Carlyle and the ‘Distracted Century’

B. W. Young

in The Victorian Eighteenth Century

Published in print October 2007 | ISBN: 9780199256228
Published online January 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780191719660 | DOI:
 Carlyle and the ‘Distracted Century’

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This chapter explores Thomas Carlyle's fascination with the 18th century. It argues that Carlyle demonstrates a consistent response concerning the 18th century: a deep suspicion of its lack of heroism, either religious or political; its place as a historical rupture between the heroic age of the Reformation and the hollowness of modernity; the starkly contrasting roles played by France, Germany, and Britain in these developments; and the need for the prophet-historian to undo the secularizing worldliness of 18th-century philosophy if the soul of the 19th century were to be saved from this compromised inheritance. These themes are examined in relation to the monumental works he devoted early and late in his career to what he called the sceptical 18th century: The French Revolution and his History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great (1858-65).

Keywords: Thomas Carlyle; Victorian culture; Victorians; 18th century; 18th-century philosophy

Chapter.  12267 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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