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This dissertation recovers the surprising complexity of the famously two-dimensional characters in early novels. Over the course of four chapters, I move from John Bunyan’s overtly religious allegories to texts preoccupied by economic concerns, including Aphra Behn’s Oronooko, Eliza Haywood’s Memoirs of a Certain Island, and Henry Fielding’s Amelia. Throughout, I argue that the rise of the credit system in Britain intensified an epistemological crisis rooted in Calvinist theology, and that this crisis shapes the early history of novelistic characterization. Early novels enact the struggle to reconcile perceived and real value, a problem of discernment endemic to credit and, for Calvinists, to assessments of faithfulness. They do so by introducing characters that are “flat” and nevertheless difficult to read. Figures like Bunyan’s Talkative and Behn’s Oroonoko simultaneously invite and frustrate efforts—by readers of texts and readers inscribed within them—to assign straightforward meanings. This is not because they are bearers of rich, psychologized interiority. Despite its interests in hidden or inward states, Calvinism bequeaths to the novel a model of character in which surfaces are the source of interest and uncertainty. By tracing Calvinism’s literary afterlife, this study responds to the call of scholars, like Talal Asad, Charles Taylor, and Michael Warner, who seek a more supple account of religion’s integration into other facets of modern life. In the literature of the long eighteenth century, the religious past does not simply give way to secular modernity. Instead, Restoration and early eighteenth-century writers adapt their Calvinist inheritance in ways that help them to understand and, often, to critique the nascent economic order.


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