The ghost writer: English essay periodicals and the materialization of the public in the eighteenth century
This dissertation examines eighteenth-century English essay periodicals in the context of Jurgen Habermas' influential work, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. It has become generally accepted that journals like the Tatler and the Spectator were vital to the construction of the bourgeois public sphere; I investigate these journals' formal nature in order to understand why they, rather than another genre, played this constitutive role. Emphasizing the public sphere's textual and conceptual nature, I argue that essay periodicals themselves distinguish between the non-existent idealized public sphere and its very real ideological power, a power literally represented on the pages of these journals.The introduction surveys these journals' history and critical reception; their simultaneous popularity and failure to survive into the next century indicate their pivotal historic role. Focusing on the figure of the essay periodical eidolon, the eponymous authorial persona that is the genre's most characteristic formal feature, the second chapter examines the Tatler 's Isaac Bickerstaff in detail, finding that by printing letters and submissions and responding to readers' suggestions for character development, Steele establishes the Tatler as a uniquely collective and public literary form, establishing a pattern that conditions readers' response to the Spectator and subsequent essay periodicals. The next chapter surveys a number of the Tatler's early imitators, discovering two leading devices for establishing generic identity: the "family metaphor" and "rhetorical femininity." In the context of shifting meanings of "family," authors who employed female persona enjoyed distinct advantages, including the ideological belief that women are never fully autonomous, a belief that in a rhetorical context has the advantage of reinforcing the importance of dialogue and exchange. Like my approach to the public sphere itself, this reading distinguishes between actual and rhetorical women, a separation that offers suggestive possibilities to feminist criticism of Habermas' work. The final chapter argues that the essay periodical eidolon helped authors professionalize by distinguishing between the writer's commercial interests and the author's literary ones, while at the same time demonstrating that the two were mutually supporting, just as writer and author were in reality one and the same person, though conceptually distinct.
- English