Designed to complement DeMaria's textbook British Literature 1640-1789: An Anthology, this critical reader contains seventeen essays by sixteen contemporary literary critics and covers the full range of works printed in the anthology. All the essays were first published within the last ten years, and they represent current thinking about the literature in this chronological span. The Reader will help students and teachers of the period find new approaches to central canonical works, but it also provides introductions to several of the less well known writers included in DeMaria's anthology. Most of the essays in the reader articulate readings of important individual works while situating those works in historical contexts that provide background for understanding other writings of the period. Many of the essays also relate the contexts under study to larger historical or cultural movements. For example, David Norbrook's essay provides a historically - based reading of Milton's Areopagitica while making a contribution to the history of censorship and the evolution of the public sphere in England.
Similarly, Catherine Gallagher's essay on Aphra Behn's Oroonoko explains how blackness of the novella's main character functions in literary terms while providing background. Other essays throw light on such topics as the history of readers and authors; social definitions of sexuality; religious thought; nationhood; and the relations between public politics and the private, gendered self. The critics selected for the reader are all currently very active, and many are young scholars whose work has begun to appear in only the last five or ten years: Sharon Achinstein, Helen Deutsch, George Haggerty, Adam Potkay, Carol Barash, D. N. DeLuna, and Frans De Bruyn join more senior established scholars such as Ruth Perry, Terry Castle, David Perkins, Howard Weinbrot, Claude Rawson, and Thomas Greene.