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Title: From Time to Time: Narratives of Temporality in Early Modern England, 1610-1670
Authors: Gibbons, Zoe Hope
Advisors: Smith, Nigel
Contributors: English Department
Subjects: English literature
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation traces the development of a new sense of time in seventeenth-century English literary culture. Focusing on poetry and prose by John Donne, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Browne, and Andrew Marvell, I argue that this temporality operated in direct opposition to the priorities of early modern historiography. What I call “the new time” belongs to two cultural trends that emerged at the turn of the seventeenth century: on one hand, the rise of skepticism, materialism, and the new science; on the other, a growing sense that the past no longer sufficed to justify England’s present or set a course for her future. Under these conditions, the literary concept of “time” grew more closely allied to the material world than to the grand abstractions of history. The literature of the new time accepts, even embraces, time’s ability to sever the ancient from the modern. Renaissance historians, assuming that human nature remained constant over millennia, probed the past for words and actions that could generate what Niccolò Machiavelli termed “practical lessons” for the present. History was a science of both causality and priority, tracing effects back to their causes and distinguishing between useful and useless facts. Skeptics like Michel de Montaigne, however, proposed that “effects do but halfe refer their causes.” The narrators of the new time developed this skeptical temporality into a literature that assumed an insuperable rupture between past and present. In the same period, English writers began to treat time as a versatile and dynamic literary subject in its own right. Other factors helped to detach time from history, including the proliferation of personal timepieces like pocket watches; the rediscovery of classical materialism and its intersection with philosophical libertinism; and, beginning in the 1630s, the mysterious shadows over England’s political future. Through my readings of Donne’s Anniversaries, Hobbes’s Leviathan and Behemoth, Browne’s Hydriotaphia, or Urne-Buriall, and Marvell’s interregnum poetry, I delineate a literary temporality defined by its narrators’ anti-historical constructions of the present and the recent past.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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