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Social Protest in the Eighteenth-Century English Novel

Mona Scheuermann

Novels of social protest in the eighteenth century demonstrate an underlying commitment to the traditional structures of English life while denouncing the corruptions and debasement of those forms. The Failings of social institutions are attributed to the cumulative moral weakness of corrupt individuals, whose improvement through reeducation becomes the means to renew the social structure. Those who abuse power are singled out for special condemnation.

For much of the century, the novels reflect the spirit that conditions will be ameliorated by rational men of good will, once the problems have been exposed. But by the 1790s, a number of imperfectly understood social traumas—the French Revolution, the political paranoia of the English Treason Trials—make the impulse to reform seem at best insufficient and at worst, as in Caleb Williams, destructive. Professor Scheuermann’s work chronicles this loss of optimism.

Mona Scheuermann is professor of English at Oakton Community College.

1985   247 pp. This title is no longer available in a traditional print edition. Click here for free access to the book’s full text.