“. . . the book shows an encyclopedic range of reference in both the primary and secondary literature. . . . . Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, and faculty.”
—Choice, November 2007
“Cope’s ability to venture back and forth between scientific tracts, philosophical treatises, and literary texts is one of his book’s great strengths; few scholars move so confidently through such a wide range of disciplines.”
—The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer, January 2009
Much literature of the long eighteenth century does not neatly enter into a plot at page one and proceed chronologically and causally toward a conclusion, with the linearity of a Victorian novel. Eighteenth-century fictions can begin almost anywhere, with characters who come and go mid-tale and interpolated plots that start amid other events. This is as true of the ephemera of the period, the under-appreciated genre such as heroic drama, prose rhapsody, digest, ballad, joke anthology, and spiritual exegesis, as it is of the major works. Digression and miscellaneousness also characterize Cowper’s The Task, Swift’s Tale of a Tub, and Fielding’s Tom Jones. Such dispersiveness is also symptomatic of an Augustan world view in which anything and everything can be a beginning.
Kevin L. Cope’s In and After the Beginning contends the centrality of beginnings to notions of narrative, philosophy, and history that were newly emerging in the eighteenth century, calling into question the usual critical habit of focusing on endings—following the chronological progress of a plot to its climactic conclusion. Challenging traditional approaches that "shoot past early-eigtheenth-century ephemera in order to get quickly to climactic celebrities like Jane Austen or Samuel Taylor Coleridge," Cope argues that the idea of beginnings, and the convergence of disparate narrative and historical parts into new starting points, are not background tendencies: they are central concerns that underwrite all new genre and social institutions of the era. Students and scholars of the long eighteenth century will appreciate Cope’s fundamental depiction of literary and social progress as complex phenomena borne of vast arrays of events, rather than of linear steps, will address any reader interested in narratology, historicity, and even postmodernity.
1. Congregating a Future: John Bunyan, Accumulating
Aphorisms, and More-than-Modern Science
2. In Search of an "Empirical" System: Locke, Mandeville, and the Mock-Heroic Enhancement of Experience
3. Islands, Clubs, and Constellations: Daniel Defoe and the Third Earl of Shaftesbury
4. The Beginnings of Novelty: Henry Fielding, TobiaS Smollett, Bishop George Berkeley, and the Neo-Picaresque
5. Toward an Environmental Mode: Letting Nature Take Its Authorial Course in Richardson, Mackenzie, Burney, and Cowper