CFP: [18th] Literature & Contract in the 18th C (9/15/07; NeMLA 4/10/08 - 4/13/08)

full name / name of organization: 
Trevor Speller
contact email:

Literature and Contract in the Eighteenth Century
NeMLA Panel: Buffalo, NY 4/10/08 - 4/13/08

The eighteenth century’s broad cultural concern with the contract is not exterior or incidental to
its literature. From the marriage vow to the lover’s pledge, the pacts between masters and men
or Kings and subjects, through to the contracts between author and reader (or author or
publisher), a consideration of contract theory continually forms the basis of understanding
eighteenth-century literature. Contracts act as themes, literary conventions and material
concerns for nearly all eighteenth century writers. Engagement with the problem of the contract
allowed these writers to (de)construct the foundations of their own society, as well as those of
foreign societies and colonial societies. While philosophical versions of contract theory tended to
emphasize the formation of societies by contract, literature also focused on the tension and
stress which a pact or bond could bring to a relationship. The disjunctive contract of the
libertine’s vow to test and overcome virtue and the heroine’s attachment to the same is
emblematic of this tension, and reveals a tendency within the contract itself to bind people
together without the necessity of consent. Even outside the literary conventions of the marriage-
plot, religion, cultural standing, and rationality help govern the legitimacy and sanctity of the
contract at stake. Both inside and outside the literary, the contracts we are presented with are
not always easily or neatly mapped on to the models of the founding social contract theorized by
Hobbes, Locke and others.

This panel seeks papers which address the relationship between the contract and the literary in
the eighteenth century from a broad range of perspectives. Panelists might consider the contract
and the literary from such diverse perspectives as philosophical contract theory,legal precedent,
political development, or publication contracts, to name only a few: How was the contract theory
of eighteenth century philosophers applied, revised, critiqued and strengthened in the literature
of the period? How do changing conceptions of the contract in legal and political circles interact
with the literature of the period? What can the literature of the period say about a contract that
its philosophy could not? How did writers’ professional contracts influence what they wrote and
how they wrote it?

Please send 250-500 word abstracts to Trevor Speller, SUNY Buffalo:
Deadline for abstracts is September 15, 2007.

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Received on Wed Aug 08 2007 - 14:01:44 EDT

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