Rise of Autobiography in the Eighteenth Century

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Bell utilizes an inter-disciplinary approach to studying autobiography in the 18th Century. Making use of religion and philosophy, history and literature, contemporary theory and humanism, his original analysis offers a unique array of disciplinary interpretations of the genre. This book not only deals with autobiography in a thorough manner, it also incorporates historical and philosophical interpretations to the presentation of self in this type of literature. He also demonstrates some of the problems with first person singular writing, which distinguishes this style from other forms of non-fiction, and shows how the philosophical question of ‘what can we know and how can we know it?’ is intimately related to the problem of the ‘self’ and narrative persona.


“[Bell] constructs a set of prisms (drawing on texts by Hume, Franklin, Gibbon, Fielding, Sterne, and Boswell) that, taken together, suggest the larger culture’s conflicting ways of imagining – and writing – the ‘career’ of selfhood…”
Prof. Philip Weinstein,
Swarthmore College

“…This is one of the best of its kind…the gracefulness of [his] writing is enhanced by a knack for felicitous phrasing…Robert Bell has a reputation for being one of the best teachers in the country, and this work helps show why.”
Prof. John Gordon,
Connecticut College

Table of Contents

What’s Past is Prologue

1. Soul-Experiments and Conversion Narratives

Augustine’s Confessions and Bunyan’s Grace Abounding
Moll Flanders’s Grace Abounding
Rousseau’s Confessions

2. Personal Identity and Empirical Inquiry
John Locke’s Puzzling Case
David Hume as a Matter of Fact
Ben Franklin’s Perfect Character

3. Life Stories and Enlightenment Discovery
Edward Gibbon’s Certain Self
Henry Fielding’s Body of Truth

4. Laurence Sterne’s Autobiographical Personae
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman Sterne’s Love Life and Dear Sensibility

5. James Boswell By Himself
Boswell Journals
Boswell in The Life of Johnson

6. Epilogue: Autobiography and Literary Criticism


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