English Literature in the Restoration Age

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  • Topic: Gulliver's Travels, Great Fire of London, Christopher Wren
  • Pages : 5 (1937 words )
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  • Published : April 16, 2011
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William C. Harmon and C. Hugh Holman provide us with this definition of the term “neoclassicism”: “The term for the classicism that dominated English literature in the Restoration Age and in the eighteenth century ... Against the Renaissance idea of limitless human potentiality was opposed a view of humankind as limited, dualistic, imperfect; on the intensity of human responses were imposed a reverence for order and a delight in reason and rules; the burgeoning of imagination into new and strange worlds was countered by a distrust of innovation and invention ... Artistic ideals prized order, concentration, economy, utility, logic, restrained emotion, accuracy, correctness, good taste, and decorum. A sense of symmetry, a delight in design, and a view of art as centered on humanity, and the belief that literature should be judged according to its service to humanity resulted in the seeking of proportion, unity, harmony, and grace in literary expressions that aimed to delight, instruct, and correct human beings, primarily as social animals. It was the great age of the essay, of the letter and epistle, of satire, or moral instruction, of parody, and of burlesque. The play of mind mattered more than the play of feeling, with the results that a polite, urbane, witty, intellectual art developed. Poetic diction and imagery tended to become conventional, with detail subordinated to design. The appeal to the intellect resulted in a fondness for wit and the production of satire in both verse and prose. A tendency to realism marked the presentation of life with stress on the generic qualities of men and women. Literature exalted form and avoided obscurity and mystery ... Didactic literature flourished.” (Definition excerpt taken from Dr. Kaufman’s Final Essay Syllabus.) The works of Dryden, Pepy, Swift, and Behn exhibit qualities of order, clarity, and stylistic creations that were formulated in the major critical writings of the time period, which represents the Neoclassical period. The literature of this time period is known for its use of philosophy, reason, skepticism, wit, and refinement. This essay will examine the works of these writers, and how each of the mentioned pieces has their own carved out place in this category. Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis is also known as London Reborn. In this poem, Dryden interprets the Great Fire of London as a patriotic message to rebuild the city from its ashes into one of the great cities in the world, urging that its countrymen take this opportunity to recreate London as a new Rome, as shown here in (Lines1177-1178), "More great than human, now, and more August, / New deified she from her fires does rise." John Dryden even imbues the fire with the characteristics of some sort of redemptive act by which London shall achieve a sort of salvation, growing greater with the expectation that the world is going to change and England will be the country to lead it. This is shown in (Lines 846-848) "By an high fate thou greatly didst expire; Great as the world's, which at the death of time Must fall, and rise a nobler frame by fire." Dryden’s poem reflects and anticipates this far-reaching desire of London's citizens to create something bigger, better; more noble out of the destruction left behind by the Great London Fire of 1666 (Lines 1170-1172), “I see a city of more precious mold: Rich as the town which gives the Indies name, With silver paved, and all divine with gold.” Pepy’s The Diary (The Great Fire) is a chronicle (literally, his personal diary) of his life from 1660-1669, until he started losing his vision. This particular excerpt, The Great Fire, describes the event in compelling human detail, as shown in this line taken from (Page 2136), “When we could endure no more upon the water, we to a little alehouse on the Bankside over against the Three Cranes and there stayed till it was dark almost and saw the fire grow; and as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon...
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