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18th-Century Literature

2. Writing About Place

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In this module, we look at three texts that demonstrate different ways in which writers of the 18th century thought about place: Olaudah Equiano's autobiography, in which he describes life in his native Guinea (1789); Joseph Addison's essay in the Spectator in which he reflects on Britain's role at the centre of global trade (1711); and a passage from Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722), which describes the protagonist's escape from a theft through the streets of London.


In this module, Dr James Smith (Royal Holloway, London) provides an introduction to the literature of the 18th century. The course begins by exploring what writers of the 18th century thought about writing itself, focusing in particular on Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism (1711) and Elizabeth Montagu's Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare (1769). After that, we look at three texts that demonstrate the different ways in which writers of the period thought about place, including Olaudah Equiano's autobiography (1789) and a scene from Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722). In the third module, we think about the didacticism of the literature of the period, focusing in particular on Samuel Johnson's Rasselas (1759) and Samuel Richardson's Clarissa (1748) before moving on in the fourth module to explore the genre of satire, and looking in particular at Pope's Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1735) and Swift's A Modest Proposal (1729). In the fifth module, we think about some of the female writers of the period – including attitudes to female writers and writing – before turning in the sixth and final module to some features of 18th-century poetry, in which we look more closely at two lesser-known poems of the period: Jane Cave's 'The Head-Ache' (1793), and William Collins' 'Ode to Evening' (1746)


James Smith joined Royal Holloway in September 2015, having previously taught in Manchester and in Exeter. His first monograph is about the novelist Samuel Richardson, and he is writing another book on eighteenth-century literary culture, entitled Shakespeare and the Rise of the Novel. He is interested in all aspects of twentieth and twenty first-century literary theory, and in intersections between cultural criticism and politics.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Smith, J. (2018, August 15). 18th-Century Literature - Writing About Place [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Smith, J. "18th-Century Literature – Writing About Place." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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