Air’s AppearanceLiterary Atmosphere in British Fiction, 1660–1794

Air’s AppearanceLiterary Atmosphere in British Fiction, 1660–1794

Jayne Elizabeth Lewis

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226476698

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


In this book, the author enlists her readers in pursuit of the elusive concept of atmosphere in literary works. She shows how diverse conceptions of air in the eighteenth century converged in British fiction, producing the modern literary sense of atmosphere and moving novelists to explore the threshold between material and immaterial worlds. The book links the emergence of literary atmosphere to changing ideas about air and the earth’s atmosphere in natural philosophy, as well as to the era’s theories of the supernatural and fascination with social manners—or, as they are now known, “airs.” The author thus offers a new interpretation of several standard features of the Enlightenment—the scientific revolution, the decline of magic, character-based sociability, and the rise of the novel—which considers them in terms of the romance of air that permeates and connects them. As it explores key episodes in the history of natural philosophy and in major literary works such as Paradise Lost, “The Rape of the Lock,” Robinson Crusoe, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, the book promises to change the atmosphere of eighteenth-century studies and the history of the novel.