Cover image for Privacy : concealing the eighteenth-century self
Privacy : concealing the eighteenth-century self
Spacks, Patricia Meyer.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
vii, 242 pages ; 24 cm
Privacies -- Privacies of reading -- The performance of sensibility -- Privacy, dissimulation, and propriety -- Private conversations -- Exposures : sex, privacy, and sensibility -- Trivial pursuits -- Privacy as enablement.
Electronic Access:
Table of contents
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Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR858.P72 S67 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Today we consider privacy a right to be protected. But in eighteenth-century England, privacy was seen as a problem, even a threat. Women reading alone and people hiding their true thoughts from one another in conversation generated fears of uncontrollable fantasies and profound anxieties about insincerity.

In Privacy , Patricia Meyer Spacks explores eighteenth-century concerns about privacy and the strategies people developed to avoid public scrutiny and social pressure. She examines, for instance, the way people hid behind common rules of etiquette to mask their innermost feelings and how, in fact, people were taught to employ such devices. She considers the erotic overtones that privacy aroused in its suppression of deeper desires. And perhaps most important, she explores the idea of privacy as a societal threat--one that bred pretense and hypocrisy in its practitioners. Through inspired readings of novels by Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, and Sterne, along with a penetrating glimpse into diaries, autobiographies, poems, and works of pornography written during the period, Spacks ultimately shows how writers charted the imaginative possibilities of privacy and its social repercussions.

Finely nuanced and elegantly conceived, Spacks's new work will fascinate anyone who has relished concealment or mourned its recent demise.

Author Notes

Patricia Meyer Spacks is the Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English at the University of Virginia. She is the author of eleven previous books, including Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novels and Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind , both published by the University of Chicago Press.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

A book entitled Privacy would seem particularly apt for current disorientation about the subject. On the one hand, "reality" shows infest television with obsessive revealing of the traditionally most private thoughts and actions. On the other, concerns abound about invasion of privacy through technological access to almost unlimited information. The tension between personal privacy and civil engagement--recently explored by Robert D. Putnam in Bowling Alone (CH, Dec'00)--is another part of the mix. One of the most satisfying and informed of literary critics, Spacks (University of Virginia) provides a look at psychological privacy that is both a thoughtful examination of the nature and history of privacy and a masterful piece of literary criticism. The book proceeds somewhat episodically through a sequence of topical explorations: (privacy and) reading, sensibility, cultural conventions and dissimulation, sex, and personal revelation. Her focus on privacy allows her to provide fine critical readings of literary works by 18th-century writers like Richardson, Henry and Sarah Fielding, Sterne, Frances Burney, and Jane Austen, along with poetry, diaries, autobiography, and pornography. ^BSumming Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates and above. H. Benoist Our Lady of the Lake University of San Antonio

Table of Contents

1 Privacies
2 Privacies of Reading
3 The Performance of Sensibility
4 Privacy, Dissimulation, and Propriety
5 Private Conversations
6 Exposures: Sex, Privacy, and Sensibility
7 Trivial Pursuits
8 Privacy as Enablement Afterword Works Cited