As readers of medieval and Renaissance literature know, etymologists associate "adventure" with chance: with that which happens surprisingly - "at" a "venture" - through an unexpected confluence of unpredictable events. Reading the whole history of the word, however, reveals that the long eighteenth century presided over the modernization of the term and its underlying idea. Happenstance fell into the background, while grandeur, risk, and novelty entered the spotlight. One could even plan an adventure, and by the time of Defoe, Catesby, Charlevoix, and Humboldt, adventure was already linked to significant prestige and robust standards: one needed plenty of gusto, at least a little money, a modicum of social standing, and a lot of gumption in order to qualify for a career in risky business. Full of colorful anecdotes, the adventure idiom prevalent in eighteenth century culture provides abundant material that is interesting in its own right, while also helping scholars of the long eighteenth century to grapple with key issues of the period.
To the exploration of the many new possibilities for understanding the early modern zest for adventure, the contributors of this volume have dedicated themselves. Essays address the subjective production and reception of adventurous thought in the works of Boswell, Bunyan, Cowper, Richardson, and pastor Edward Young; the embodiment of adventure in the varied generic forms of Defoe, Swift, Falconer, and Hannah Snell, a cross-dressing woman soldier; and the locations and social processes relevant to the adventure idiom, both in the lives of Thomas Gray, Defoe, Boswell, Fielding, Swift, and Lord Orford, and in the contacts between native and colonizing populations. With approaches that are economic, socio- and literary-historical, genre-based, eco-critical, and biographical in nature, "Adventure: An Eighteenth-Century Idiom" will appeal to a broad range of scholars and students, from specialists in long-eighteenth-century literature to those interested in the general modernizing influences of the Augustan age.