Neoclassical Literature Essay
The eighteenth-century England is also known as the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason. The Enlightenment Movement was a progressive intellectual movement which flourished In France and swept through the whole Western Europe at the time. the movement was a furtherance of the Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Its purpose was to enlighten the whole world with the light of modern philosophical and artistic ideas. The enlighteners celebrated reason or rationality, equality and science. They held that rationality or reason should be the only, the final cause of any human thought and activities.
They called for a reference to order, reason and rules. They believed that when reason served as the yardstick for the measurement of all human activities and relations, every superstition, injustice and oppression was to yield place to “eternal truth,” “eternal justice” and “natural equality. ” The belief provided theory for the French Revolution of 1789 and the American War of Independence in 1776. At the same time, the enlighteners advocated universal education. They believed that human being were limited, dualistic, imperfect, and yet capable of rationality and perfection through education.
If the masses were well educated, they thought, there would be great chance for a democratic and equal human society. As a matter of fact, literature at the time, heavily didactic and moralizing, became a very popular means of public education. Famous among the great enlighteners in England were those great writers like John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele, the two pioneers of familiar essays, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Henry Fielding and Samuel Johnson. In the field of literature, the Enlightenment Movement brought about a revival of interest in the old classical works.
This tendency is known as neoclassicism. According to the neoclassicists, all forms of literature were to be modeled after the classical works of the ancient Greek and Roman writers and those of the contemporary French ones. They believed that the artistic ideals should be order, logic, restrained emotion and accuracy, and that literature should be judged in terms of its service to humanity. This belief led them to seek proportion, unity, harmony and grace in literary expressions, in an effort to delight, instruct and correct human beings, primarily as social animals. Thus a polite, urbane, witty, and intellectual
art developed. Neoclassicists had some fixed laws and rules for almost every genre of literature. Prose should be precise, direct, smooth and flexible. Poetry should be lyrical, epical, didactic, satiric or dramatic, and each class should be guided b its own principles. Drama should be written in the Heroic Couplets (iambic pentameter rhymed in two lines); regularity in construction should be adhered to, and type characters rather than individuals should be represented. John Bunyan Like most working men at the time, Bunyan had a deep hatred for the corrupted, hypocritical rich who accumulated their wealth “by hook and b crook.
” As a stout Puritan, he had made a conscientious study of the Bible and firmly believed in salvation through spiritual struggle. It was during his second term in prison that he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, which was published in 1678 after his release. Bunyan’s style was modeled after that of the English Bible. With his concrete and living language and carefully observed and vividly presented details, he made it possible for the reader of the least education to share the pleasure of reading his novel and to relive the experience of his characters.
Bunyan’s other works include Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), The Holy War (1682) and The Pilgrim’s Progress, Part II (1684) As Milton was the chief Puritan poet, so Bunyan was the chief Puritan writer of Prose. Bunyan was born in a tinker’s family, and he himself was a tinker. He did not have much education and at sixteen he joined the parliamentary army and then became a preacher. Like Milton he was put into prison in the period of the Restoration, but remained there much longer.
He might have written his work The Pilgrim’s Progress in prison although it was published in prison although it was published in 1678 after his release. The Pilgrim’s Progress is written in the old fashioned medieval form of allegory and drama. The book opens with the author’s dream in which he sees a man “with a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back”. The man is Christian the Pilgrim, the book is the Bible, and the burden on his back is the weight of worldly cares and concerns.
It tells how Christian starts his pilgrimage from his home to the kingdom of Heaven, and of his experiences and adventures on his journey. In the western world the book has usually been read and appreciated as religious allegory, though critics have noted that the many allegorical figures and places Christian meets on the way are such as might have been seen in Bunyan’s day on any English market road and that the landscape and houses in the story seem to be no other than those of Restoration England. It gives a real picture of how life was during the 17th century.
It is a faithful panoramic reflection of Bunyan’s age. The book’s most significant aspect is its satire, the description of the Vanity Fair. Here Bunyan gives a symbolic picture of London at the time. in bourgeois society, all things are bought and sold, including honour, title, kingdom, lusts; there cheating, roguery, murder, and adultery prevail. The punishment of Christian and Faithful for disdaining things in the Vanity Fair may have its significance in alluding to Bunyan’s repeated arrests and imprisonment for preaching.
After all, like Milton, Bunyan in his book is preaching his religious views. He satirizes his society which is full of vices that violate the teachings of the Christian religion. However, his Puritanism weakens the effect of his social satire by exhorting his readers to endure poverty with patience in order to seek the “Celestial City”. Besides, the use of allegory in most of his works makes his satirical pictures less direct and more difficult to see. His books are more often read as religious books than as piercing exposures of social evils.
