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Enlightenment Devilry: Devils in Eighteenth-Century British Literature
thesisposted on 19.07.2021, 18:53 by Daniel D FroidDaniel D Froid
“Enlightenment Devilry” investigates why, in the period often referred to as the Age of Reason, British writers link devils to knowledge that is forbidden, secret, or threatening but also perversely appealing. I argue that literary texts use devils to articulate a particular form of curiosity that is driven by perverse objects or seeks ends that defy social and intellectual convention. Many eighteenth-century British writers questioned the historical veracity of the Bible and the reality of heaven and hell due to scientific discoveries, contact with nonwestern cultures, and changes in religious thought. At the same time, the emerging print marketplace made religious texts such as the Bible as well as leisure reading more easily accessible to wider audiences. Within this discursive context, depictions of devils and devilry helped readers and writers navigate tensions between competing sources for authority and legitimacy, including secular and spiritual institutions; old and new ways of conceiving of literature, theology, and philosophy; and historiographical and religious ideas from around the globe. There has never been a full-length study of the significance of devils in British culture of the long eighteenth century; in addition to deepening our understanding of this subject, I intervene into current debates about knowledge-making practices, religion, and secularization in the period.