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Air’s Appearance

Literary Atmosphere in British Fiction, 1660-1794

In Air’s Appearance, Jayne Elizabeth Lewis enlists her readers in pursuit of the elusive concept of atmosphere in literary works. She shows how diverse conceptions of air in the eighteenth century converged in British fiction, producing the modern literary sense of atmosphere and moving novelists to explore the threshold between material and immaterial worlds.
Air’s Appearance links the emergence of literary atmosphere to changing ideas about air and the earth’s atmosphere in natural philosophy, as well as to the era’s theories of the supernatural and fascination with social manners—or, as they are now known, “airs.” Lewis thus offers a striking new interpretation of several standard features of the Enlightenment—the scientific revolution, the decline of magic, character-based sociability, and the rise of the novel—that considers them in terms of the romance of air that permeates and connects them. As it explores key episodes in the history of natural philosophy and in major literary works like Paradise Lost, “The Rape of the Lock,” Robinson Crusoe, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, this book promises to change the atmosphere of eighteenth-century studies and the history of the novel.

304 pages | 8 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2012

History: British and Irish History

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature


“Jayne Elizabeth Lewis’s Air’s Appearance is unique in its provocative brilliance and startling originality. Lewis extracts from a comprehensive series of works and authors the revealing interrelationships of atmosphere as a descriptive literary term and as an object of scientific inquiry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In subtlety and suggestiveness, in critical inventiveness, historical range, and intellectual depth, her book is a revelation.”

John Richetti, University of Pennsylvania

Air’s Appearance is witty as well as elegant. The subject is original, the research breathtakingly wide-ranging, and the language lyrically clear. Its suggestiveness alone opens up so many new interpretive possibilities, so many new ways of historical thinking, so many new perceptions of air in text and air around. It makes you think and see differently.”

Cynthia Wall, University of Virginia

Air’s Appearance will electrify eighteenth-century studies. In this wide-ranging, original, and iridescently stylish study, Jayne Elizabeth Lewis demonstrates how from the Restoration until the 1790s efforts, variously, to define or to soak up atmosphere linked the spheres of natural philosophy and modern fiction. Over the course of that demonstration she gives us a startling new account of how readers learned to believe in novel fictions whose distinguishing feature was their air of truth.”

Deidre Lynch, University of Toronto

 “Comprehensive and fascinating.”


“If Lewis’s analogies between scientific and literary atmospheres sometimes hang as much as anything on the flair and wit of her writing, there are also enthralling new readings of Paradise Lost and The Rape of the Lock as well as major novels. All are illuminated in new ways by the startling variety of contemporaneous speculations about air.”

Times Literary Supplement

Table of Contents

List of Figures

1. Rounds of Air
2. “Other Air”: Boyle’s Spring, Milton’s Fall, and the Making of Literary Atmosphere
3. “Discontented Air”; or, The Rape of the Lock
4. Novel Atmographies: Eighteenth-Century Weather Writing and the Atmospheres of Robinson Crusoe
5. Spectral Currencies and the Air of Reality in A Journal of the Plague Year
6. The Dissipation of Tom Jones
7. Glanvill’s Ghost, Cold Sociability, and “the Cure of Arabella’s Mind”
8. In Factitious Airs: Radcliffe’s Priestley
9. Priestley’s Radcliffe and the Experimental Gothic


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