Institutions | About Us | Help | Gaeilge
rian logo

Go Back
More than meets the eye : truth in the eighteenth-century novel
Keeley, Vivienne
THESIS 10969 In the eighteenth century it was commonly believed that Britain was experiencing a servant crisis. In consequence of the changing nature of the master-servant relationship which was shifting from a patriarchal style to that of a more contractual system, servants it was deemed had lost all sense of subordination. Particularly in London, where servants were very visible, complaints about servant behaviour were widespread and in consequence these employees were subject to a barrage of intense and heated criticism. An array of moralists and social commentators vocalised these social concerns in the conduct literature produced during the century, in which these domestic employees were berated as a bunch of unruly, troublesome misfits. One of the principle problems associated with servants was their supposed tendency to engage in falsehoods and deceit. This group was perceived as having a notoriously strained relationship with truth-telling and were renowned for their allegedly slippery, evasive behaviours. This thesis examines how the eighteenth-century novel engages with this topic and argues that, as an emerging and innovative form, the novel offered a much more complex and nuanced perspective on this issue than has previously been recognised. In this respect, the thesis will explore a variety of novels written during the period of 1740 to 1820. Considering works by Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett, Charlotte Smith, William Godwin and Maria Edgeworth, the thesis examines how each of these writers engages with representations of servants and truth. It will be suggested that while each author articulates their own unique perspective on this issue, they all nevertheless share a similar concern surrounding servants and their vexed relationship with truth-telling. By taking into consideration the extenuating circumstances and mitigating factors which contribute to and influence servant behaviour, these writers this thesis argues, offer a more balanced and enlightened assessment on the predicament of the eighteenth-century servant. The first chapter will examine the works of Henry Fielding and argues that his portrayal of this issue is more sympathetic than is generally recognised. Considering his major novels and his social pamphlets, the chapter will suggest that while Fielding saw servants as deceitful he nevertheless recognised that these were learned behaviours which these menials were obliged to adopt. The following chapter will explore the novels of Tobias Smollett and suggests that he inserts an idealised servant figure into his satirical portrayal of contemporary Britain in order to highlight how inappropriate and exceptional these characters are. In effect, Smollett reverses the criticisms popularly directed at servants and instead deflects the blame onto the upper classes, identifying these masters as selfish, money obsessed individuals who are destroying the patriarchal bonds of the master-servant relationship. In the following chapters however the tone of the situation changes and this topic is treated in a more serious, sombre manner. Chapter three examines Charlotte Smith?s The Old Manor House (1793) and argues that while she depicts deceitful, scheming servants, Smith also demonstrates the tyrannical treatment to which they are subjected thereby alleviating the extent of the condemnation placed on these characters. The following chapter will examine William Godwin?s most famous novel Caleb Williams (1794) and argues that the author reverses the traditional hierarchy of truth by representing masters and not servants as liable to perpetrate falsehoods and deceits. The final chapter will examine an array of works by Maria Edgeworth, focussing on her depiction of servants in relation to children and the communication of falsehood via oral stories and tales. While this indirect form of deceit distracts youngsters from their duty and leaves them incapacitated to fulfil their responsibilities, Edgeworth nevertheless demonstrates how these attendants can be conditioned into loyal, honest servants through education, albeit of a limited kind. In this respect, the thesis suggests that while this issue regarding servants and their troubled relationship with truth attracted the attention of all these writers, each author had their own unique perspective on and concerns about this topic. As such there was no consensus on the subject and in effect the complex issue of servants and truth remained a much contested and divisive matter.
Keyword(s): English, Ph.D.; Ph.D. Trinity College Dublin
Publication Date:
Type: Doctoral thesis
Peer-Reviewed: Unknown
Language(s): English
Institution: Trinity College Dublin
Citation(s): Vivienne Keeley, 'More than meets the eye : truth in the eighteenth-century novel', [thesis], Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). School of English, 2016
Publisher(s): Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). School of English
Supervisor(s): Douglas, Aileen
First Indexed: 2018-12-15 06:12:05 Last Updated: 2018-12-15 06:12:05