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Fables of Modernity

Fables of Modernity expands the territory for cultural and literary criticism by introducing the concept of the cultural fable. Laura Brown shows how cultural fables arise from material practices in eighteenth-century England. These fables, the author says, reveal the eighteenth-century origins of modernity and its connection with two related paradigms of difference the woman and the "native" or non-European.The collective narratives that Brown finds in the print culture of the period engage such prominent phenomena as the city sewer, trade and shipping, the stock market, the commercial printing industry, the "native" visitor to London, and the household pet. In connecting imagination and history through the category of the cultural fable, Brown illuminates the nature of modern experience in the growing metropolitan centers, the national consequences of global expansion, the volatility of credit, the transforming effects of capital, and the domestic consequences of colonialism and slavery.
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About the Author

Laura Brown is John Wendell Anderson Professor of English at Cornell University. She is the author of several books, including Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes: Humans and Other Animals in the Modern Literary Imagination,Fables of Modernity: Literature and Culture in the English Eighteenth Century and Ends of Empire: Women and Ideology in Early Eighteenth-Century English Literature, all from Cornell.


"In essence, Brown's cultural fables are rich metaphorical themes rooted in significant social and historical processes... Brown's last chapter, on the relationship between the animal and the human, is particularly fascinating, especially her account of the growing popularity of pets during the rise of England's bourgeois commercial society."-Choice, February 2002 "In constructing two forms of 'other,' the woman and the non-European, Brown argues that eighteenth-century England turned to material culture for metaphors to represent the modern: the city sewer which emblematizes the metropolis in Swift's 'Description of a City Shower': the torrents and oceans that represent fate in texts such as Johnson's The Vanity of Human Wishes and in works by Dryden, Pope, and others; finance and the fable of Lady Credit; capitalism; the native prince; and pets that symbolize the nonhuman being. These marginally literary texts document the invention of cultural myths of modernity, which are the triumph of capitalism, urbanization, commercialization, and the historical differentiation of today from yesterday."-Barbara M. Benedict, Trinity College, Studies in English Literature 42:3, Summer 2002 "Fables of Modernity assumes that the eighteenth century was indeed England's first 'modern' century and it proceeds to explore the ramifications of that modernity in the literary culture of the period."-Brian Cowan, Yale University, H-Albion, January 2003 "Laura Brown is one of the most productive and influential literary critics today. Over the last two decades she has shaped eighteenth-century studies much as Stephen Greenblatt has shaped Renaissance studies."-Blakey Vermeule, Northwestern University, Modern Language Quarterly 64:4, December 2003 "Laura Brown's Fables of Modernity is a richly satisfying study of the cultural fables of early modernity in 18th-century English culture. Authoritative and commanding in its scholarship, a synthesis of the best work in recent cultural studies, Brown's book is powerful and original, consistently stimulating and provocative."-John Richetti, A.M. Rosenthal Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania "On urgent topics that include urban infrastructure, global financial markets, intercultural contact and exchange, and the boundaries of the human and nonhuman, Laura Brown's excellent Fables of Modernity makes a crucial point about the eighteenth century that scholars have long suspected but until now have left relatively unexplored-it isn't over yet."-Joseph Roach, Charles C. and Dorathea S. Dilley Professor of Theater, Yale University " Fables of Modernity is a wonderful book. In it , Laura Brown returns to the scene of structuralism and demonstrates that our concern with narrative-as a way of making sense of cultural antinomies-was too soom displaced by a brand of poststructuralism that made all such signifying systems melt into air. She homes in on three cultural fables that mark modernity's emergence in the early eithteenth century. Working deftly across an extensive field of letters that includes both Augustan poetry and sentimental fiction, she shows how these texts not only talk to one another but also make sense each in its own right as they draw on these fables to do so. Fables of Modernity both rewards the reader many times over with exciting new readings of Clarissa, The Dunclad, and Sir Charles Grandison and demonstrates a new way of reading historically."-Nancy Armstrong, Brown University

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