Augustan literature



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Augustan literature
The seventeenth century was a period of tumultuous change,
witnessing as it did a revolution, a civil war, major parliamentary
reform and the emergence of a powerful new middle class. The
extravagance of the renaissance was replaced by puritan pragmatism
and although the commonwealth failed, puritan morality became an
integral part of the English character. The scientific revolution and
rationalist philosophers such as Hobbes Descartes and Locke spread
the idea that reason rather than religion was the key to the understanding
of man and the world tat surrounds him. Therefore the eighteenth century
brought with it a general desire for order, clarity and stability. Writers of
the period drew inspiration from the Latin poets Virgil Horace and Ovid
who, under the patronage of emperor augustus, created the golden age of
classical literature.English writers tried to emulate the latin poets and
indeed the early and mid-eighteenth century became known as the augustan
age. Poetry: The poets of the augustan age admired the harmony, concision,
elegance, and technical perfection of classical literature. They tried to adhere
to the guidelines for good taste set out in Horace’s ars poetica. Evidence of the
augustan poets’ self-control can be seen in their quest for perfect form. They
imitated classical literary genres such as the epic, pastoral, satire and Pindaric
ode. They paid great attention to rhyme and metre: iambic pentameters
rhymed in pairs(heroic couplets) became the standard poetic measure. The
early eighteenth century poets believed that the language of poetry should
be far removed from everyday speech. They wrote for a cultured upper-class
reading public in high poetic diction and Latinate sentence structures. The
neo-classical poets didn’t write poetry to express their own feelings. They
believed that the poet had a social role: to explore the universal human
experience and expose society’s evils. The greatest poet of the augustan
age was Alexander Pope. Prose: Although the neo-classical poetry of the
augustan age is still widely admired, the eighteenth century is best
remembered for the development of prose-writing. This proliferation of
prose-writing can be attributed to a number of factors:
- The advancement of printing technology, which made publishing more
efficient and cheaper.
- The expansion of the school system and the subsequent growth in the
number of people who could read and write.
- The opening of circulating libraries, which gave people access to
newspapers, journals and books.
-The growth in the number of middle-class readers. In previous centuries
reading had largely been confined to the aristocracy and the upper classes.
by the beginning of the eighteenth century the middle classes were better
educated and wished to understand the world in which they had become
a potent economic and political force.
- The increase in the number of women readers. The puritans considered
their wives to be equal partners in marriage, business and spiritual affairs,
and encouraged them to read. Time-consuming household tasks such as
making bread, candles and clothes were no longer necessary since most of
these commodities could be now be bought in shops, and consequently
women had more time to dedicate to reading.
The new middle-class readership was largely Puritan and showed a distinct
preference for factual writing over fiction. In response to this taste there
was a remarkable proliferation of journalistic writing. When Richard Steele
started publishing his newspaper, the tatler, in 1709, there were already
several newspapers in circulation containing information about home and
foreign affairs. Steele understood that the new middle-class reader needed to
be entertained as well as informed, and so he included in his newspaper
articles on fashion, taste, gossip, duelling and gambling as well as serious
pieces on the political issues of the day. Later Steele joined forces with his
old school friend Addison and together they published a new periodical
called the spectator. It contained more essays on literary and moral issues and
was less concerned with political news. It was written in clear, simple , almost
conversational prose which could be understood by any reasonably educated
person. Its appeal was increased by the introduction of a group of fictitious
characters representing all walks of life in eighteenth century England
including commerce, the army, the country gentry, the church and the town.
It appeared daily and was immensely popular. Its articles were often subject
of debate in the fashionable coffee houses which had become centres of business
transactions and social life.
Novel: The eighteenth-century novel was an evolution of the non-fictional prose
writing of the period. Prose fictional works of the previous centuries, based on
old legends, ancient battles and chivalrous medieval adventures, had little appeal
for the new middle-class readers who wished to read about themselves and the
world they lived in. Five towering literary figures, Defoe, Richardson, Fielding,
Swift and Sterne, created the modern novel. Many of the early novelists started
their literary careers in journalism. Defoe wrote for several periodicals and started
his own newspaper, the review, before turning to novel-writing. His first novel,
Robinson Crusoe, was loosely based on the real-life experience of a shipwrecked
sailor, Alexander Selkirk, and was presented as a true story in diary form told by
the hero himself. The fact that it was published as a true story made it more acceptable
to middle-class readers, who regarded fiction with suspicion. The hero of the story,
Robinson, also had a strong appeal for the new readership as he was a perfect example
of the puritan ideal of a self-made man: an ordinary man who, through hard work and
faith in God, overcomes adversity. Robinson Crusoe is generally regarded as the first
novel in the English language.
Narrative technique: narrative techniques refers to the way a story is told how
the author presents the reader with the setting, characters, actions and events
that make up a work of fiction. In a first person narrative the reader sees the
event unfold through the eyes of a single character: the narrator speaks as
“I” and is himself a character in the story. The reader’s vision of the story or
point of view is limited to what the first person narrator himself knows,
experiences, infers or can find out by talking to other characters. The first
person narrative is commonly associated with non-fictional literary forms
such as biography, memoirs or diaries. When used in fictional works it lends
authenticity, creating the illusion that the narrator is relating events that he
has personally witnessed or experienced. As the reader sees the world
through the narrator’s eyes, he is often encouraged to identify and
sympathise with the narrator’s views.
Realism: the term realism is used to denote the attempt by writers to present
an accurate imitation of life as it is. The realist sets out to write fiction which
reflects a world that is convincing and recognisable to the common reader.
He does this by:
- Writing about ordinary characters, usually of the middle class, who have no
special gifts. Under normal circumstances these characters would live
unexceptional lives, but in special conditions they may display a kind of heroism
- Placing the characters in a setting that is familiar to the reader
- Being unselective in his choice of subject matter
- Dealing, in the same way, with both the trivial and the extraordinary
- Paying great, almost scientific attention to descriptive detail
- Using a special literary style that gives the reader the illusion of actual experience.
The style may be defined as reportorial or journalistic, and it seems to render the
events in a matter of fact way.