Pedagogical plots: on the beginnings of the novel of education in early eighteenth-century England

Barney, Richard Allen, Department of English, University of Virginia
Cohen, Ralph, Department of English, University of Virginia
Battestin, Martin, Department of English, University of Virginia

While indebted to the German Bildungsroman, the English "novel of education" was not only a nineteenth-century phenomenon that treated the themes of individual identity and maturation, but also a nascent, indigenous literary offshoot of educational philosophy during the Enlightenment in Britain. Key to this development is John Locke's Some Thoughts concerning Education (1693), because its conceptual framework and fluid form were absorbed extensively by later fictional and nonfictional prose works, resulting in a new cultural construction of "scrutable" individuality and its management in society.

In the Education, Locke sets out to mediate between his goal that education should be spontaneous and "natural," because human understanding is fundamentally individual (pace the Essay), and his conviction that it also be scrupulously organized, in order to secure moral and civil solidarity (an emphasis of the Second Treatise of Government). Locke's treatise therefore proposes a "supervisory" approach in which a tutor clandestinely observes and orchestrates a pupil's progress, intervening only periodically in the learning process. Articulated by the narrative metaphors of gardening, medicine, and the theater, this paradigm has two main effects: it produces a story like structure which creates a textual "opening" in philosophical discourse for more narrative treatments of educational issues; and it outlines a new, versatile form of socio-institutional organization, as evidenced by the national implementation of Locke's later proposal for working schools.

Three texts illustrate subsequent discursive experiments in educational and novelistic form. First, Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees (1714; 1728) presents a patchwork of genres focused on education--including allegory, satire, history, and dialogue--which situates this cunning, multivalent text midway between philosophical form and the novel. Next, Defoe's Family Instructor (1715) substantially reorients the conduct book tradition by incorporating elements of dramatic form, dialogue, and narrative point of view. Third, Robinson Crusoe (1719) pursues the question of Crusoe's spiritual re-education by attempting to accommodate Lockean pedagogy to the providential teleology of Puritan autobiography. By negotiating an uneasy but sustained narrative alliance among the elements of religious rhetoric, secular epistemology, and political analysis, Defoe's work constitutes the first instance of the novel of education, seven decades before Goethe.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Education in literature, English fiction -- 18th century
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