Ian Watt

United Kingdom
United Kingdom
Record Status: 
Short biography: 

Ian Watt Born was born on 9 March 1917, in Windermere, Westmorland, in England, Watt was educated at the Dover County School for Boys and at St John`s College, Cambridge, where he earned first-class honours in English. was a literary critic, literary historian and professor of English at Stanford University. 

A key element Watt explores is the decline in importance of the philosophy of classical antiquity, with its various strains of idealistic thought that viewed human experience as composed of universal Platonic "forms" with an innate perfection. Such a view of life and philosophy dominated writers from ancient times to the Renaissance, resulting in classical poetic forms and genres with essentially flat plots and characters. (Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin has written that such literature can literally be read front to back, or back to front, with no significant difference in effect.) These philosophical beliefs began to be replaced perhaps in the later Renaissance, into the Enlightenment, and, most importantly, in the early 18th century. The importance of rationalist philosophers such as John Locke, Descates, Spinoza, and many others who followed them, and the scientific, social and economic developments of this period, began to have ever greater impact. In place of the older classical idealism, a realistic, pragmatic, empirical understanding of life and human behaviour, which recognised human individuality and conscious experience, began to emerge.

A second major trend that Watt studies is the "rise of the reading public" and the growth of professional publishing during this period. Publishers at this time "occupied a strategic position between author and printer, and between both of these and the public". The growth of profit concerns impelled publishers to reach out to a wider reading public. In addition the specialisation of professions, which narrowed the everyday experiences of this new reading public, created a market for portrayals of a greater array of different classes, peoples, ages, sexes, etc. (Writing intended for women, and writing by women, is an important trend of 18th century literature.) Such detailed writings of the experiences of different people can be seen in the novels Watt examines, and had rarely been seen before. Watt presents many statistical details in this section of the book in support of his argument.

Watt died in Menlo Park, California, after a long illness and a spell in a nursing home.

Full Name: 
Ian Watt
The permanent URL of this page: 
Record posted by: 
Alisa Nikolaevna Ammosova