Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Robert M. Markley.


Fictions of the Gift: Generosity, Obligation and Economy in Eighteenth-Century English Literature examines the relationship between generosity, obligation, economy, and the gift in eighteenth-century English literature and culture. The central inquiry of the project investigates the paradoxical nature of the gift and ways in which the politics of a gift economy informed both practical and symbolic relations of domination in the period. Given the widespread nature of the language of the gift in the period, I concentrate on cultural texts and eighteenth-century novels to demonstrate the work of the gift within a number of eighteenth-century institutions, such as international trade, diplomacy, property, marriage, and the family. By analyzing representations of gift economies in social and literary texts, such as Lord George Macartney's China journal, Daniel Defoe's Roxana, Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, and Frances Burney's Cecilia, I demonstrate how the fiction of the disinterested gift underwrites a number of the period's social and economic concerns. Drawing on the work of Marcel Mauss, George Bataille, Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, and Marshal Sahlins, I locate a specific ideology of the gift during the eighteenth century. The gift serves an ideological purpose specific to the eighteenth century and emerges as a way to ameliorate the conflicts that arose as the patronage system waned and capitalism and individualism became more prominent and seemingly threatened socioeconomic hierarchies. In this respect, the gift becomes a way to maintain relations of domination in a period in which forms of domination were being challenged and changed. Although eighteenth-century texts do not represent a gift economy as the primary system of exchange or acquisition of wealth, the language of the gift nevertheless is adopted simultaneously to disguise and to describe the harsh realities of profit, obligation, and domination by depicting a symbolic exchange of loss. The gift enacts the affective bonds of the patronage system-of equal and mutual favor and return-but paradoxically functions to mask the amorality of self-interest and manipulation. The narrative of the gift in the eighteenth century substitutes for the explicit relations of competitive capitalist exchange an implicit and seemingly disinterested ethos of mutual benefit.