HotM: Daniel Mendoza Monday, Mar 21 2011 

In an effort to get back to my book project, I’ve been reading about the eighteenth-century Jewish boxer Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836), pictured here.

I’m interested in representations of Jewish masculinity in English literature from around 1680 to about 1820. Mendoza seems like a natural fit for such a project.

Currently I’m reading his memoirs, which were published in 1816. I’m about halfway through them. What stands out so far is the interesting mix of his sense of honor combined with his willingness to thrash anyone who he deems worthy. On the one hand, he’s very gentlemanly in his description of his life and the reasons for his fighting. On the other hand, he clearly seems to relish “trashing” his foes.

Sometimes these early fights are the result of prejudice, people calling him names or demeaning him or someone he knows for being Jewish. But often they seem the result of a general lack of civility in English culture at this time, which stands in marked contrast to my general sense of the period’s politeness and sensibility. It makes me want to go back and reread Anna Bryson’s book, From Courtesy to Civility: Changing Codes of Conduct in Early Modern England, which was published by Oxford in 1998.

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HotM: Jonathan Swift Wednesday, Mar 31 2010 

Tomorrow night I am beginning my graduate seminar on Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy by having my students read Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. I’m hoping that this text will serve as a useful model for Sterne’s difficult novel.

I’ve taught Gulliver’s Travels before, but this time I’m taking a slight risk. In addition to the usual discussion of politics and the Enlightenment (and Swift’s views on each), I am also emphasizing a reading of the novel based on two essays by Christopher Fox. The first is an article published in EIghteenth-Century Studies in 1986 entitled “The Myth of Narcissus in Swift’s Travels.” The second is a chapter in an MLA volume, Approaches to Teaching Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels entitled “Sexuality and the Body.”

What I’m interested in exploring is the joke early in the text in which Swift brings up masturbation. The joke starts with Gulliver’s mentioning the man to whom he is apprenticed, Mr. Bates. After a few near misses, Gulliver finally calls him “Master Bates.” The question I have is, “Why does Swift begin his text with this joke?” I wonder what function it serves and what connotations are evoked by it. This joke is all the more interesting because the opening paragraphs of Gulliver’s Travels so heavily emphasize the conventions of realist fiction: where Gulliver was born, who his parents are, where he went to college, how old he is, etc. This joke immediately seems to undermine this realism.

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HotM: Judith Leyster Sunday, Feb 28 2010 

Back in October, PJ and I were in Washington, D.C. While there, we visited the National Gallery of Art, which at the time had a special exhibit on seventeenth-century Dutch painter Judith Leyster. Since I’m about to head off to the Netherlands for a week (more about that sometime this week), I’ve decided to make Leyster my hottie of the month.

Leyster, pictured here in her self-portrait at the age of 21 in 1630, was born in 1609 and died in 1660, which means that she lived just long enough to make my hotties list (which generally covers the period from 1660 to 1820).

She was well-known in her own time but quickly fell into obscurity after her death. The pamphlet that accompanied the exhibit suggests two possible reasons for her disappearance. First, she largely stopped painting after she married in 1636. She married another painter, and her work became more of a collaboration with him. Thus, her individual identity was lost. Second, the pamphlet suggests that her habit of signing her paintings with just her initials might have contributed to her subsequent neglect — people may have simply forgotten who the initials stood for.

Both of these explanations seem plausible, especially since women in all fields of art were so often neglected after their deaths. In my own period and national literature there are countless examples of this, including Aphra Behn, Katherine Philips, and “Ephelia,” whose identity remains shrouded despite efforts to identify her. Fortunately, we now value these women’s contributions to art and their cultures enough to recover them and their works.

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HotM: Antonio Canova Sunday, Jan 31 2010 

It’s been nearly a year since I had a hottie of the month, my tongue-in-cheek homage to men and women from the long eighteenth century. The lack of “hotties” has largely been due to the fact that I haven’t been teaching (or even researching) in the eighteenth century lately. Now that I’m a dean, I’m not teaching as much, on the one hand, and I don’t have much time for writing, on the other.

But I think it’s time to get back to my blogging roots. When I started this blog, it was mostly about my teaching and research. Over time it’s become more pop culture centered. While I’m still going to write about movies, music, and other random aspects of my life and opinions, I also want to write about eighteenth-century subjects. So, I’ve decided to revive the hottie of the month feature!

