A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century
The Enlightenment commitment to reason naturally gave rise to a belief in the perfectibility of man. Influenced by John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, many eighteenth-century writers argued that the proper education and upbringingbreedingcould make any man a member of the cultural elite.
Yet even in this egalitarian environment, the concept of breeding remained tied to theories of blood lineage, caste distinction, and biological difference. Turning to the works of Locke, Rousseau, Swift, Defoe, and other giants of the British Enlightenment, Jenny Davidson revives the debates that raged over the husbandry of human nature and highlights their critical impact on the development of eugenics, the emergence of fears about biological determinism, and the history of the language itself. Combining rich historical research with a keen sense of story, she links explanations for the physical resemblance between parents and children to larger arguments about culture and society and shows how the threads of this compelling conversation reveal the character of a century. A remarkable intellectual history, Breeding not only recasts the fundamental concerns of the Enlightenment but also uncovers the seeds of thought that bloomed into contemporary notions of human perfectibility.
"A stimulating and clarifying guide to a complicated and important subject, as well as a fresh perspective on eighteenth-century Britain." — Patricia Meyer Spacks, Journal of British Studies
"required reading for students and scholars of eighteenth-century literature and aesthetics" — English Studies
"Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century is one of the most compelling examples of the importance of literary studies I've come across in ages. An original and valuable contribution that will engage readers from a variety of fields." — Helen Deutsch, University of California, Los Angeles
"Jenny Davidson's new book reopens the rich tradition of debate on the relation between nature and culture in the long eighteenth century. It is hard to know what to praise most: Davidson's deep learning (worn lightly), the effervescent clarity of her presentation, or the generosity with which she lets us listen to a host of voices& mdash;some familiar, many not& mdash;that speak to a question that has lost none of its disturbing force today." — Ian Duncan, University of California, Berkeley
Introduction. Breeding Before Biology
1. The Rules of Resemblance
3. Cultures of Improvement
4. A Natural History of Inequality
5. Blots on the Landscape
Conclusion. The Promise of Perfection
Bibliography of Works Cited