THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
There are two distinctive periods in the literary styles and
tastes of the 18th century. The first half of the century is
ruled by the great satirists, the second half by the marked development
and popularization of the new form of literature, the novel.
Philosophers call the 18th century "The Age of Reason," for people believed
that through Reason, Man could reach perfection. If Man could, his
world could as well, and for this reason satire (literary work in which
vice and folly are held up to ridicule in an attempt to bring about change)
becomes one of the dominant literary styles. Wit remained highly
valued, as well, so the best writers of this period combined satire with
biting wit. The leading writers of this time are:
Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, Sir Richard
Steele, John Arbuthnot, Delarivier Manley, John Gay (playwright), Daniel
Defoe, Henry Fielding
This age lasted from around 1704 until roughly 1744-45, the years Swift
and Pope died.
from The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century
Martin Price. NY: Oxford UP, 1973
Trinity College, Dublin
Leeds City Art Galleries
Sir Robert Walpole 1738
National Portrait Gallery
Essays became popular reading in this century. People read to improve
their Reason, and the "Reasoned" form of the essay appealed to them.
After the major essayists of the beginning of the century stopped writing
(Swift, Addison, Steele, Defoe, Manley), they were replaced by Samuel Johnson,
considered the greatest essayist of the day, and his follower, Joseph
Boswell. Many other writers were working, of course, but these are
the major names.
"In 1791 the bookseller James Lackington commented: "There are some thousands
of women who frequent my shop, that know as well what books to choose,
and are as well acquainted with works of taste and genius, as any gentleman
in the kingdom, notwithstanding they sneer against novel readers" (Jane
Austin in Style. Susan Watkins. Thames
and Hudson: 1990 18)
18th century London bookstore (Watkins 19)
After the end of the Restoration period (around 1714, when the last Stuart
monarch, Anne, died and the German ruling family, the Hanovers, took over
in the form of George I), the stage in England becomes a pretty dismal
place, and for the most part remains that way until the late 19th century.
Plays were no longer a major literary form. After the death of
Pope and Swift, poetry is no longer the preferred form and the prose works
of this period are much stronger. But there are a few important
Aphra Behn, from
Reconstructing Aphra. Angeline
Goreau. NY: Dial, 1980.
||The novel form was actually being developed in England as
early as the 1680s by writers like Aphra Behn, but in the beginning
of the 18th century we see a huge leap in its development.
Major names here are:
Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Delarivier Manley, Laurence Stern,
Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Sarah Fielding (brother and sister),
Maria Edgeworth, Eliza Haywood, Mary Hays, Mary Davis.
Yes, women predominate the list, for this was a way that women
could write without a need for great learning (they were barred from higher
education for the most part). Also, women made up a large part of
the novel's audience, so it makes sense for women to be writing the novel.
Oliver Goldsmith (poems and plays), Richard Brinsley Sheridan (plays),
Thomas Gray, William Collins, Christopher Smart, William Cowper
"Sensibility" - This trend begins in
the beginning of the 18th century and develops through the century until
it became so exaggerated that Jane Austen mildly satirizes it in her novel
Sense and Sensibility (1811). What is it? Reduced to
very simple terms, it is a reliance on feeling, on emotion, and is often
linked with "sentimental" writing, which is characterized by its high moral
tone and its faith in the triumph of good over evil.