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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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GREAT EXPECTATIONS? PLANS AND PLANNING IN WOMEN’S MEMOIRS Mascha Hansen, EMA Universität Greifswald A chief part of the inauthenticity of narration would seem to be its assumption that life is susceptible to comprehension and thus of management. (Lionel Trilling)1 In the eighteenth-century, any young girl looking for advice on how to prepare for her personal rather than eternal future in the common fare directed at them, conduct-books and novels, would have been entertained with prospects of mar- riage and motherhood and cautioned against the wrong kind of suitor. The tenor of conduct-books was to reassure young women that as long as they followed the rules, did their duty and listened to advice, the future posed no threats. In- deed, in Fordyce’s sermons, the future beckoned like a rosy vision: Those lovely plants which you have raised and cultivated, I see spreading, and still spreading, from house to house, from family to family, with a rich increase of fruit. I see you diffusing virtue and happiness through the human race; I see gen- erations yet unborn rising up to call you blessed!2 If only Fordyce the prophet could have seen how many eighteenth-century women would be honoured by future generations not so much for their motherly virtues but for their writings, their personal skills and scientific successes, he might have advocated other accomplishments than drawing, which, he thought, 1 Lionel Trilling is quoted in Patricia Meyer Spacks, Imagining a Self: Autobiography and Novel in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge/Mass.: Harvard...

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