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Reason and the eighteenth-century: salons, the Lunar Society and the novel





Bill Hughes recently completed his PhD on 18th-century dialogue, communicative reason and the English novel.
Jan Bowman is author and illustrator of THIS IS BIRMINGHAM, a history of the original Lunar Society and its effect on the city.
Our speakers will be discussing their work and the factors which made the Enlightenment such an inspiring, eventful milestone in human history. Jan's slideshow will situate the discussion in its visual context and explain the inspiration behind her book on Birmingham's original 'salon'.
300 years ago an explosion of new ideas and discoveries led to great social upheavals, and revolutions in the USA and France. This period -- the Enlightenment -- gave rise to such new cultural phenomena as the salon, the novel, and Birmingham's Lunar Society.
Wonderful new inventions, from soda water to fire extinguishers to pianos to steam engines, burst onto the world stage with a haste and frequency unsurpassed outside wartime. Alongside this technological revolution came a change in the way that debate took place.
The eighteenth century was a period of intense dialogue, with a public sphere embodied in and aided by the expansion of print, coffee-houses, journals, public lectures, and cultural formations. It’s therefore not surprising that production and consumption of printed dialogue flourished amidst the general expansion of commerce in pleasurable goods. This actual commerce of ideas, reflecting the open market of the new consumer-oriented capitalism, could be represented in a form that ensured their even greater circulation.
Novels of the period have embedded formal dialogues within them. In fact, the eighteenth-century dialogue is so variegated, and the early novel so multiform and unclassifiable, that it is not just that the dialogue influences the novel, or that dialogue becomes an important component of the novel, but that the two genres overlap considerably.
There were always undercurrents of antagonism behind these sociable exchanges that revealed unresolved divisions in society, but these emerged into open polemic during the 1790s against the background of the French Revolution and dawning working-class consciousness. Dialogues now became openly confrontational in a manner not seen since the period of the seventeenth-century English revolution. Yet some of these radical writings envisaged rational, harmonious communication in a new form alongside the polemicism. One concern of liberal novelists, those with an interest in women’s aspirations in particular, was the exploration of more egalitarian relationships between the sexes, where mutual attraction also involved mutual intellectual regard.
All welcome
 

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