This month’s hottie is the eighteenth-century Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. While PJ and I were in Italy last summer, I fell in love with sculpture in a way that I had never been before. I was especially drawn to Bernini’s work at the Borghese Gallery. Canova also has a prominent work at the Borghese: a statue of Pauline Bonaparte:

As this image suggests, Canova’s ability to suggest drapery in this statue is amazing. It’s even better in person. The cushion she’s sitting on and the “fabric” on the side of the piece both make you feel like you could reach out and feel their softness.

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HotM: Humfrey Wanley Sunday, Apr 12 2009 

Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726) is April’s hottie of the month.

Originally apprenticed to a draper, Wanley developed an interest in old books and handwriting after a visit to Oxford. He then taught himself the fundamentals of paleography. His talents in this field soon attracted the attention of the right people, and he was able to matriculate at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, in 1694. During his second year, Wanley moved to University College and became an assistant librarian at the Bodleian Library.

Wanley left Oxford in 1699, taking a post as assistant to the secretary of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He was soon promoted to secretary, nearly doubling him income, but he craved work as a librarian. When he was unsuccessful in his attempt to become the curator of the Cottonian Collection in 1702, he got on as a member of a commission hired to study the collection.

By this time, Wanley was becoming an expert on Anglo Saxon. He had become friends with George Hickes, a vicar who had written a study of Anglo-Saxon grammar in 1689. The two men took up a correspondence that Clare A. Simmons describes in her essay on Wanley for the Dictionary of Literary Biography (Vol. 33) like this:

his early letters to Hickes are written in florid Latin but include interesting discussions of Anglo-Saxon studies, while others show indications of a genuine warmth between the two men. In 1699 Wanley confided in Hickes, for example, a plan for gaining financial independence by marrying his cousin Elizabeth Phillipps, who had inherited some property: he describes her as “young, well-bred, vertuous, honest, good-humor’d, & not very ugly.” The scheme suggests a certain lack of romantic feeling on Wanley’s part, and scarcely surprisingly, his cousin seems to have refused him.

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HotM: Robert Walpole Tuesday, Mar 10 2009 

Portrait of Sir Robert Walpole, studio of Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1740

Portrait of Sir Robert Walpole, studio of Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1740

This month’s eighteenth-century hottie is Robert Walpole, England’s first prime minister. I taught John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera last month in my eighteenth-century literature class. Of course, you can’t teach that play without talking about Walpole.

Walpole was born in 1676, the same year that my favorite Restoration comedy, Sir George Etherege’s The Man of Mode premiered. In 1701, he was elected to Parliament as a member of the Whig party. In 1721 be became Lord of the Treasury. By 1730, he was the undisputed leader of the Whig party and, more importantly, the Prime Minister of the country. (He was also the first minister to reside at 10 Downing Street.)

Writers like Gay despised Walpole because he used a patronage system, giving MPs honors and positions based on their support for his policies. Today, this system doesn’t seem all that foreign or controversial, but in the 1730s it vehemently debated and criticized by writers like Gay, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift.

These and other writers argued that this system was inherently corrupt, based on interest and greed rather than the good of the country. Criticism of Walpole’s administration was also publicized in what we now know as political cartoons, satiric prints that mocked Walpole, the patronage system, and his policies.

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Hottie of the Month: Daniel Defoe Wednesday, Feb 4 2009 

On Monday I finished teaching Daniel Defoe‘s Roxana, his 1724 novel about a woman who exchanges sex for money. (As my students pointed out, it’s difficult to call her a prostitute, since she never sells her body directly; she’s always a kept mistress.)

Defoe was, of course, one of the great early English novelists. In some ways, his works, including Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders were seminal in creating the novel as a genre. His life is also interesting. A Whig, Defoe was able to write politically motivated prose works while maintaining his government position regardless of whether the administration in power was Whig or Tory. In many ways, he was very much a modern man.

I have admit that my memory of reading Roxana turned out to be more pleasurable than the actual practice of reading it. I first read the novel in the first graduate seminar I took in 1992 at Texas A&M University, one on the eighteenth-century novel. I loved the class, and my memory was that I really enjoyed the novel.

I should have thought twice about this memory when I recalled that I also have fond memories of reading Samuel Richardson‘s Sir Charles Grandison, a novel that I’ve published on but that also doesn’t get easier to read with subsequent efforts. (But my memory of it is still very positive; I just don’t want to read it over and over again.)

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HOTM: Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire Wednesday, Dec 31 2008 

The hottie of the month for December is Georgiana Cavendish, duchess of Devonshire, the subject of Keira Knightley‘s latest film, which PJ and I saw earlier this month. Here’s the trailer:

Georgiana lived a colorful life. She married the duke just before she turned seventeen. He was one of the richest and most powerful men in the country at the time. Their marriage is probably most interesting due to the fact that Georgiana’s best friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, was the duke’s mistress for some twenty years before the duchess’s death allowed them to marry. Furthermore, the basic set up of their marriage, an older man who marries a younger woman, was satirized in Richard Brinsley Sheridan‘s School for Scandal. And finally, just as her husband had a mistress, Georgiana had a lover, Charles Grey, by whom she bore a daughter, Eliza Courtney.

Georgiana was also famous for her beauty, which she put to political use campaigning for the Whigs. She was regularly features in the newspapers and satirical prints of the day. In addition to her beauty and politics, she was an infamous gambler. When she died, she was deeply in debt as a result of her gambling losses.

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Hottie of the Month: John Milton Friday, Nov 21 2008 

November’s hottie of the month is John Milton, the seventeenth-century Puritan poet, polemicist, and civil servant who wrote one of the great epic poems of all time, Paradise Lost (1667).

Milton was born in 1608 in London. He studied to become an Anglican priest at Cambridge University, where he earned an M.A. in 1632. As the English nation seemed poised for civil war, Milton began writing tracts in favor of the Puritan and Parliamentary cause. In return for his support, Milton was appointed the Secretary for Foreign Tongues, a position in which he translated the government’s correspondence in Latin. Throughout the Commonwealth period, Milton used his writing to support the government and articulate Puritan positions on important issues of the day.

After the Restoration, Milton was arrested for his beliefs, but his friends in Parliament, most notably Andrew Marvell, intervened on his behalf, and he soon released. The last decade of his life was lived in relative quiet in London.

His waning years were, of course, most notable for the publication of Paradise Lost in 1667 and its expansion and revision in 1674, the year of Milton’s death.

I selected Milton for this month’s hottie because this week marks the end of OU’s fall quarter, which began for me with Paradise Lost. This is the second time this year that I’ve taught this poem; I also taught it in my graduate class this past winter. This quarter I taught a new honors tutorial, which was designed to introduce our first-year students to the methods and theories of reading critically at the college level. The course’s content was largely put together by a committee earlier this year, and one of the things we wanted this tutorial to cover is a narrative poem. For me, this instantly suggested Paradise Lost as one of the core texts in the class.

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Hottie of the Month: Thomas Holcroft Monday, Sep 22 2008 

A couple of my friends have urged me to bring back the hottie of the month feature, which was my rather tongue-in-cheek discussion of eighteenth-century writers. The feature tended to focus on someone I was teaching or writing about. Past hotties included Henry Fielding, Richard Cumberland, Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth, Phillis Wheatley, and William Beckford.

In order to appease the overwhelming clamor for eighteenth-century hotties, I have decided to re-institute this monthly column starting with this month’s hottie … Thomas Holcroft.

The son of a cobbler, Holcroft was born in London on December 10, 1745. He worked at a number of jobs before becoming a travelling actor. After settling in London, Holcroft began writing novels, poetry, and plays. His initial works were not well received, but the years between 1782 and 1794 were generally successful and culminated in the production of three of his most significant works: two novels, Anna St. Ives (1792) and The Adventures of Hugh Trevor (1794), and his most successful play, The Road to Ruin (1792).

1794, however, changed his career forever. Holcroft had become a champion of radical thinking and was widely associated with political reform movements. He and three others were arrested and charged with treason for his membership in the Society for Constitutional Information. When two of his associates were tried and acquitted, Holcroft was released without a trial and thus without a public forum to defend himself. We was thus known as an “acquitted felon,” in the words of William Windham, the War Secretary. This reputation hurt his standing with London audiences and his subsequent works did not receive their support.

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