Adrian J. Wallbank, "Literary Experimentation in Rowland Hill's Village Dialogues: Transcending 'Critical Attitudes' in the Face of Societal Ruination" (pp. 1–36)
In the aftermath of the French "Revolution Controversy," middle-class evangelical writers made a concerted effort to rehabilitate the moral fabric of British society. Hannah More's Cheap Repository Tracts (1795–98) are recognized as pivotal within this program, but in this essay I question whether they were really as influential as has been supposed. I argue that autobiographical evidence from the period demonstrates an increasing skepticism toward overt didacticism, and that despite their significant and undeniable penetration within working-class culture, the Cheap Repository Tracts, if not all "received ideologies," were increasingly being rejected by their readers. This essay examines the important contribution that Rowland Hill's Village Dialogues (1801) made to this arena. Hill, like many of his contemporaries, felt that British society was facing ruination, but he also recognized that overt moralizing and didacticism was no longer palatable or effective. I argue that Hill thus experimented with an array of literary techniques—many of which closely intersect with developments occurring within the novel and sometimes appear to contradict or undermine the avowed seriousness of evangelicalism—that not only attempt to circumvent what Jonathan Rose has described as the "critical attitudes" of early-nineteenth-century readers, but also effectively map the "transitional" nature of the shifting literary and social terrains of the period. In so doing, Hill contributed signally to the evolution of the dialogue form (which is often synonymous with mentoring and didacticism), since his use of conversational mimesis and satire predated the colloquialism of John Wilson's Noctes Ambrosianae (1822–35) and Walter Savage Landor's Imaginary Conversations (1824–29).
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