“The Ugliness of Vice… ought only to be represented to the Vicious; to whom Satire, like a magnifying Glass, may aggravate every Defect, in order to make its Deformity appear more hideous; but since its End is only to reprove and amend, it should never be address’d to any but those who come within its Correction, and may be the better for it: A virtuous Mind need not be shewn the Deformity of Vice, to make it hated and avoided; the more pure and uncorrupted our Ideas are, the less shall we be influenc’d by Example. A natural Propensity to Virtue or Vice often determines the Choice…”
– Lennox, Charlotte. The Female Quixote (p. 277).
Instead of following the conventional reading list assigned to the 18th C module, a student has expanded her knowledge of eighteenth century literature to include The Female Quixote into her repertoire. No matter, she is still very much subordinate to her readers and scholarly texts; much as she would like to flatter herself that she is a notch above the lesser reader.
Naw I’m kidding.
If you happen to be doing an eighteenth-century Literature module now, perhaps you would know that the typical eighteenth-century individual believes that Virtue derives from within or the inner Spirit as I like to call it. Skeptics today believe otherwise, but that debate should be left for the disenchanted and disillusioned twentieth-century novelist.
The eighteenth-century novelist/writer endeavours to expose the follies of the un-virtuous (namely the aristocrats), which is ironic as their nobility has been usurped by their rude and terrible manners. The satire was particularly popular because of the role it played in mocking, ridiculing and just poking fun of the higher-ups. Personally, I do not think it any different from what we do today- as much as we try to maintain the facade that we are a classless society – the ‘higher-ups’ take another form, like political or government authority (@FakeSarahPalin or @FakeObama). I can imagine Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne or even Charlotte Lennox to amuse their audience with their ‘superfluous’ social commentary. What dost thou think?
However, unlike their 20th C counterparts, they still had vehement faith in the cultivation of the inner Spirit and that goodness still existed. It was only the performative ‘goodness’ or gentility that they were highly critical of. It was only when Virtue wore no mask or was not privy to motives of deception that they were convinced of its purity. And it is this same purity that they upheld.