Money, Class, and Realism in Eighteenth-century English Fiction from Robinson Crusoe to Amelia.

Open Access
Author:
Spielman, David
Graduate Program:
English
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
August 03, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Robert Hume, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • John Thomas Harwood, Committee Member
  • Garrett Sullivan Jr., Committee Member
  • John Philip Jenkins, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • eighteenth-century fiction
  • Daniel Defoe
  • Samuel Richardson
  • Henry Fielding
  • money
  • class
  • realism
Abstract:
This project challenges a number of long-held assumptions about some of the most studied novels in the period (such as Robinson Crusoe, Pamela, and Tom Jones) by asking how their original readers might have responded to them when they were first published. I focus on representations of class and sums of money to gauge whether readers would have been likely to believe the claims to authenticity made in the prefaces to some of the novels and whether the fiction could have appeared realistic, even if it was not being presented as a genuine memoir. Throughout I offer approximations of present-day buying power for the sums given in the novels and compare them to historical sums in order to understand their value and their interpretive significance. I argue ultimately that discussing realism in eighteenth-century fiction requires awareness of relevant historical, contextual information, rather than asserting that an event or plot seems realistic to us now as modern readers.