Essential and Ubiquitous: The Inns of Eighteenth-Century British Fiction
Webster, Michael M.
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In eighteenth-century England, inns stand as transient spaces between traditional, feudal values and a progressive, commercial society. They at once represent inward domesticity and outward society, classical hospitality and commercial enterprise, and class stratification and class amalgamation. Writers throughout the century understood the inimitable role the inn plays in society as a functional and temporary home for travelers, a local hub for regionally isolated communities, and a convening space for all of England, and thus they exploit the space for its utility. Since the space of the inn simultaneously resides outside the class system and yet inside the English social framework, it provides writers a pivotal location in which people across the social spectrum interact. In part, the anonymity afforded at inns also provides a foreign, almost exotic, atmosphere that begs for romance, intrigue, and secrecy. Analyzing works by Penelope Aubin, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Tobias Smollett, this work argues that the inn serves an essential function within eighteenth-century English fiction.