Everything that we take for granted about ourselves and the world originated in the eighteenth century. Radical individualism? Historical conceptions of social development? Mass media? Secularism? The human imagination? Modern urban culture? Postmodernism? All of these concepts, and many more, were first articulated (in ways recognizable to us) in eighteenth-century British writing. One key difference between then and now, however, is that literary art had the power to affect the terms of social, political, philosophical, and religious debate on a mass scale. We’ll explore this power by reading most of the major literary genres of the period: lyric poetry, blank-verse georgic, prose fiction, and popular essays. Eighteenth-century literature is strange, funny, intellectually invigorating, sometimes shocking – and, as you’ll discover, often still two steps ahead of us.