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The English Enlightenment Reads Ovid

Dryden and Jacob Tonson’s 1717 Metamorphoses

By Richard Morton

LC 2013018091
ISBN-10: 0-404-64862-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-404-64862-6

AMS Studies in the Eighteenth Century, No. 62

Publisher Jacob Tonson’s 1717 edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a masterpiece of English book production: modish, uncluttered, and glamorous, stately in size and choice of typeface, gloriously illustrated with immensely detailed and realistic engravings.

Though popularly referred to as “Dryden’s Ovid,” Tonson’s edition, titled Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Fifteen Books, was not the work of Dryden alone but a rather a collection, as its subtitle announces, Translated by the Most Eminent Hands, bringing together many now-forgotten figures with such eminent writers as Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, John Gay, William Congreve, Nicholas Row, and Nahum Tate.

Yet, despite the translators’ varying degrees of talent and their sometimes sharp political differences, Tonson’s volume is remarkably consistent in style, tone, and sensibility: This is Ovid’s poems recast in English Enlightenment mode.

In The English Enlightenment Reads Ovid, Richard Morton analyzes how Dryden and his fellow translators adapted Ovid to suit their historical and cultural milieu, resolving the apparent disjunction between Ovid’s dispassionate narrative style and the grotesqueries he describes by foregrounding recognizable motivations and responses in the characters, whether mortal or divine. The translators lent plausibility to the tales, facilitated readers’ sympathies, and transformed Ovid’s sophisticated ironies into naturalistic stories. At times the result is a text in which, as Morton notes of Addison’s rendering of the story of Narcissus, “Ovid’s fierce myth of transgression becomes a pretty, amiable fairytale.”


Part One: Acting Like a Lady
1. The Theatrical Woman and the Feminine Ideal
2. The Lady and the Novelist: Paragon and Performer

Part Two: Writing Like a Lady
3. Those Simple Signs: Elizabeth Inchbald and the Performance of Emotion
4. Not as Juliet She Followed: Frances Burney and the Performance of Femininity
5. Seeing Double: Jane Austen and the Perception of Performance

Appendix: British Women Novelists and the Theater, 1660–1818
Selected Sources

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Morton, Richard Everett, 1930–
   The English Enlightenment reads Ovid : Dryden and Jacob Tonson's 1717 Metamorphoses / by Richard Morton.
     p. cm. — (AMS studies in the eighteenth-century ; no. 62)
   Includes index and bibliographic references.
     ISBN 978-0-404-64862-6 (cloth : alk. paper)
     1. Ovid, 43 B.C.–17 A.D. or 18 A.D.—Translations into English—History and criticism.
     2. Ovid, 43 B.C.–17 A.D. or 18 A.D. Metamorphoses.
     3. Dryden, John, 1631-1700—Appreciation—England.
     4. Tonson, Jacob, 1656?–1736.
     5. Authors and publishers—England—London—History—18th century.
     6. England—Intellectual life—18th century.
     I. Title
PA6522.M2D7936 2013
871'.01—dc23                                                       2013018091