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Wordsworth, William


Wordsworth, William, 1770–1850, English poet, b. Cockermouth, Cumberland. One of the great English poets, he was a leader of the romantic movement in England.



Life and Works

In 1791 he graduated from Cambridge and traveled abroad. While in France he fell in love with Annette Vallon, who bore him a daughter, Caroline, in 1792. Although he did not marry her, it seems to have been circumstance rather than lack of affection that separated them. Throughout his life he supported Annette and Caroline as best he could, finally settling a sum of money on them in 1835.

The spirit of the French Revolution had strongly influenced Wordsworth, and he returned (1792) to England imbued with the principles of Rousseau and republicanism. In 1793 were published An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, written in the stylized idiom and vocabulary of the 18th cent. The outbreak of the Reign of Terror prevented Wordsworth's return to France, and after receiving several small legacies, he settled with his sister Dorothy in Dorsetshire. Wordsworth was extraordinarily close to his sister. Throughout his life she was his constant and devoted companion, sharing his poetic vision and helping him with his work.

In Dorsetshire Wordsworth became the intimate friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, probably under his influence, a student of David Hartley's empiricist philosophy. Together the two poets wrote Lyrical Ballads (1798), in which they sought to use the language of ordinary people in poetry; it included Wordsworth's poem “Tintern Abbey.” The work introduced romanticism into England and became a manifesto for romantic poets. In 1799 he and his sister moved to the Lake District of England, where they lived the remainder of their lives. A second edition of the Lyrical Ballads (1800), which included a critical essay outlining Wordsworth's poetic principles, in particular his ideas about poetic diction and meter, was unmercifully attacked by critics.

In 1802 Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson, an old school friend; the union was evidently a happy one, and the couple had four children. The Prelude, his long autobiographical poem, was completed in 1805, though it was not published until after his death. His next collection, Poems in Two Volumes (1807), included the well-known “Ode to Duty,” the “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” and a number of famous sonnets.

Thereafter, Wordsworth's creative powers diminished. Nonetheless, some notable poems were produced after this date, including The Excursion (1814), “Laodamia” (1815), “White Doe of Rylstone” (1815), Memorials of a Tour of the Continent, 1820 (1822), and “Yarrow Revisited” (1835). In 1842 Wordsworth was given a civil list pension, and the following year, having long since put aside radical sympathies, he was named poet laureate.




Assessment

Wordsworth's personality and poetry were deeply influenced by his love of nature, especially by the sights and scenes of the Lake Country, in which he spent most of his mature life. A profoundly earnest and sincere thinker, he displayed a high seriousness comparable, at times, to Milton's but tempered with tenderness and a love of simplicity.

Wordsworth's earlier work shows the poetic beauty of commonplace things and people as in “Margaret,” “Peter Bell,” “Michael,” and “The Idiot Boy.” His use of the language of ordinary speech was heavily criticized, but it helped to rid English poetry of the more artificial conventions of 18th-century diction. Among his other well-known poems are “Lucy” (“She dwelt among the untrodden ways”), “The Solitary Reaper,” “Resolution and Independence,” “Daffodils,” “The Rainbow,” and the sonnet “The World Is Too Much with Us.”

Although Wordsworth was venerated in the 19th cent., by the early 20th cent. his reputation had declined. He was criticized for the unevenness of his poetry, for his rather marked capacity for bathos, and for his transformation from an open-minded liberal to a cramped conservative. In recent years, however, Wordsworth has again been recognized as a great English poet—a profound, original thinker who created a new poetic tradition.





Bibliography

See his poetical works, ed. by E. de Selincourt and H. Darbishire (5 vol., 1940–49); his prose works, ed. by W. J. B. Owen and J. W. Smyser (3 vol., 1974); correspondence with his sister, ed. by E. de Selincourt (6 vol., 1967–82); biographies by M. Moorman (2 vol., 1965), S. Gill (1984), and K. R. Johnston (1999); studies by M. Reed (1967), F. E. Halliday (1970), R. Rehder (1981), J. K. Changler (1984), P. Hamilton (1986), A. J. Bewell (1989), and D. Bromwich (1999); G. McMaster, William Wordsworth: A Critical Anthology (1973).





Dorothy Wordsworth

Wordsworth's sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, 1771–1855, is known principally for her poems and for her journals, which have proved invaluable for later biographies and studies of the poet. These journals, the first of which was started in 1798, are written in delicate, exquisite diction, describing the Wordsworth household, friends, and travels. For the last 20 years of her life Dorothy Wordsworth was an invalid, suffering from an obscure illness that made her prematurely senile.








Keats, John


Keats, John, 1795–1821, English poet, b. London. He is considered one of the greatest of English poets.

The son of a livery stable keeper, Keats attended school at Enfield, where he became the friend of Charles Cowden Clarke, the headmaster's son, who encouraged his early learning. Apprenticed to a surgeon (1811), Keats came to know Leigh Hunt and his literary circle, and in 1816 he gave up surgery to write poetry. His first volume of poems appeared in 1817. It included “I stood tip-toe upon a little hill,” “Sleep and Poetry,” and the famous sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.”

