“The Prospect … towards the East”: Reorienting Eighteenth-Century British Literature

The title of this talk is taken from Jonathan Swift’s 1704 A Full and True Account of the Battle Fought last Friday, Between the Ancient and Modern Books in St. James’s Library. According to Swift’s boisterous account, the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns begins as a dispute over real estate on the hills of Parnassus and ends as a bookish but bloody skirmish between the two camps in St. James’s Library. In the Battle, the ancients, who occupy the highest summit, manage successfully to defend their property from the encroachments of the moderns who are jealous of the ancients’ better “Prospect ... towards the East.” In this talk, I will draw out the larger implications of this phrase by examining how eighteenth-century British writers looked at and toward East Asia in an effort to conceptualise modern British literature in comparative and global perspective. I will also offer a brief overview of significant critical studies that have recently emerged to retell the story of the cross-cultural encounter between East Asia and eighteenth-century British literature. Works to be discussed include William Temple’s Miscellanea essays (1690), Addison and Steele’s Spectator papers (1711-12), Daniel Defoe’s The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719), Oliver Goldsmith’s The Citizen of the World (serialised in The Public Ledger, 1760-61), and Thomas Percy’s Hau Kiou Choaan (1761). I will also discuss the critical work of Robert Markley, David Porter, Chi-ming Yang, and Eugenia Zuroski.

Image | Woodcut from the Battle (cropped)

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Posted by IAFOR