Wits, Shits, and Crits: The Problem of Digestive Interpretation in Pope, Swift, and Fielding
Black, Christina S.
My readings of the abundant ingestion and excretion themes in literary works by Fielding, Swift, Montagu, and Pope propose that we can understand these topics as sustained metaphors for the bipartite issues of readers' consumption and writers' incorporation of a literary heritage into these texts. These issues were particularly salient in early eighteenth-century Britain, as printed texts become more broadly available and affordable, and readers could no longer be relied upon to have a top education and sophisticated tools of analysis. Authors like Fielding and Swift also were experimenting in new forms like the novel that had no standards for analysis. These authors were interested in and concerned about how their work and that of their contemporaries would stand up to future scrutiny. How did the changing economic incentives for writing, from courting wealthy patrons to selling in mass volume to unknown readers, affect literature’s claim to everlasting value? Pope was the first English author to earn a sustainable living from his writings, but that new economic viability also spawned Grub Street hack writing, not to mention unsavory publishing practices. In this historical context, sustained metaphors of eating and digesting were a playfully denigrating way for these writers to investigate what it meant to write for consumers, even as the metaphors also revivified older literary traditions and genres by incorporating them into modern contexts. The coda includes interpretations of contemporary fecal art pieces "Cloaca" by Wim Delvoye and "Vorm-Fellows-Attitude" by artist collective Gelatin.
English literature; Appetite; Digestion; Fielding; Pope; Swift; Art criticism; Waste
Bogel, Fredric Victor
Saccamano, Neil Charles; Goldstein, Amanda Jo
English Language and Literature
Ph. D., English Language and Literature
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis