Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

English and Comparative Literature


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Wolfram Schmidgen


We imagine the eighteenth century to be the time when modern individuals constituted themselves against the forces of communal obligation, when marriage emerged as a union based on singular affection, and when heterosexuality cohered as an ideology. But Relational Selves in Eighteenth Century Literature argues that a libertine logic of communal attraction, spontaneous affiliation, and transitory affection remains central to the literary production of modern selfhood in the eighteenth century. It thus departs from well-established critical narratives that entwine the modern self with the eighteenth-century emergence of sexual complementarity, the companionate marriage, and bourgeois individualism. I show instead how eighteenth-century literature privileged transient pleasures over more fixed models of companionship in the pursuit of selfhood. Reading works by James Thomson, Samuel Richardson, Eliza Haywood, and D.A.F. Sade, I argue that their literary portrayals of male and female selves cultivate a far more fluid sense of identity, one that ultimately derives from the libertine world of the Restoration and its fugitive desires. By insisting that the individual becomes bounded and autonomous through widely dispersed investments of affect, Relational Selves offers an alternative to modernizing narratives that see communal experiences as detracting from a highly particularized sense of self.


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