Bynyan is known for his simple and lively prose style. Everyday idiomatic expressions and biblical language enables him to narrate his story and reveal his ideas directly and in a straightforward way. The influence of his prose in the development of the English language is great, on account of the great popularity of the book. Selected Reading: “The Vanity Fair,” an excerpt from Part I of The Pilgrim’s Progress The story starts with a dream in which the author sees Christian the Pilgrim, with a heavy burden on his back, reading the Bible.
When he learns from the book that the city in which he and his family live shall be burnt down in a fire, Christian tries to convince his family and his neighbours of the oncoming disaster and asks them to go with him in search of salvation, but most of them simply ignore him. So he starts off with a friend, Pliable. Pliable turns back after they stumble into a pit, the Slough of Despond. Christian struggles on by himself. Then he is misled by Mr. Worldly Wiseman and is brought back onto the right road by Mr.
Evangelist. There he joins Faithful, a neighbor who has set out later but has made better progress. The two go on together through many adventures, including the great struggle with Apollyon, who claims them to be his subjects and refuses to accept their allegiance to God. After many other adventures they come to the Vanity Fair where both are arrested as alien agitators. They are tried and Faithful is condemned to death. Christian, however, manages to escape and goes on his way, assisted by a new friend, hopeful.
Tired of the hard journey, they are tempted to take a pleasant path and are then captured by Giant Despair. Finally they get away and reach the Celestial City, where they enjoy eternal life in the fellowship of the blessed. The Pilgrim’s Progress is the most successful religious allegory in the English language. Its purpose is to urge people to abide by Christian doctrines and seek salvation through constant struggles with their own weaknesses and all kinds of social evils. It is not only about something spiritual but also bears much relevance to the time.
Its predominant metaphor—life as a journey—is simple and familiar. The objects that Christian meets are homely and commonplace, and the scenes presented are typical English ones, but throughout the allegory a spiritual significance is added to the commonplace details. Here the strange is combined with the familiar and the trivial joined to the divine, and, at the same time, everything is based on universal experiences. Besides, a rich imagination and a natural talent for storytelling also contribute to the success of the work which is at once entertaining and morally instructive.
The meaning of “Vanity Fair”, and its reflection of the theme of the allegory of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” The “Vanity Fair” symbolizes human world, for “all that cometh is vanity. ” Everything and anything in this world is “vanity”, having no value and no meaning. The Vanity Fair, a “market selling nothingness” of all sorts, is a dirty place originally built up by devils, but, this town “lay” in the way to the Celestial City, meaning pilgrims had to resist the temptations there when they made their way through.
So, the depiction of the “Fair” in selling things worldly and in attracting people bad, represents John Bunyan’s rejection of the worldly seeking and pious longing for the pure and charming “Celestial City”, his Christian ideal. Alexander Pope (1688-1744) Pope was a London draper’s son. His parents were Roman Catholics, and Pope kept this faith all his life in spite of the hostility of the public in the 18th century toward his religion. At the age of 12, a disease left him a hunchback of less than 5 feet tall.
Because of his religion he was denied entrance to Oxford and Cambridge Universities and his deformity often made him the victim of contempt. His early unhappy experiences, in fact, was responsible for his strong reaction to criticism. Pope was self-educated. He worked hard against poor health and unfavourable condition and gained a profound knowledge of both the classics and the craft of writing. The 18th century was an age in which writers had to obey many strict literary rules. But Pope mastered them very thoroughly and used them better and in a more skillful way than most of his contemporaries.
He lived an active social life and was close friend to such eminent literary figures as the essayist Joseph Addison and the satirist Jonathan Swift. But he also made many enemies through ridiculing people in his writings. The most popular of his poems is, perhaps, An Essay on criticism, which contains a great number of quotable lines that have passed into everyday speech as popular sayings, such as: “To err is human, to forgive divine”, and “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread. ” However, as a piece of literary theory, it lacks original ideas.
Its significance comes from its assertion that literary criticism is an art form and should function actively like a living organism. The Rape of the Lock is a brilliant satire written in the form of a mock-heroic poem. It offers a typical example of the 18th-century classical style, and a satirical view as well of the tastes, manners, and morals of the fashionable world in Queen Anne’s reign. In fact, Pope not only ridicules a trivial incident that sparks a serious feud, but also mocks the highflown style and language of epic poetry itself.
