A deepening interest in both social and interior experience was a distinguishing feature of the cultural life of eighteenth-century Britain, influencing writers in all genres from fiction to philosophy. Focusing on this interplay of ideas and genres, Mark Phillips explores the ways in which writers and readers of history, memoir, biography and related literatures responded to the social and sentimental concerns of a modern, commercial society. He shows that the writing of history, which once concentrated exclusively on political events, widened its horizons in ways that often paralleled better-known developments in the contemporary novel. Ultimately, Phillips proposes a new model for the study of historiographical narrative. Countering tropological readings identified with Hayden White, he offers a more historically nuanced approach that stresses questions of genre and reception as a guide to understanding how narratives were reshaped by new audiences and new social needs.
Drawing inspiration from both the social analysis of the Scottish Enlightenment and the sentimental aesthetics of the contemporary novel, historical writing began to explore the areas of social experience and private life for which there was no place in classical historiography. The consequence, Phillips argues, was a significant reframing of historical thought that expressed itself through new themes, including the histories of commerce, manners, literature, and women, and through some lively experiments in narrative form. This book offers a rich picture of historiography that will interest students of history and fiction alike.
It is a pleasure to discover that Mark Salber Phillips's Society and Sentiment amply fulfils the substantial promise of its title. Uniting examinations of intellectual contexts with formalist literary analysis, this genre study traces in detail the reconfiguration of the historical field by many different British writers in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries."--Martine Watson Brownley, Albion "Phillips's book provides a theoretically informed account of the many new ways history was written in Britain between 1740 and 1820, and a credible analysis of why these innovations took place and their significance for subsequent historical practice. It is also a pleasure to read."--Robert Anchor, American Historical Review "Phillips's informative study makes ... clear ... the diversity of historical writing at particular historical moments. The exposure of that diversity with respect to the eighteenth and early nineteenth century is Society and Sentiment's great achievement, and mark Phillip's book is likely to remain the standard text on the subject for some time to come."--Mike Goode, Modern Philology