The Philosophical Traveller as Social Critic in Oliver Goldsmith's The Traveller, The Deserted Village and The Citizen of the World
This thesis examines the figure of the philosophical traveller in Oliver Goldsmith’s poems The Traveller (1764) and The Deserted Village (1770), and his pseudo-oriental letter collection, The Citizen of the World (1762). Building upon recent reassessments of Goldsmith as a political writer, this study takes a thematic approach to the question of why the solitary traveller or foreign observer becomes so important to Goldsmith’s socio-economic criticism. I argue that his preoccupation with mobile narrators emerges from his sense of dissonance with the prevailing rhetoric and values of mid-century culture, yet this uncertainty of outlook embeds his works more thoroughly in their problematic historical period. My first chapter argues that Goldsmith’s cultural commentary originated in his early career as reviewer and periodical writer. By situating his major poems and The Citizen of the World in the context of his journalism, I show how they reveal his concern with the changing status and public responsibilities of the professional author in an increasingly commercialised milieu. In The Citizen of the World, for example, Goldsmith adapts the oriental-observer genre to an ironic critique of popular culture, including the trade in chinoiserie goods and exotic fictions. The second chapter shows how he extends the comparative function of his traveller figures to advance a broad-based analysis of national cultures that reflects upon Britain’s conduct at home and overseas. The fiction of a Chinese visitor gave an Anglo-Irish author greater freedom to question Britain’s mercantile and colonial expansion. In The Traveller, Goldsmith adapts the “prospect view” to a Europe-wide survey that explicitly connects foreign commerce to domestic decline, particularly in the arts. I argue that Goldsmith’s choice to expand his political arguments more fully in verse demonstrates the limitations of popular journalism for aspiring authors and demonstrates his awareness of the literary authority poetry still carried at this time. In my final chapter, I show how Goldsmith’s search for this literary and ethical authority was at odds with the retreat of mid-century poetry from politics and history. Therefore, The Deserted Village in particular expresses its socio-economic arguments through ideals of feeling, sensibility and benevolence. Goldsmith uses his solitary poetic personae to raise the possibility of a literary community to replace those lost through rural depopulation and the decline of traditional social bonds, including those between authors and readers. The outsider figure is distinctive but embraces the functions of estranging and drawing together, just as epistles from abroad simultaneously work to expose differences and overcome distance. Through examining the ways in which Goldsmith adapts the traveller figure to address public themes, this thesis proposes new insights into his social commentary as it relates to central concerns of mid-eighteenth century literature.
Advisor: Rogers, Shef
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Department of English
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Goldsmith; traveller; citizen; eighteenth-century; poetry
Research Type: Thesis