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This chapter explores the ironic and contentious potential of sympathy, in particular the manner in which slight differences in earnest commitments can create polemic relationships just as charged as those that stem from deeper ideological rifts. I focus on Swift and his interactions with hack writer John Dunton. The two writers, I argue, do not disagree about what they dislike, but rather have slightly different, though equally genuine, commitments to the same religious and political institutions. Scholars have seen Swift and Dunton as writers who are representative of the ironic and earnest styles, respectively. While Dunton’s work often lacks the same level of irony or self-awareness as Swift’s, it was still often subversive or duplicitous in a way that was amenable to Swift and that first attracted Swift to his writing. Drawing on Adam Smith, I suggest that this relationship reveals how interests and affects are inseparable from communal relationships and social groupings that are inherently factional and fractious. In Smith's account, any affective state is a combination of a judgment and a social identification: it is always positional and partial.
The Epilogue argues that a collary of the book's thesis is that earnestness and credulity are not the same thing: the satires of Swift and Defoe reveal that credulous investment in even apparently authentic beliefs need not be earnest. This remains true regardless of whether there is a rigorous factual basis for such beliefs: the same bad faith can power both the most rigorous research as well as the most baseless conspiracy theorizing. A second corollary is therefore that such credulity need not be naïve or unreflective but can instead demonstrate both self-awareness and a deep cynicism, in the same way that Hutcheson’s moral sense is simultaneously an automatic and instantaneous process yet also one that reflects, upon further investigation, a kind of reasoning.
The conventional literary history of the eighteenth century holds that upstart novelists and other intensely serious writers worked against the conservative and ironic sensibility of an earlier generation of satirists. However, many of these ostensibly earnest writers were exceptional satirists in their own right, employing the same ruses, tricks, and deceptions throughout their work. The novels of such canonical figures as Behn and Defoe, for example, passed themselves off as real documents, just as an earlier generation of hack writers combined the serious and the absurd. Re-examining this nexus between the ludicrous and the solemn, Shane Herron argues that intense earnestness was itself a central component of the ironic sensibility of the great age of literary satire and of Swift's work in particular. The sensationalism and confessionalism of earnestness were frequently employed tendentiously, while ironic and satirical literature often incorporated genuine moments of earnestness to advance writerly aims.
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