This master's thesis is primarily concerned with the philosophical conditions of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England that encouraged the emergence of periodical literature and perpetuated the birth of the novel. While most connections between periodical literature and the novel are made on how the former created the readership that ensured the latter's success, I focus on how the epistemology unique to the advent of empirical science together with the growing prominence of casuistic thought created a space in which periodical literature could emerge and the early novel could flourish. I investigate the underlying assertion of a particular philosophical amalgam that I call casuistic-empiricism. Such philosophies encouraged the Renaissance trend that devalued letter-of-the-law thinking, which led ultimately to a significant epistemological transformation in seventeenth-century England.

Recognizing the immensity of this epistemological shift, I focus on the early seventeenth-century practice of casuistry as an outgrowth fueled by seventeenth-century natural philosophy. By investigating the poetry and prose of John Donne, I emphasize the pervasive threads of casuistic thought that found parallels in empirical epistemology. I proceed in a linear fashion by following the evolution and growing pervasiveness of casuistic culture into its period of culmination marked by the birth of the Athenian Gazette. Readers' prominent attraction to the periodical is shown to run on a parallel with the incipient empiricism. Indeed, the two prominent lines of thought (empiricism and casuistry) form a dynamic binary where each feeds off of and is fed by the other, culminating in a unique epistemology that aided the emergence of the early novel.

Extending this discussion of periodical literature's casuistical qualities into Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, I investigate how Defoe's ties to casuistry are reflected in and perpetuated by Crusoe, illustrating how the novel becomes a medium for resolving cases of conscience. The novel as a genre is shown to be more than just a close relative of the periodical, both genres being spurred into prominence by some of the more salient features attendant to casuistic-empirical philosophy. The novel becomes finally a type of culminating product of a unique casuistic-empirical practice that accounts for the full range of experiences involved in reaching justified conclusions.



College and Department

Humanities; English



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casuist, casuistry, casuistic, casuistical, John Dunton, Daniel Defoe, John Donne, empiricism, periodical literature, periodical, early novel, novel, epistemology, epistemological, science