E 392M • Charity, Self-Interest, and Literature in England Since 1660
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
Between 1660 and the early 18th century, a group of English theologians called the Latitudinarians developed a set of arguments on behalf of charitable activity that were both novel and characteristically enlightened. Based on the assumption that charity and self-interest could be combined, these thinkers argued that both charity and self-interest are natural as well as reasonable--that the promptings to, as well as the rewards of, charity are built by God into the very constitution of the human body. The commercial and emotional appeal of this view, as well as the institutional importance of the Latitudinarians, rendered this ideal culturally authoritative after about 1750. Since then it has formed the core of most political attitudes or systems we might identify as liberal, and it has in some sense been institutionalized politically in modern liberal democracies with the rise of the welfare state. English creative writers after 1700 played a crucial role in the articulation, critique, and institutionalization of the ideal of self-interested charity. In this course, well trace the history of this ideal in the context of the English poor laws, focussing on the ways in which writers from Steele to Shaw promoted, qualified, or attacked it. The course is offered partly under the aegis of the LBJ Schools Portfolio Program in Philanthropic and Non-Profit Studies. So the emphasis in class will be on broader cultural issues--religious and moral, political and economic--rather than on specifically literary-critical ones. While the primary readings will center on works that might be regarded as conventionally belletristic, in other words, the secondary material will focus on the history of charity and philanthropy rather than on matters of literary history or form per se. Moreover, we will aim for coverage as much as depth (in some customary literary sense) in our approach to the primary materials. Precisely because of its inter-disciplinary frame of reference, the course should offer an excellent introduction to the many moral and political issues in which charitable activity of all kinds--in England as well as the U.S.--has long been embedded, from the most personal and emotionally fraught charitable encounters to the most public and institutionally-sponsored ones. The course will offer a chance to explore the complex feelings many writers have had about the differences between private and public relief per se and the view that state-sponsored welfare systems undermine the emotional interests that are gratified by private philanthropy, even though they institutionalize some version of those interests in law. Finally, the course will inevitably offer some opportunity to examine the question of how literature shapes as well as responds to public thinking about social issues, and even becomes an object of charity itself in certain contexts.
Richard Steele - The Conscious Lovers Samuel Johnson - The Life of Savage, Ode on the Death of Dr. Robert Levet Henry Fielding - Tom Jones R. B. Sheridan - School for Scandal Laurence Sterne - A Sentimental Journey William Wordsworth - The Old Cumberland Beggar Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol --------- - Oliver Twist --------- - Our Mutual Friend G. B. Shaw - Mrs. Warrens Profession --------- - Major Barbara