Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

John Zomchick

Committee Members

Robert Stillman, Misty G. Anderson, Judy Cornett


“Benevolent Intentions: Hospitality, Ethics and the Eighteenth-Century Novel” describes how representations of hospitality in British novels of the last half of the eighteenth century engage new ethical questions raised by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers. The novels explore a philosophical turn towards intention from the vulnerable position of the guest. As opposed to traditional conceptions of hospitality that combined ideals of hospitality with culturally specific actions, the new hospitality portrayed in the eighteenth century novel exhibits suspicions about hospitable actions and seeks instead to establish benevolent intentions in both host and guest. I argue that the host position is particularly mistrusted: benevolent hosts are exposed to be weak and ineffective, while bad hosts are shown to be a greater threat to the guest because of their ability to mask selfish designs under the outward signs of hospitality. I trace how these exposures of the potential dangers in hospitality reveal the guest’s difficulty in making accurate judgments about the host’s intentions, thereby creating anxiety in the guest. I examine representations of hospitality in five novels: Henry Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling, Sarah Fielding’s The Adventures of David Simple, Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, Charlotte Lennox’s Sophia, and Frances Burney’s Cecilia, or, The Memoirs of an Heiress. The guests in these novels respond to the host’s weakness or corruption by seeking hospitality in fellow guests; because the guest position requires a passive response to others’ needs and two guests approach the relationship as equals, the guest-guest exchange of hospitality exemplifies the ideal of benevolent intentions in practice. This relationship imposes new restrictions on the practice of hospitality, limiting its practice to like-minded individuals. These new restrictions threaten the ideal of hospitality. In many of these novels, the imposed limits cannot be enforced, and the hospitable company is forced to open its doors to hostile or self-seeking hosts. Ultimately, these novels reveal a tension in the ethics of hospitality: benevolence and limitations to benevolence are necessary and at odds, leaving the guests in a quandary of how to balance a necessary self-interest against an ideal of benevolent intention towards one’s fellow man.

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