Telling timepieces
: Representations of the timepiece within literature and visual culture of the eighteenth century

  • Jonathan Turner

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Leading up to the eighteenth century horology showed a clear progression from approximation to precision, whereby the measure of time no longer varied by season and the clock turned unequal hours into equal ones. This thesis is going to elucidate the important cultural role of the timepiece during the era by reading works of literature and art within the context of an increasingly time-conscious society. In doing so I highlight the often-overlooked role of timepieces, clocks, and watches in culture and introduce new ways of seeing familiar texts and images. The structure of the thesis has been arranged so the global context of the timepiece is explored first, with each subsequent chapter narrowing the clock’s sphere of influence. From the public, to the private and finally to the personal timekeeper, each iteration of the clock creates a new or distinctive type of time to be studied.
    Through the analysis of authors such as Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift, Chapter 1 frames the clock as a vehicle of imperial time, which allows Britain to impose its temporal order on the ‘timeless’ across the globe. Chapter 2 establishes the timepiece as an important device for co-ordinating social action in public spaces and shows how industrial time was imposed over natural cycles. This is going to be achieved through analysing texts written by, among others, Mary Collier and Thomas Legg. In Chapter 3, reading Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67), I examine the clock in domestic life and show how it reinforces wider notions of implicit hierarchical spheres. This will be supported by Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740), Elizabeth Inchabald’s A Simple Story (1791) and Nicolas Lancret, The Four Times of Day: Morning (1739). Finally, in Chapter 4, I highlight how the pocket watch provides an insight into the criminal economy that grew in conjunction with the ever-changing refinement of eighteenth century fashion. I use Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722) to introduce this argument, before Mary Meeke’s The Sicilian, A novel in four volumes (1798) and John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), along with examples of prosecutions from the Old Bailey archives, furthers the discussion.
    Date of Award29 Jun 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorIan Haywood (Supervisor) & David Fallon (Supervisor)

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