Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

13 October 2008

New Conference News

I sent in an abstract for a panel at the American Society for Eighteenth-century Studies annual conference and I heard back from them a couple weeks ago:
Hello Laura, Liz, and Aaron,

I am impressed with your proposals for my ASECS panel, "Too Exquisite for Laughter," and would like to include your papers in the session. The papers appear to fit rather neatly together, which is quite the bonus.

Aaron C. Thomas, Florida State University, "'Perish the Baubles': the Conspicuous Unimportance of Wealth in Sentimental Comedy"
Liz Harbaugh, Florida State University, "(Re)historicizing Richard Cumberland's
The West Indian"
Laura J. Rosenthal, University of Maryland, College Park, "The Sentimental Gesture in
The West Indian"

I'm looking forward to a provocative discussion. If your plans (or working titles) have changed since submitting your proposals, please let me know as soon as possible.
So it appears that I will presenting at a conference this Spring. Here is the conference website.

And here is the abstract I submitted:
Though the traditional theatre history narrative commits to a linear development of the sentimental comedy from Cibber to Steele on through to Cumberland, more recent scholarship has aimed at the destruction of a strict division of genres for eighteenth century comedy. Many scholars (Robert Hume and others) have explicitly attacked the notion that Goldsmith and R.B. Sheridan formed a united front against the sentimental comedy, returning laughter to comedy and recalling its glory days.

But even if we are free to explode the notion of the sentimental comedy as a genre that is useful to us now, it is important to explore what all the fuss was about simply because the eighteenth century Britons thought it such an important topic. To Steele, Dennis, Sheridan, Goldsmith, and Garrick, debates and discussions about sentimentalism were real, serious, and had material consequences.

My paper explores the material consequences of the debates about comedy by looking at eighteenth century characters’ sentimental ideas about money. In particular, I plan to investigate how wealth in sentimental comedies—from Steele to Sheridan—is both disavowed by the characters and central to the characters’ successes.

My title is taken from Oliver Goldsmith’s
She Stoops to Conquer, where the fashionable Hastings professes his love for Miss Neville whether or not she comes to him with her dowry of jewels. Hastings does not (he says) need money to be happy; he needs only his beloved. But the secondary plot of the play hinges completely on whether or not Hastings and Miss Neville will be wealthy in addition to being happily in love. The characters in these comedies say that money is unimportant to their happiness, while the entirety of the play’s action is consumed with the question of whether or not the main (male) characters will get both the girl and the money. It is this denial that I find most fascinating about British comedy during the eighteenth century.

Moving beyond attempts at a generic taxonomy for eighteenth century comedies, this paper sees the sentimental as a shift in the bourgeois moral ideology of the dramatists and audiences of the eighteenth century rather than a shift in genre. This shift is evident most tellingly in the comedies’ (sentimental) attitudes about money. From Farquhar and Steele to Cumberland and Sheridan, the playwrights romanticize the impoverished and censure the affluent, while simultaneously the plays reject poverty and celebrate wealth.
Wow, upon re-reading it, that sounds really smart. I hope I am smart enough to write it.