Inconstant Stoics: Heroic Selfhood in the Eighteenth-Century Moral Imagination

Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2013

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

English and American Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Inconstant Stoics reveals stoicism's pervasive presence in the eighteenth-century moral imagination. It seeks to understand the literary construction of heroic selfhood through the analysis of a wide range of texts, including poems by Milton and Pope, Restoration tragedies, philosophical and political treatises, translations of classical stoic thinkers, and novels by Richardson, Godwin, Hays, and Austen. The authors whose works I address admire the stoic's dignity and love of virtue even while they condemn his or her conventional coldness and pride. They use stoic thought to find channels between self-sufficiency and our obligation to others, between private feeling and public duty. While the stoic is often stereotyped as uncompromisingly "constant," a quality defined by firmness and insensitivity, I argue that eighteenth-century writers rely on stoic themes to imagine a mode of heroic selfhood that is produced by an inconstant, exploratory navigation of the bounds of feeling. Through this exploration, eighteenth-century heroes and heroines embark on the stoic's project of making themselves.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Wolfram Schmidgen

Committee Members

Eric Brown, Matt Erlin, Joseph Loewenstein, William McKelvy, Amy Pawl, Steven Zwicker


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