English Fable: Aesop and Literary Culture, 1651-1740

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Between 1651 and 1740 hundreds of fables, fable collections, and biographies of the ancient Greek slave Aesop were published in England. In The English Fable, Jayne Elizabeth Lewis describes the national obsession with Aesop's fables during this period as both a figural response to sociopolitical crises, and an antidote to emerging anxieties about authorship. Lewis traces the role that fable collections, Augustan fable theory, and debates about the figure of Aesop played in the formation of a modern, literate, and self-consciously English culture, and shows how three Augustan writers - John Dryden, Anne Finch, and John Gay - experimented with the seemingly marginal symbolic form of fable to gain access to new centres of English culture. Often interpreted as a discourse of the dispossessed, the fable in fact offered Augustan writers access to a unique form of cultural authority.