The Development of Social and Economic Theories in Selected Fiction of John Galt
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Scott, Paul Henderson
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An examination of the 13 novels of John Galt on which his literary reputation mainly depends. After a brief account of his life intended to explain influences of place, language and thought which affected his work, these novels are considered in chronological order.1/ Galt's novels are diverse in technique and style and are often innovative, especially the "theoretical histories" and the political novels. 2/ Galt used the term "theoretical history" in a different sense from Dugald Stewart who applied it to a class of speculative enquiry practised by the philosophers and historians of the Scottish Enlightenment. On the other hand, many of his novels reflect the theories about the nature and evolution of society developed by the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment and especially by Adam Ferguson. Galt in fact intended that the novels should be read as "fables" to demonstrate the truth of these theories. 3/ Although it was only one of his modes, Galt was particularly successful in the ironic self-revelation of an imaginary narrator, as in Annals of the Parish or The Provost and in a more elaborate form in Ringan Gilhaize, which is a complex and subtle exercise of the historical imagination. 4/ One of Galt's strengths was his handling of a rich and exuberant Scots which is integral to his humour and characterisation. 5/ The last chapter is an account of the fluctuating standing of Galt in critical opinion. He was highly praised in his own lifetime by Scott, Byron and Coleridge, but he fell into disfavour as taste became more genteel. Interest in him revived in the 1890s, when J.H.Millar drew attention to his "philosophic insight" and relationship to Scottish 18th century thought. Critical attention to him has continued to develop and his reputation now rests on a more solid foundation than ever before.