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Tavern Talk: Literature, Politics & Conviviality


In this dissertation I argue that the tavern is the institution best suited to understanding the relationship between literature and politics in the years building up to and following the French Revolution, when new political and aesthetic identities were being configured. This is because the taverns of the period index - and thus in a historically concrete way embody - the period's renegotiations of public and private space, self and community, seriousness and pleasure. As material manifestations of the ideologies that shaped physical assembly, taverns reveal the most important social dynamics underlying the transformation of literature from the Enlightenment narratives of the eighteenth century to the transcendental aesthetic premises of Romanticism.

This study traces a revolution in metropolitan sociability, from an age when men could gather in taverns to cultivate an image of themselves as the leading figures of a masculine literary culture, to a time when this fantasy had been exposed as thoroughly unsustainable. I examine the increasingly suspect reputation of tavern talk from the literary clubs of the 1760s, through the convivial poetry of Captain Morris, to the song and supper clubs of the 1820s and 1830s. The shift in literature's association with the tavern produces, and is produced by the tavern's uneasy relationship with politics, and in particular with the tavern's association with seditious practices in the debates surrounding the French Revolution. In the years following the Fall of the Bastille, the once celebrated spaces of public and patriotic convivial assembly became associated with the conspiratorial whisperings of a radical community who were agitating for political reform.

Once literary tavern conviviality had been exposed as debased, misogynistic, and potentially seditious, a new concept of literature emerged that transcended sites of assembly and located inspiration in the mind of the poet. My examination of the tavern provides a new account of the development of the aesthetic premises of canonical Romanticism, while also arguing for the continued relevance of convivial assembly, and a poetry of physical presence that fell outside the new definitions of literature.

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