John Brewer's landmark book brings to life the rich cultural life of eighteenth-century England. He describes how literature, painting, music, and the theater related to a public increasingly avid for them; how artists used, or were used by, publishers, plagiarists, impresarios, and managers; and how contemporary ideas of taste combined with patriotic fervor and shrewdly managed commerce to create a vibrant, dynamic national culture.
"A magnificent achievement. . . . Enormous in its scope, astute in its choices of examples, learned in its resources, but written with an almost unfailing lucidity and accessibility." —David A. Bell, New Republic
"Brewer takes us on a grand tour of the exciting, fluid, often raucous world of the 18th-century arts. . . . A brilliantly illustrated social history." —T. H. Breen, New York Times Book Review
"Every so often a work of intellectual history comes along that reinvigorates the common reader's interest in the past. . . . Exhilarating. . . . No one interested in modern intellectual history should miss it." —Michael Dirda, Washington Post
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"[T]his history book is now, for me, the last word on how British literary culture changed between the last days of the early modern period and the Victorian age ... give this book as a present to your favourite amateur historian: they will love you for it." - Kate Macdonald, Vulpes Libris
"Pleasures of the Imagination paints a kaleidoscopic picture of eighteenth-century culture that is both erudite and accessible." - Heather Mcpherson, University of Alabama at Birmingham
"If you want to understand how British culture reinvented itself in the eighteenth century, read The Pleasures of the Imagination... Like all really original achievements it makes us sharply rethink things we supposed we knew well, but it does so with humour and humanity, and through the text runs Brewer's remarkable intellect: forceful, lucid and penetrating." - Simon Schama
"The Pleasures of the Imagination is a splendid cornucopia of a book. It describes the contortions of the eighteenth century as it developed a culture... It is full of pure delight... The marvel of this book is that in writing in exuberant detail about the past, Brewer succeeds in illuminating the present... This book wears its massive scholarship lightly. I hope some of our new political masters have time to read it, for it is a history that teaches us many lessons." - Peter Hall, The Observer
"Brewer ranges over almost every corner of the English mind with sharp, darting observation... Brewer is perceptive, amusing and thorough wherever he strays. This is by far the most complete and up-to-date account of the evolving Georgian arts... We are shown round a society aiming at Rome but often hitting Babylon, with the combined attitutes of fin-de siecle Paris and of Las Vegas. This is a book to treasure as it treasures a past we thought we had lost." - Pat Rogers, Sunday Telegraph
"A model of the new cultural history... In Britons, Linda Colley highlighted the new political, patriotic and religious tides which flowed in the Georgian age, creating a fresh confidence and sense of national identity... The Pleasures of the Imagination confirms this view of the main of the public mind. It shows how the English came to feel not just strong but civilized too, polite as well as powerful. God's chosen people, of the age of Cromwell, were reinventing themselves as Shakespeare's heirs." - Roy Porter, The IndependentFrom Kirkus Reviews:
In encyclopedic detail and with Johnsonian style and gusto, Brewer expatiates on the cultural development of a Public--reading, listening, and viewing--and the rise of Taste. Historian Brewer follows his work on the politics and government of the same period in Britain, The Sinews of Power (1989), with a reassessment of British culture as it moved out of the aristocratic Renaissance and rakish Restoration, and evolved into a culture driven in part by an extraordinarily mercantile middle class. Brewer demonstrates how London emerged as the center of a boom in literature, music, and art--admittedly from mercenary forces. Grub Street produced Pope and Johnson; the urban landscape inspired Hogarth and Rowlandson; Handel and Haydn found financial independence in oratorios and public concerts; and David Garrick combined the roles of actor-manager and neoclassical interpreter of Shakespeare. Brewer is equally interested in the consumers of this expanding culture. His glosses of the bookselling trade, the mercurial London theater, and art auctions and exhibitions are supported by firsthand accounts, such as those of Anna Larpent, an intellectual lady of leisure and taste, and Ozias Humphry, a miniaturist who never quite succeeded in the art business. With this refinement of taste, though, a cultural divide emerged between connoisseurs and dilettantes, amateurs and professionals, London and the provinces. Brewer, however, shows how the provinces not only absorbed culture from London but distributed it more evenly as well. Outside the home counties, he unearths lesser-known but interesting figures: Thomas Bewick, a successful Newcastle engraver; Anna Seward, the Lichfield bluestocking and contentious associate of Johnson; and John Marsh, a Chichester gentleman with a passion for amateur music. Only a book as rich, diverse, and allusive as Brewer's could do justice to the phenomenal cultural expansion of 18th-century England. (240 b&w illustrations, 8 pages color illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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