The Dunciad, meaning the study of the dunces, launches attacks on everyone who had ever criticized or insulted him, many of whom are totally unknown to the readers of today The theme and style of A. Pope’s “An Essay on Criticism” The poem is a comprehensive study of the theories of literary criticism. The poet first laments the loss of true taste in poetic criticism of his day and calls on people to take classical writers as their models. Then he discusses various problems in literary criticism and offers his own ideas and presents
the classical rules. At the end of the poem, he traces the history of literary criticism from Aristotle to his day. The poem is a typical didactic one. Written in the form of heroic couplets, it is plain in style, and it is easy to read. Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe is based on a real incident. In 1704, Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor, was thrown onto a desolate island by the mutinous crew of his ship. He lived there alone for 5 years. Defoe read about his adventures in a newspaper and went to interview him to get first-hand information.
He then embellished the sailor’s tale with many incidents out of his own imagination. Robinson Crusoe has the appearance of a picaresque novel, showing a lowly person’s wonderings over the world. However, there are some fundamental changes in Defoe’s book. A picaro (Spanish for a rogue) is somebody with a doubtful moral character who does not have a fixed goal in life. Nor does he care much about accumulating money. Robinson Crusoe is in fact a new species of writing which inhabits the picaresque frame with a story in the shape of a journal and has a strong flavour of journalistic truth.
The hero is typical the rising English bourgeois class, practical and diligent, with a restless curiosity to know more about the world and a desire to prove individual power in the face of social and natural challenges. Defoe attaches individual power in the face of social and natural challenges. Defoe attaches great importance to the growth of Crusoe and tries to teach a moral message through his story. crusoe starts an inexperienced, naive and tactless youth, who through years of tough sea travels, develops into a clever and hardened man. He is tempered and tried by numerous dangers and hardships, but always emerges victorious.
He is a real hero, not in the sense of the knight or the epic hero in the old literary genres, but a hero of the common stock, an individualist who shows marvelous capacity for work, boundless courage and energy in overcoming obstacles and a shrewdness in accumulating wealth and gaining profits. In Robinson Crusoe sings the praises of labour, presenting it as the source of human pride and happiness as well as a means to change man’s living conditions from desperation to prosperity. But at the same time, through relationship with Friday and his activities of setting up colonies overseas, Defoe also beautifies colonialism and Negro slavery.
His attitude toward women, though not much concerning women is said in the novel, is also open to criticisms, for he lets Crusoe treat women as articles of property and as a means to breed and establish a lineage. But on the whole, this novel is significant as the first English novel which glorifies the individual experience of ordinary people in plain and simple language, and also as a vivid and positive portrayal of the English bourgeoisie at its early stage of development. The novel “Robinson Crusoe” tells the story of the titular hero’s adventure on a deserted island.
Robinson Crusoe, longing to see the wonders of the world, runs away from home, and after many setbacks, settles down in Brazil. The call of the sea attracts him to second voyage in which he is brought along to an island after the shipwreck in a storm through many hardships, he finds ways to get daily necessities from the wrecked ship to the shore, and settles on the island for twenty four years. During the years, he tries to make himself a living in one way or another, rescues a savage whom he names Friday, and builds up a comfortable home for himself.
Finally they are picked up and saved by an English ship and return to England. With an inevitable trace of colonialism, the novel depicts a hero who grows from an inexperienced youth into a shrewd and hardened man. The adventures of Robinson Crusoe on the island is a song of his courage, his wisdom, and his struggle against the hostile natural environment. As the very prototype of empire builder and the pioneer colonist, Robinson Crusoe can be seen as an individualistic man who carries human labour and the Puritan fortitude to their greatest effect.
Jonathan Swift In some ways Jonathan Swift’s career parallels that of Defoe. Both were considerably occupied in the dangerous career of political writers, and both affiated themselves to Robert Harley, first a Whig and turning the Tory in 1710. swift also followed Harley and shifted from the Whig to the Tory when the latter came to power in 1710. But they differed from each other in the fact that Defoe was a businessman and did not have much knowledge of the classics whereas Swift was a churchman and a university graduate.
Another difference between the two was that Swift was a member of the Anglican Church whereas Defoe was a dissenter. Both of them viewed the world with common sense but Defoe aimed to improve the morals of his time, whereas Swift viewed himan society with contempt and has been called a cynic and even a misanthrope. “Gulliver’s Travels” Consisting of four parts, the novel tells four stories of the hero. In part One, the hero is in Lilliput where he becomes “Man Mountain”, for the inhabitants are only six inches tall, twelve times smaller than human beings.
Yet, as a kind of “man” their sayings and doings forms a miniature of the real world. Part Two brings the hero to Brobdingnag. This time, he comes to dwarf, for the Brobdingnagians are ten times taller and larger than normal human beings. Also superior in wisdom, they look down upon the ordinary human beings for the latter’s evil or harmful doings. The third part depicts Gulliver’s travel on the flying Island where the so called philosophers and scientists devoted themselves to absurd doings, for example, to extract sunlight from cucumbers.
