Roger Maioli

Assistant Professor

I work on the literature and culture of the eighteenth century, with emphasis on Great Britain and a secondary focus on France. My interests are the rise and theory of the novel, the intersection between philosophy and literature, and the intellectual history of the Enlightenment. My first book, Empiricism and the Early Theory of the Novel (Palgrave, 2016), considers how eighteenth-century British novelists, from Henry Fielding to Jane Austen, defended the novel as a source of knowledge. Their theories of the novel, I argue, constituted responses to an empiricist suspicion of fiction that became culturally dominant in the late seventeenth century; and they anticipate, in content and purpose, modern arguments that vindicate the humanities against scientistic skepticism. For a sample review click here.

My new book project, provisionally entitled The Enlightenment Crisis of Values, is the first full-length study of Enlightenment relativism. The book begins by showing that a wide range of authors in both Britain and France came to associate the philosophical tendencies of the eighteenth century with a possible collapse of traditional normative boundaries — between right and wrong, true and false, beautiful and ugly, men and women, and Europeans and “barbarians”; and I proceed to suggest that the vast majority of these authors tried to counter this tendency, trying to keep relativism at bay by “upgrading” the old distinctions on new philosophical grounds. In the process, they not only salvaged values that we remain invested in (such as ethical distinctions and the notion of basic human entitlements) but also revitalized old prejudices we are still struggling to overcome. This is a long-term project that shall keep me busy for a few more years, as it has sent me after a wide variety of genres — essays, philosophical treatises, personal letters, legal documents, poetry, prose fiction, and history; the book’s goal is to recover the centrality of relativism as an eighteenth-century cultural phenomenon and in the process develop a picture of the Enlightenment’s afterlife that acknowledges both its positive and its regrettable legacies. If you are interested in these issues, or you wrote something I should know about, please get in touch!

Born and raised in Brazil, I hold an M.A. in English Literary Studies from the University of São Paulo (2006) and a PhD in English from Johns Hopkins University (2015). (My surname, should you decide to use it, is pronounced My-OH-ly, but I am very comfortable with first names. Plain “Roger” is always welcome.) I have articles and book reviews either published or forthcoming in Eighteenth-Century FictionSEL– Studies in English Literature 1500–1900The ShandeanThe Scriblerian, and Digital Defoe. In addition, I have an extensive output as an English–Portuguese translator, having prepared among many others the first Brazilian edition of Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews. I teach undergraduate and graduate courses on topics including secularism, the rise of the British novel, literature and ethics, the Enlightenment, the philosophical tale, and the self in literature. Other than Jane Austen and the eighteenth-century usual suspects, I am a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell, Machado de Assis, William Somerset Maugham, Jorge Luis Borges, and Donald Duck.

Professor Maioli’s CV