This study has situated eighteenth-century literature in the context of ideas of coteries and communities of various kinds: literary groups, informal networks of support and collaboration; the communities of readers and spectators and the particular literary forms which seek to call such communities into existence; and the textual communities which surround texts when works are pulled into debates and defences by imitations and parodies. In doing so, it has joined an increasing number of studies which attempt to move beyond traditional paradigms of the period, such as the ‘age of reason’ or ‘Augustan literature’ giving way to an age of ‘sensibility’. No paradigm can totally explain a literary period in all its variety. If we think of the eighteenth century as an age of ‘sociability’ or of literary coteries, then we also need to remember the ways in which these ideas were contradicted by their own culture. This book has thus also emphasised the way in which many writers feared the fracturing of literary communities in the wake of print culture with its anonymous, unknown readers; how representations of community were as likely to reflect upon disputation and noise as upon acts of rational communication and amicable persuasion. At the heart of this book, then, is an ideal model of conversation as debate. The conversation initiated by this study needs to be supplemented with other stories and voices.
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