Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

The Moral Self in Eighteenth-Century Poetry: A Study in the Poetics of Gray, Goldsmith, Cowper and Yearsley

Bex, Anthony R (2014) The Moral Self in Eighteenth-Century Poetry: A Study in the Poetics of Gray, Goldsmith, Cowper and Yearsley. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:47607)

Language: English
Download this file
[thumbnail of Dissertation Final.pdf]


This thesis explores one aspect of the ‘inward turn’ that is a significant feature of English poetry in the later eighteenth century. It claims that a representative group of poets construct an authorial ‘self’ in which the personal pronoun ‘I’ becomes an authoritative guarantor of social and moral judgements. It suggests that this move was a response to Lockeian ideas of personal identity and economic individualism which were subsequently refined and developed by theoreticians such as David Hume and Adam Smith such that the ‘self’ was conceived not merely as the site of the sensorium but also the site of moral judgement.

It identifies Thomas Gray as the initiator of this development, arguing that his earlier poems, and particularly his Elegy, were revolutionary in their attempts to accommodate Locke’s ideas as a means of combating both the fissiparous nature of the literary market place and the hegemonic practices of the aristocratic class. The reception of the Elegy led Gray to believe he had failed, but his construction of the ‘swain’s’ dual identity who both judges and is judged was to resonate in the persona of Goldsmith’s narrator of The Deserted Village. Goldsmith’s essentially conservative outlook meant that this poem was fractured and it was not until Cowper’s The Task that a fully coherent realisation of Gray’s poetics was achieved.

The thesis finally considers Ann Yearsley’s work, arguing that her construction of a ‘self’ as narrator and social judge was fraught with difficulty both because of her position as a female labouring-class poet, and because of the repressive response to the French Revolution. The concluding chapter draws together the implications of the preceding chapters.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Landry, Donna
Uncontrolled keywords: Eighteenth-century English poetry; Thomas Gray; Oliver Goldsmith; William Cowper; Ann Yearsley; moral philosophy; concepts of self; pastoral; georgic; authorial identity
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 10 Mar 2015 01:01 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 13:12 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Bex, Anthony R.

Creator's ORCID:
CReDIT Contributor Roles:
  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.