I’ve just finished reading Mark Dawson’s Gentility and the Comic Theatre of Late Stuart London (Cambridge, 2005), an excellent study of how gentility was staged in comic drama between 1660 and 1725, with particular emphasis on the post-1688 years.

I’m reviewing this book for a journal, so I’ll leave all the normal review stuff for that. But I thought that this would be a good space in which to reflect a little on how Dawson’s book has spurred me to think about a couple of professional issues.

To be honest, I’ve always been a little bored by English drama between 1688 and 1725. My own research has focused on the period between 1660 and 1685, the best 25-year-period in English literature, imo, and I have a fondness for many of the plays written in the late eighteenth century, works like She Stoops to Conquer and A School for Scandal. (I once saw a great production of the former at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, CT. It was hilarious and very well produced.) But the period in between has held little interest for me, with the exception of John Gay’s A Beggar’s Opera, which is a masterpiece. About a year-and-a-half ago, I taught Susan Centlivre’s 1718 comedy A Bold Stroke for a Wife in both my undergraduate and graduate courses, but it left me thinking that sometimes there’s a reason why some literary works are forgotten or neglected by history.

So, I’m pleasantly surprised to find Dawson’s book piquing my interest in giving this period’s theater another glance. His point is that gentility should be seen as a “rhetorical disposition of power” rather than as an essential quality possessed by a stable, identifiable group of people. For him, gentility in late Stuart society is all about power and a cultural contest over who possesses that power. As a Foucaultian, I can’t help but be attracted to that as a thesis!

My current book project doesn’t really overlap much with Dawson’s study: my project, which covers a larger period in literary history, is only partially about the theater, and none of the plays I read are discussed in Dawson’s monograph. But this book has given me a slightly different frame of reference in reading a play that I’m currently writing an article about, so I’m glad to have had the chance to read it.

But reading it has also impressed me with how slowly my own work is going right now. I seem to be able to acquire motivation to write the review, which also includes two other studies of eighteenth-century theater, but I can’t seem to buckle down and work hard enough on the article I’m trying to write or the two book chapters that I’ve begun. On the plus side, I think I have a much clearer sense of what I’m doing and what the book is shaping up to be.

I keep reminding myself that I don’t have a deadline; I can take as long as I want to finish this book. But that’s also the problem — there’s no deadline by which I have to get it done and I’m a very deadline-driven kind of guy. The only external motivation of that sort that I have is that I don’t want PJ to pass me in the departmental hierarchy, I want to be promoted to full professor in a timely fashion, and I want to be positioned so that I have more career options in three or four years.

Reading Dawson’s book will hopefully spur me to keep working, to try to achieve something as good as his study is. But between now and then, I’m sure there will be numerous posts of writer’s block, professional angst, and general malaise. Oh well.

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