The last part tells the hero’s adventure in the Houyhnhnm Land. There horses are endowed with reason and all good and admirable qualities, while the hairy, man-like creature, Yahoos are greedy and disgusting brutes. Henry Fielding During his career as a dramatist, Fielding had attempted a considerable number of forms of plays: witty comedies of manners or intrigues in the Restoration tradition, farces or ballad operas with political implications, and burlesques and satires that bear heavily upon the status-quo of England.
Of all his plays, the best known are The Coffee-house Politician (1730), The Tragedy of Tragedies (1730), Pasquin (1736) and The Historical Register for the Year 1736 (1737). These successful plays not only contributed to a temporary revival of the English theatre but also were of great help to the playwright in his future literary career as a novelist. Fielding has been regarded by some as “Father of the English Novel,” for his contribution to the establishment of the form of the modern novel.
Of all the eighteenth-century novelist he was the first to set out, both in theory and practice, to write specifically a “comic epic in prose,” the first to give the modern novel its structure and style. Before him, the relating of a story in a novel was either in the epistolary form (a series of letters), as in Richardson’s Pamela, or the picaresque form (adventurous wanderings) through the mouth of the principal character, as in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, but Fielding adopted “the third-person narration,” in which the author becomes the “all-knowing God.
” He “thinks the thought” of all his characters, so he is able to present not only their external behaviors but also the internal workings of their minds. In planning his stories, he tries to retain the grand epical form of the classical works but at the same time keeps faithful to his realistic presentation of common life as it is. Throughout, the ordinary and usually ridiculous life of the common people, from the middle-class to the underworld, is his major concern. Fielding’s language is easy, unlaboured and familiar, but extremely vivid and vigorous.
His sentences are always distinguished by logic and rhythm, and his structure carefully planned towards an inevitable ending. His works are also noted for lively, dramatic dialogues and other theatrical devices such as suspense, coincidence and unexpectedness. Samuel Johnson Johnson was an energetic and versatile writer. He had a hand in all the different braches of literary activities. He was a poet, dramatist, prose romancer, biographer, essayist, critic, lexicographer and publicist. His chief works include poems: “London”, “The Vanity of Human Wishes”; a romance: “The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia; a tragedy: Irene.
As a lexicographer, Johnson distinguished himself as the author of the first English dictionary by an Englishman—A dictionary of the English Language, a gigantic task which Johnson undertook single-handedly and finished in over seven years Johnson was the last great neoclassicist enlightener in the later eighteenth century. He was very much concerned the theme of the vanity of human wishes: almost all of his writings bear this theme. He tried to awaken men to this folly and hoped to cure them of it through his writings.
In literary creation and criticism, he was rather conservative, openly showing his dislike for much of the newly rising form of literature and his fondness for those writings which carried a lot of moralizing and philosophizing. He insisted that a writer must adhere to universal truth and experience, i. e. Nature; he must please, but he must also instruct; he must not offend against religion or promote immorality; and he must let himself be guided by old principles. Like Pope, he was particularly fond of moralizing didacticism.
So, it is understandable that he was rather pleased with Richardson’s Pamela but was contemptuous of Fielding’ Tom Jones. Johnson’s style is typically neoclassical, but it is at the opposite extreme from Swift’s simplicity or Addison’s neatness. His language is characteristically general, often Latinate and frequently polysyllabic his sentences are long and well structured, interwoven with paralled words and phrases. However, no matter how complex his sentences are, the thought is always clearly expressed; and though he tends to use “learned words,” they are always accurately used.
Reading his works gives the reader the impression that he is talking with a very learned man. “To the Right Honorable the Earl of Chesterfield” The letter is regarded as a strong indignation of Samuel Johnson at the Earl’s fame-fishing, for the later coldly refused giving him help when he compiled his dictionary and hypocritically wrote articles to give honeyed words when the dictionary was going to be published. The Earl was a well-known “patron of literature” at the time, and it remained a rule for writers to get a patron if they wanted to get financial support or make themselves known by public.
But this letter of Johnson made a break-through in that tradition implying their independence in economy and writing, and therefore opened a new era in the development of literature. Richard Brinsley Sheridan Sheridan was the only important English dramatist of the eighteenth century. His plays, especially The Rivals and The School for Scandal, are generally regarded as important links between the masterpieces of Shakespeare and those of Bernard Shaw, and as true classics in English comedy. In his plays, morality is the constant theme.
