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The Eighteenth-Century Novel and Contemporary Social Issues

An Introduction

Stuart Sim

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This study introduces readers to the eighteenth-century novel through a consideration of contemporary social issues. Eighteenth-century authors grappled with very similar problems to the ones we face today such as: what motivates a fundamentalist terrorist? What are the justifiable limits of state power? What dangers lie in wait for us when we create life artificially?

The book discusses key authors from Aphra Behn in the late seventeenth century to James Hogg in the 1820s, covering the 'long' eighteenth century. It guides readers through the main genres of the period from Realism, Gothic romance and historical romance to proto-science fiction. It also introduces a range of debates around race relations, anti-social behaviour, family values and born-again theology as well as the power of the media, surveillance, political sovereignty and fundamentalist terrorism. Each novel is shown to be directly relevant to some of the most urgent moral issues of our own time.

Key Features

  • Relates the novels of the eighteenth century to current social and political debates
  • Accessibly and engagingly written for non-specialists
  • Covers the key authors and texts of the period including Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Pamela, Northanger Abbey, Tristram Shandy and Frankenstein


1 Oroonoko, or, The History of the Royal Slave and Race Relations
2 The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Born Again Theology and Intelligent Design
3 Gulliver’s Travels, Multiculturalism and Cultural Difference
4 Pamela
Or, Virtue Rewarded and Sexual Abstinence
5 The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling and Anti-Social Behaviour
6 The Female Quixote
or, The Adventures of Arabella and Northanger Abbey: The Power of the Media and Popular Culture
7 The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, and Genetic Inheritance
8 The Mysteries of Udolpho, A Romance and Family Values
9 Caleb Williams, or, Things As They Are and the Surveillance Society
10 Waverley, or, ‘Tis Sixty Years Since and Disputed Sovereignty
11 Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus and Artificial Life
12 The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Fundamentalist Terrorism

About the Author

Stuart Sim is retired Professor of Critical Theory at Northumbria University. He has published widely on critical theory, and is a Fellow of the English Association. Amongst his recent publications are The Lyotard Dictionary (2011), Addicted to Profit: Reclaiming Our Lives from the Free Market (2012), Fifty Key Postmodern Thinkers (2013), and, with Brett Wilson and Barbara Hawkins (eds) Art, Science & Cultural Understanding (2014).


If you want your students to connect with 18th-century literature, put this book on your course. It is accessible, challenging and guaranteed to liven up the dullest seminar.
- Gary Day, Times Higher Education Supplement