The Eighteenth-Century Georgic as Didactic Epic
Rosenblatt, Kelly Jane
MetadataShow full item record
Rosenblatt, Kelly Jane
This dissertation examines the eighteenth-century English georgic in the broader context of the didactic epic. Reading "georgics" through the schema of didactic epic, I provide an alternative trajectory for understanding developments in and experiments with genre during the long eighteenth century. More than swapping parallel terminology my use of didactic epic imports the scholarship of Classical and neo-Latin scholars to reinvigorate a genre hampered by defining the "georgic" as poems about farming, derived exclusively from Virgil's Georgics. Within the framework of didactic epic, I reinterpret peripheral works such as John Gay's Trivia, Eliza Haywood's Anti-Pamela, and James Grainger's The Sugar Cane claiming these queer, fascinating texts represent critical experimentation with literary form in the eighteenth century. I contend that the incorporation of didactic epic elements into these texts demonstrates the plasticity and persistence of the genre thereby making the study of these foundational English texts and their Classical and neo-Latin sources an integral part of English literary studies. I argue the essays, poems, and novels of Joseph Addison, John Philips, John Gay, Eliza Haywood, and James Grainger dialogue with Classical and neo-Latin poems in addition to Virgil's Georgics such as Manilius's Astronomica, Fracastoro's Syphilis, and more-canonical Classical didactic epics from the Ars Poetica of Horace to Lucretius's De Rerum Natura. Because the separation of didactic and narrative epic derived from reliance on "georgic" has promoted a too-easy separation between the natural world (georgic) and the human world (epic), scholarship has approached English didactic epics as poems that have little bearing on humans and culture. However, analyzing the formal modulations I describe how eighteenth-century texts showcase radical experimentation with narrative persona and polyphonic registers thereby magnifying the presence of human beings in the natural world as organizers and consumers of the landscape and useable land. In the experimentations evident in eighteenth-century English texts, I locate innovations and modulations of the didactic epic that demonstrate the authors variously dissecting and critiquing ideologies of labor and imperialism and offering new paradigms of gender and labor that anticipate modern approaches to literary forms and modern concerns with the interrelation of humans and nature.