He is much concerned with the current moral issues and lashes harshly at the social vices of the day. In The Rivals, a comedy of manners, he is satirizing the traditional practice of the parents to arrange marriages for their children without considering the latter’s opinion. And in The School for Scandal, the satire becomes even sharper as the characters are exposed scene by scene to their defenseless nakedness. Sheridan’s greatness also lies in his theatrical art. He seems to have inherited from his parents a natural ability and inborn knowledge about the theatre.
His plays are the product of a dramatic genius as well as of a well-versed theatrical man. Though his dramatic techniques are largely conventional, they are exploited to the best advantage. His plots are well organized, his characters, either major or minor, are all sharply drawn, and his manipulation of such devices as disguise, mistaken identity and dramatic irony is masterly. Witty dialogues and neat and decent language also make a characteristic of his plays. The School for Scandal The comedy of manners, written by R. B. Sheridan, mainly tells a story about two brothers.
The elder one Joseph Surface is hypocritical, and the younger one Charles Surface kind, imprudent and spendthrift. Lady Sneerwell, one of the scandal-mongers in the play, instigates Joseph to run after Maria, the ward of Sir Peter. But, Joseph, while pursuing Maria, the love of his younger brother, tries to seduce Lady Teazle, the young wife of Sir Peter. Misled by the scandal of Lady Sneerwell and Joseph, Sir Peter Teazle believed Charles was the person who flirted with his wife until one day, Lady Teazle, coming from the screen in Joseph’s library, made the truth known that person who intended to seduce her was Joseph.
Thus, the latter’s hypocrisy was exposed. At the same time, Sir Oliver Surface, the rich, old uncle of the two brothers, wanted to choose one of them to be his heir. He first visited Charles in the guise of a usurer. Charles sold to him all the family portraits except that of his uncle, and thus won the favor of his uncle. Then he went to Joseph as a poor relative. But Joseph refused giving him any help by saying that he himself was in trouble. For a second time, Joseph’s hypocrisy was exposed.
The play ends with Lady Teazle’s reconciliation with her husband and Charles’ winning of the hand of Maria and the inheritance of his uncle. Thomas Gray Although neoclassicism dominated the literary scene in the 18th century, there were poets whose poetry had some elements that deviated from the rules and regulations set down by neoclassicist poets. These poets had grown weary of the artificiality and controlling ideals of neoclassicism. They craved for something more natural and spontaneous in thought and language.
In their poetry, emotions and sentiments, which had been repressed, began to play a leading role again. Another factor marking this deviation is the reawakening of an interest in nature and in the natural relation between man and man. Among these poets, one of the representatives was Thomas Gray. Gray was born in London and educated at Eton and Cambridge, where he, after a grand tour on the Continent, spent the rest of his life. He was first a Fellow and 1768 was appointed professor of history and modern languages.
On his return from the Continent, he stayed for a short time at Stoke Poges in Bucks, where he first sketched “ The Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, though it was finished eight years later in 1750. In contrast to those professional writers, Gray’s literary output was small. His masterpiece, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” was published in 1751. the poem once and for all established his fame as the leader of the sentimental poetry of the day, especially “the Graveyard School. ” His poems, as a whole, are mostly devoted to a sentimental lamentation or meditation on life, past and present.
His other poems include “Ode on the spring” (1742), “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” (1747), “Ode on the death of a Favourite Cat” (1748), “Hymn to Adversity” (1742), and two translations for old Norse: The Descent of Odin (1761) and The Fatal Sisters (1761) A conscientious artist of the first rate, Gray wrote slowly and carefully, painstakingly seeking perfection of form and phrase. His poems are characterized by an exquisite sense of form. His style is sophisticated and allusive. His poems are often marked with the trait of a highly artificial diction and distorted word order.
Selected Reading: Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard” is regarded as Gray’s best and most representative work. The poem is the outcome of about eight years’ careful composition and polish. It is more or less connected with the melancholy event of the death of Richard West, Gray’s intimate friend. In this poem, Gray reflects on death, the sorrow of life, and the mysteries of human life with a touch of his personal melancholy. The poet compares the common folk with the great ones, wondering what the commons could have achieved if they had had the chance.
Here he reveals his sympathy for the poor and the unknown, but mocks the great ones who despise the poor and bring havoc on them. The poem abounds in images and arouses sentiment in the bosom of every reader. Though the use of artificial poetic diction and distorted word order make understanding of the poem somewhat difficult, the artistic polish—the sure control of language, imagery, rhythm, and subtle moderation of style and tone—gives the poem a unique charm of its own. The poem has been ranked among the best of the eighteenth century English poetry. Selected Reading: Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard