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Great Expectations: Futurity in the Long Eighteenth Century


Edited By Mascha Hansen and Jürgen Klein

What did eighteenth-century men and women think about when they contemplated the future? What was hidden in the «dark bosom of futurity», as Richardson’s Pamela calls it? Do all types of literature that supply a critique of the present conjure up an idealized past or a vision of a better future? Predictions and prophecies – not only astrological but also political ones, utopian models, theological concepts like predestination, progress in the sciences, and, last but not least, life-after-death, both in the form of secular fame and the immortal soul, are among the topics addressed by the essays collected in this volume.


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THE FUTURITY OF FAME: EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY PATHS TO IMMORTALITY Bärbel Czennia, McNeese State University What’s Fame? a fancy’d life in others breath, A thing beyond us, ev’n before our death. Alexander Pope1 “It seems to be the fate of man to seek all his consolations in futurity. The time present is seldom able to fill desire or imagination with immediate enjoyment and we are forced to supply its deficiencies by recollection or anticipation,” Samuel Johnson observed in one of his grave meditations on the human condi- tion in The Rambler, reminding his readers of the impossibility to separate any human experience from the perception of time.2 Time, in turn, is a concept that is inseparable from the idea of space. According to John Locke, the human ex- perience of space and time is essential for the formation of personal identity in the modern sense, defined as a person’s ability to experience him- or herself as “a thinking intelligent Being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider it self as it self, the same thinking thing in different times and places.”3 This abil- ity, however, does not always work to human advantage, as many literary heroes have found. Young Hamlet, too paralyzed to revenge his father’s murder and to halt Denmark’s political and moral decay, suffers an additional shock in the graveyard scene of Act V, when the transitoriness of life and the vanity of all human endeavor first dawns upon him: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth...

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