Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, Department of English, May (2002)
This dissertation explores how literary criminal narratives reflected public anxieties over the increasing commercialization of England during the early eighteenth century. It accounts for the popularity of the criminal in literature as well as public concerns about commercialization and the individuality it encouraged, revealing how these concerns were expressed in the most popular form of criminal narrative in this era, the criminal biography. Chapters on the criminal narratives of John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and John Gay reveal how the criminal narrative functioned as a means of critiquing a developing commercial society in England. Bunyan first employs the formula of the criminal biography to offer a prophetic critique of the burgeoning market society in England, while Defoe explores the triumphs and moral dilemmas of life in an age of commercialism. The conclusion reads Gay’s criminal narrative as the culmination of a nation’s early and ambivalent experience with the marketplace. Its implication is that in the modern age, commercialism makes us all in some sense criminals.