Department of English

Ph.D. Graduate Scarlet Bowen publishes "The Politics of Custom in Eighteenth-Century British Fiction"

Wed, December 1, 2010
Ph.D. Graduate Scarlet Bowen publishes


The Politics of Custom in Eighteenth-Century British Fiction breaks new ground in the history of the novel by revealing both the persistent influence of popular culture and of an older, patrician model of social relations. Bowen demonstrates that this “customary culture” had effects not just on novelistic representation, but on the British imagination as a whole.  Resisting the view of the novel’s rise as one of increasing refinement and politeness, Bowen draws from a variety of popular sources, such as the criminal broadside, ballad, graphic prints, and pantomimes to foreground the eighteenth-century novel’s cultural and social hybridity. This book further argues that representations of popular and laboring culture serve as repositories of traditional social values, strategically mobilized by authors such as Defoe, Richardson, Smollett, and Godwin in order to both impede and make palatable Britain’s transition to a modern, capitalist and imperial state.


“Bowen makes theories of class relevant to the eighteenth century by understanding them in terms of culture rather than identity. The theoretical and historical gains of this shift are enormous: ‘plebian,’ ‘middling,’ and ‘patrician’ are transformed from static categories into dynamic terms, relational to a concept of English national culture early in the century and responding to radical politics as they change into the nineteenth century.”—Kristina Straub, Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies, Carnegie Mellon University

“At last! A book on eighteenth-century fiction that acknowledges and investigates what the novel borrowed from the chapbooks and broadside ballads of customary culture. Bowen shows us how the laboring class popular forms authorized and infused the fledgling novel.”—Ruth Perry, Professor of Literature, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

About the Author

Scarlet Bowen is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she specializes in eighteenth-century British literature and culture.  Her articles have appeared in Eighteenth-Century Life, Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, and Women’s Studies Quarterly.

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