England’s secrets revealed
: secret literature and moral reform in the English Enlightenment, 1691-1757

  • Jingyue Wu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Secret literature (literary experiments in secret revelation) and the reformation of manners movement in the English Enlightenment tend to be studied separately by scholars as two discrete enterprises. Their complex connections are thus left unduly neglected, especially those connections that are central to our understanding of the period’s literary innovations. This thesis is the first in-depth exploration of their nexus. It focuses on five significant secret literary works created by several leading experimental writers of the time at the movement’s four critical junctures, namely Charles Gildon’s revelation of ‘England’s secrets’ at the outset of the movement (1691), The Post-Boy Rob’d of His Mail (1692-93), Nicholas Rowe’s and Susanna Centlivre’s revelations of ‘women’s secrets’ on the stage at the height of the movement, The Biter (1704) and The Wonder: A Woman Keeps a Secret (1714), Elizabeth Singer Rowe’s revelation of ‘otherworldly secrets’ shortly after the movement started to decline from the mid-1720s, the Friendship in Death duology (1728-32), and Eliza Haywood’s revelation of ‘people’s secrets’ on the eve of the movement’s first revival (1757), The Invisible Spy (1754). Through these deliciously fresh revelations of secrets, this thesis argues that secret literature and the movement, contrary to modern assumptions, were not discrete enterprises, but were closely connected. It shows that interest in the movement was a pivotal motivating force behind some of the most significant innovations in Enlightenment secret literature. These innovations, this thesis points out, were not just to advance the movement by helping raise the reading public’s awareness of the moral reform’s necessity and urgency, but were also used to advance their authors’ distinctive plans for reforming the movement itself, particularly its Anglicanism-inflected ideological foundation. Four typical plans are revealed in this thesis: 1) modifying certain facet of the movement’s Anglicanism (N. Rowe and Centlivre); 2) replacing its Anglicanism with other native religious resources (Gildon); 3) replacing its Anglicanism with non-native religious resources (E. Rowe); and 4) replacing its Anglicanism with non-religious intellectual resources (Haywood). Unlike other studies of secret literature, this thesis takes into account the recent philosophical and sociological reappraisal of the secret and does not position the secret as merely something that is intentionally concealed, but as an assemblage. In doing so, it also contributes to the ongoing studies in the sociology of long-eighteenth-century English literature.
Date of Award23 Mar 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJohn J McTague (Supervisor) & Jennifer Batt (Supervisor)

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