Comparing as a social practice is ubiquitous: rankings and ratings affect all areas of our life, and all social distinctions – whether in terms of class, ethnicity, gender or age. What interests literary and cultural scholars about comparing is that it is never neutral, or ‘innocent’, for in many cases it creates the very differences it pretends to merely describe. Comparisons always involve value judgments about the compared entities, they are situated in particular historical and cultural situations in which they serve specific aims and motivations. From a historical point of view, scholars have asked whether practices of comparing change with the modernisation of (Western) societies, in which social contact become more complex both within societies and through international or even global contacts.
In this class, we will explore how the English novel engages in practices of comparing during the long eighteenth century – a key period in the development towards modernity in Western societies (Koselleck), which also coincides with the birth and ‘rise’ of the novel as a literary genre. Though the focus will be on fictional texts, we will also read theoretical and historical texts engaging with the historical background of the eighteenth century and the strategies, the politics and the ethics of comparing.
Please acquire a copy of the following novels. All other texts will be made available in the Lernraum towards the beginning of the semester.
Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688)
Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (1765)
Oliver Goldsmith, Vicar of Wakefield (1766)
Tobias Smollet, Humphry Clinker (1771)
Elizabeth Inchbald, A Simple Story (1791)
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (1813)