Today we consider privacy a right to be protected. But in eighteenth-century England, privacy was seen as a problem, even a threat. Women reading alone and people hiding their true thoughts from one another in conversation generated fears of uncontrollable fantasies and profound anxieties about insincerity.
In Privacy, Patricia Meyer Spacks explores eighteenth-century concerns about privacy and the strategies people developed to avoid public scrutiny and social pressure. She examines, for instance, the way people hid behind common rules of etiquette to mask their innermost feelings and how, in fact, people were taught to employ such devices. She considers the erotic overtones that privacy aroused because it might conceal desire. And perhaps most important, she explores the idea of privacy as a societal threat - one that bred pretence and hypocrisy in its practitioners. Through inspired readings of novels by Defoe, Richardson, Fielding and Sterne, along with a penetrating glimpse into diaries, autobiographies, poems, and works of pornography written during the period, Spacks ultimately shows how writers charted the imaginative possibilities of privacy and its social repercussions.
Finely nuanced and elegantly conceived, Spacks's new work will fascinate anyone who has relished concealment or mourned its recent demise.