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Early 18th-century British literature (Dr. Hoew’s Research)

June 22, 2022

When we think of the literature of the English Enlightenment, what typically comes to mind are the great canonical works of the late 17th and early 18th centuries: Paradise Lost, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe. These are all fine examples of the literature of the period, but they represent only a small portion of what was actually being written and published during the so-called “long” 18th century (1660-1789). To get a fuller sense of the literary culture of the Enlightenment, we need to look at a wider range of texts, including not only “high” literature but also poetry, drama, prose fiction, and even popular literature.

One way to approach the literature of the English Enlightenment is to think about the various ways in which writers were responding to the social and political changes of their time. For example, the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660 marked the end of a long period of Puritan rule in England, and this event had a major impact on the literary culture of the country. Restoration writers such as John Dryden and Aphra Behn celebrated the return of monarchy and helped to define what it meant to be an English subject in the post-Puritan era.

At the same time, other writers were less than thrilled with the direction that England was heading in under Charles II. In particular, many felt that the country was becoming too materialistic and that morality was on the decline. These writers, such as Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift, used their works to satirize what they saw as the excesses of Restoration society.

Finally, we also need to consider the ways in which 18th-century writers were responding to the rise of the new scientific thought of their time. Figures such as Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle were changing the way people thought about the natural world, and this had a major impact on literature as well. For example, many poets began to write about nature in a new way, using the language of science to describe the natural world in a more accurate and precise manner.

All of these factors – the political, social, and scientific changes of the Enlightenment – help to explain the diversity of 18th-century literature. By considering a wide range of texts, we can get a much fuller understanding of the literary culture of the period and the various ways in which writers were engaging with the world around them.

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What is the Enlightenment?

The Enlightenment was a period of time in the late 17th and early 18th centuries when Europe saw a huge surge in intellectual activity. This was a time when people started to question traditional ideas and authority figures, and to think more critically about the world around them. Major figures of the Enlightenment include people like Isaac Newton, John Locke, and Voltaire.

The Enlightenment was a major force in shaping the literature of the 18th century. Many 18th-century writers were responding to the ideas of the Enlightenment, and trying to engage with the world around them in new ways. This was a time of huge growth and experimentation in literature, and the 18th century saw the rise of many new genres and literary styles.

One of the most important things to remember about the literature of the Enlightenment is that it was highly varied. There were many different writers working in many different genres, and each had their own take on the world around them. This diversity is one of the things that makes the literature of the Enlightenment so interesting and so important.

Political Faction and Social Division

The English Enlightenment was a time of great political and social division. On the one hand, you had the supporters of the monarchy, like John Dryden, who celebrated the return of Charles II to the throne in 1660. On the other hand, you had writers like Jonathan Swift, who were highly critical of the direction that England was heading in under Charles II.

This division was mirrored in the literary culture of the time. For example, Restoration writers such as Dryden tended to write in a more formal and elevated style, while those like Swift who were critical of the Restoration often used satire and irony to get their point across.

The division between these two groups was not always clear-cut, however. Many writers, such as Alexander Pope, straddled the fence between the two camps. And even within each group, there was a great deal of diversity in terms of style and approach.

But overall, the 18th century was a time of huge experimentation in literature, and many writers were pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable. This was, in part, a response to the political and social changes that were taking place at the time.

Development of the Novel for a New Kind of Reader

One of the most important literary developments of the 18th century was the rise of the novel. This was a new genre that was specifically designed for a new kind of reader – the growing middle class.

The 18th century saw a huge increase in literacy rates, and this meant that there was a growing market for books. The novel was ideally suited to this new audience, as it was relatively cheap to produce and could be easily consumed.

The 18th century also saw the development of new literary forms that were specifically designed for this new audience. For example, the epistolary novel, which was a type of novel that was written in the form of letters, became very popular during this time.

The rise of the novel was a major development in 18th-century literature, and it had a huge impact on the literary culture of the time. The novel allowed writers to reach a much wider audience than ever before, and it also allowed them to explore new ideas and themes.

This was an important development, as it allowed literature to become more accessible to a wider range of people. It also meant that literary culture was no longer the preserve of the elite.

The Importance of the Printing Press

The development of the printing press in the 15th century was a major factor in the growth of literature in the 18th century. The printing press allowed books to be produced much more cheaply and efficiently than ever before, and this meant that they were more accessible to a wider range of people.

The printing press also had a major impact on the literary culture of the time. For example, it allowed writers to reach a much wider audience than ever before. It also meant that literary culture was no longer the preserve of the elite.

Summary

The 18th century was a time of great change in England. This was reflected in the literature of the time, which was highly experimental and diverse. The rise of the novel was a major development, and it had a huge impact on the literary culture of the time. The printing press also had a major impact on the literary culture of the time, and it allowed writers to reach a much wider audience than ever before.

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