Providence, Emotion and Self-Writing in England, c.1660 – c.1720

Lewis, Victoria (2018) Providence, Emotion and Self-Writing in England, c.1660 – c.1720. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis offers a new interpretation of providentialism in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England. Historians have seen this as a transitional period in providential belief and expression, between heightened engagement and gradual decline, and have provided us with many perspectives on the changing role of providence in English culture. But we still have yet to understand fully the role of providence in individual lives, where change occurred at an experiential and quotidian level. This thesis aims to fill this historiographical gap by examining practical, subjective and individual experiences of providentialism. Drawing on first-person narratives such as diaries and memoirs, conceptualised as sites of personal agency, it sheds light at the micro-level on broader shifts in providential belief and thought. These primary sources show how individuals exercised a personal providentialism, writing their relationship with God’s providence into their own emerging sense of self. Investigation of the emotional resonances of providentialism also emphasizes its centrality to inner lives and personal identity, characterised by subtle but significant modes of feeling. Several case studies demonstrate how people constantly shaped and re-shaped themselves, and moulded ideas and beliefs relating to providence to fit particular social and religious circumstances and changing intellectual concerns. Providentialism is therefore shown to be elastic and subjective – a subjectivity that ensured the adaptability and durability of the concept of providence in an era of atheism, science and expanding secular authority. Far from seeing this period as a stage in an inexorable decline, the thesis shows how people continued to find uses for providence in creative and imaginative ways to make sense of themselves and their world in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Bruce Beckett
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2018 09:25
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2018 09:25


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