British Literature- 17th & 18th Centuries of English Literature (1625 – 1798)

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Civil War & Restoration
-King Charles I struggled with Parliament for religious and political authority
-1642 civil war erupted in England
-King’s supporters = Cavaliers
-Parliamentary forces = “Roundheads”
~Leaders included Oliver Cromwell
~Cromwell thought his new army could bring divine justice to England
King’s supporters
Parliamentary supporters
Characteristics of the Cavaliers
1) Members of the aristocracy
2) Long flowing hair and wigs
3) Elaborate clothes, plumed hats
4) Self-consciously elegant pose
5) Pro-Catholic & Anti-Puritan
6) Believed in the divine right of kings
Characteristics of the Roundheads
1) Social class lower than the aristocracy
2) Short hair
3) Plain dress
4) Direct in manner
5) Puritan with strict religious beliefs
6) Believed in limits to king’s rule
Civil war & restoration
-After six years of civil war, Charles I was captured and beheaded in January 1649
-Impatient with quarreling Parliamentary forces, Cromwell seized power as Lord Protector of England, a position he held from 1653 – 1658
-In 1660, Charles II returned from exile in France
Glorious revolution
-Charles II died without an heir in 1685
-His brother, James II, took the throne
~James was Catholic convert
~Also no male heirs
~Daughter, Mary, was staunch Protestant
-James II later had a son
-Nobles, merchants, and other power brokers did not want a Catholic reign throughout England
-Invited Mary and her husband William to take power, depose James
Act of settlement
-In 1701, Parliament stepped in once again to Pass the Act of Settlement
-Keep the Crown in Protestant control
-In 1714 George, the Elector of Hanover in Germany, became king
~Did not speak English
~Cared little for England
~Parliament assumed control
Other Revolutions
-Industrial Revolution
~explosion of manufacturing involving new technology and new energy sources such as steam
-Agricultural Revolution
~came about thanks to the Industrial Revolution. New machinery, crop rotation, and larger farms helped create abundance to feed growing urban populations
-American Revolution (1775 – 1781)
-Storming of the Bastille in Paris (July 14, 1789)
London – The Capital of literature
-River Thames = main thoroughfare
~Easier to sail rather than walk or ride
~Only one bridge, so steamboats were needed to connect two banks of the river
-In 1660, when Charles II returned from exile, London reopened theatres Puritans closed in 1642
~Actresses welcomed to the stage for the first time
-1664- Plague struck
-1666- great fire broke out destroying large areas of London
The novel
-As London was being rebuilt after the fire, the English countryside was also being transformed by turnpikes for stagecoaches and canals for barges
-Primary purpose of this infrastructure was for business
~New literary form took inspiration from the road: the novel
~Characters and their wanderings
~Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones = novel on the road
-Coffee = all the rage at the time
-Meeting place, but also a place to read essays in magazines and gossip
-The Tattler & The Spectator
-Self-conscious and social-climbing middle class
Influence of English Countryside
-Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”
~Set in country churchyard, not London
~Tone is very meditative, sober, thoughtful
~Different from satire that flourished in the urban world
-Nocturnal reverie became dominant mood of poetry
-Poets looked to country landscapes for inspiration, moral examples, and consolation
-Country replaced city as the setting and subject for literature
Grace vs. gravity
-With the turmoil of the time period came questions about order.
~Social order, cosmic order, etc.
-Literature of the time became dedicated to answering questions about order
~Milton’s Paradise Lost = disobedience
~”justify the way of God to men”
-1687- Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
~Universe is governed by natural physical principles
~Newton was religious, but others read his work as proof that the world operated without constant attention from divine being
~”Divine Watchmaker”
-Belief in benevolent but detached God = Deism
-More emphasis placed on understanding humans in their own world and according to natural laws of world
Belief in benevolent but detached God
Literary Focus
-Novels of the period reflected this focus on reason and logic vs. revelation
-Satire flourished
~Pope’s Rape of the Lock
~Gulliver’s Travels
-Literary essay began as a “how-to” genre, teaching rational conduct to the new middle classes and helping them find their identity
-Novel also had “how-to” origins
~Samuel Richardson wrote a book of advice for conduct of apprentices
~Series of model letters, which became Pamela in 1740
~Series of letters by a young servant whose virtue is assailed by her master
John Donne
Holy Sonnets change the sonnet from a love poem to religious meditation
Ben Jonson
carpe diem theme; speakers of the poems urge their audience, typically female, to forget inhibitions and take control of the fleeing hours of life
John Milton
-wanted to give England and epic equivalent to Homer or Virgil
~”poet as prophet” ideal
Heroic couplet
-with the end of the civil war, poet’s sought a new mode of expression for a new social order
~iambic pentameter lines linked in rhyming pairs
~Perfectly suited for urban aristocratic society valuing clever talk
Categories: English Literature