in an eighteenth-century intellectual tradition which viewed man's progress from a savage to a civilized state as an advance from "rude" passion to urbane reason. Hence comedy and satire became for Peacock the only feasible literary forms in a "polished" age. Turning to Peacock's fiction, I devote a chapter to each of the five novels of talk, in which I examine Peacock's treatment of such concepts as perfectibility, reform, primitivism, political economy, millenarianism and so on, all concerns of Peacock's age, and all in some way bearing on the notion of progress. Against this broad background I analyse the narrative level of the fiction and attempt to show how it illustrates practically the ideas set forth on the level of discourse. My conclusion, essentially, is that Peacock professes an optimism tempered by informed scepticism. Peacock is convinced, to quote from Headlong Hall, that "an amelioration in the state of the sensitive man" is eminently possible. While he is less optimistic about society at large, some few rays of hope are evident in the tentative syntheses of opinion and theory which he effects on the level of discourse in the novels.|
|Appears in Collections:||Open Access Dissertations and Theses|
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