My Dark Room

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My Dark Room: Spaces of the Inner Self of Eighteenth-Century England tells the story of how eighteenth-century English subjects created interior worlds for themselves with the material spaces of everyday life.  Functioning much like the camera obscura (Latin for "dark room"), the room- or box-sized visual device that fascinated viewers throughout the period, these spaces projected, animated and housed one's innermost states of being.  Among those states was the freshly conceived domain of the imagination.

Just as architectural theories of the period began to emphasize interior space as critical aspects of building design, eighteenth-century writers recognized the importance of capturing interior experience as the object of narration for another new type of physical dwelling—the book object now known as the novel.  In camera obscuras, writing closets, grottos, cottages and other built environments, this book reveals what it means to have an inner life in a modern world of proliferating spaces, real and imagined.

By looking at the material world not so much in terms of its objects, but its spaces, this book takes a new approach to the bonds between humans and the material world that have been preoccupying the humanities and social sciences lately.  In doing so, it challenges prior assumptions about the literary concept of setting: rather than a static element in day to day life that is described in literature in the service of realism, it functions as an interactive and intermedial structure for embodied acts of feeling and imagining in both lived and narrative experiences. 

At the same time, the book’s conception of interiority as a camera obscura-like  experience of projection and introspection that merges mind, feeling and body with built environments re-constellates the history of the novel and its relationship to other imaginative literary genres, making such authors as Andrew Marvell, Margaret Cavendish and Alexander Pope relevant to Samuel Richardson and Jane Austen.