Endymion, a long poem, was published in 1818. Although faulty in structure, it is nevertheless full of rich imagery and color. Keats returned from a walking tour in the Highlands to find himself attacked in Blackwood's Magazine—an article berated him for belonging to Leigh Hunt's “Cockney school” of poetry—and in the Quarterly Review. The critical assaults of 1818 mark a turning point in Keats's life; he was forced to examine his work more carefully, and as a result the influence of Hunt was diminished. However, these attacks did not contribute to Keats's decline in health and his early death, as Shelley maintained in his elegy “Adonais.”

Keats's passionate love for Fanny Brawne seems to have begun in 1818. Fanny's letters to Keats's sister show that her critics' contention that she was a cruel flirt was not true. Only Keats's failing health prevented their marriage. He had contracted tuberculosis, probably from nursing his brother Tom, who died in 1818. With his friend, the artist Joseph Severn, Keats sailed for Italy shortly after the publication of Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820), which contains most of his important work and is probably the greatest single volume of poetry published in England in the 19th cent. He died in Rome in Feb., 1821, at the age of 25.

In spite of his tragically brief career, Keats is one of the most important English poets. He is also among the most personally appealing. Noble, generous, and sympathetic, he was capable not only of passionate love but also of warm, steadfast friendship. Keats is ranked, with Shelley and Byron, as one of the three great Romantic poets. Such poems as “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “To Autumn,” and “Ode on Melancholy” are unequaled for dignity, melody, and richness of sensuous imagery. All of his poetry is filled with a mysterious and elevating sense of beauty and joy.

Keats's posthumous pieces include “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” in its way as great an evocation of romantic medievalism as “The Eve of St. Agnes.” Among his sonnets, familiar ones are “When I have fears that I may cease to be” and “Bright star! would I were as steadfast as thou art.” “Lines on the Mermaid Tavern,” “Fancy,” and “Bards of Passion and of Mirth” are delightful short poems.

Some of Keats's finest work is in the unfinished epic “Hyperion.” In recent years critical attention has focused on Keats's philosophy, which involves not abstract thought but rather absolute receptivity to experience. This attitude is indicated in his celebrated term “negative capability”—“to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thought.”





Bibliography

Keats's letters (ed. by H. E. Rollins, 1958) vividly reveal his character, opinions, and feelings. See his poetical works, ed. by H. W. Garrod (2d ed. 1958); his autobiography, ed. by E. V. Weller (1933); biographies by A. Ward (1963), W. J. Bate (1963, repr. 1979), R. Gittings (1968), A. Motion (1998), and of his last days by J. E. Walsh (2000); studies by W. J. Bate (1945), M. Dickstein (1971), and D. van Ghent (1983).







Lamb, Charles


Lamb, Charles, 1775–1834, English essayist, b. London. He went to school at Christ's Hospital, where his lifelong friendship with Coleridge began. Lamb was a clerk at the India House from 1792 to 1825. In 1796 his sister Mary Ann Lamb (1764–1847) in a fit of temporary insanity attacked and wounded their father and stabbed and killed their mother. Lamb had himself declared her guardian to save her from permanent commitment to an asylum, and after 1799 they lived together. Mary was an intelligent and affectionate companion, but the shadow of her madness continued to plague their lives. They collaborated on several books for children, publishing in 1807 their famous Tales from Shakespeare. Lamb wrote four plays, none of which were successful. However, his dramatic essays, Specimens of English Dramatic Poets (1808), established his reputation as a critic and did much in reviving the popularity of Elizabethan drama. From 1800 on he wrote intermittently for periodicals, the major contribution being the famous Essays of Elia (London Magazine, 1820–25), which were collected in 1823 and 1833. The essays cover a variety of subjects and maintain throughout an intimate and familiar tone. Lamb's style is peculiarly his own. His close-knit, subtle organization, his self-revealing observations on life, and his humor, fantasy, and pathos combine to make him one of the great masters of the English essay. Lamb was a gifted conversationalist and was friendly with most of the major literary figures of his time.




Bibliography

See his Life, Letters and Writings, ed. by P. Fitzgerald (1895, repr. 1971); E. W. Marrs, Jr., ed., The Letters of Charles and Mary Anne Lamb (3 vol., 1975–78); biographies by A. Ainger (1901, repr. 1970), E. V. Lucas (1968), D. Cecil (1984), and B. Cornwall (2003); biography of Mary Anne Lamb by S. T. Hitchcock (2004); studies by E. Blunden (1954; 1933, repr. 1967), J. E. Riehl (1980), and G. Monsman (1984 and 2003).







Alfred Tennyson


Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron , 1809–92, English poet. The most famous poet of the Victorian age, he was a profound spokesman for the ideas and values of his times.


Early Life and Works

Tennyson was the son of an intelligent but unstable clergyman in Lincolnshire. His early literary attempts included a play, The Devil and the Lady, composed at 14, and poems written with his brothers Frederick and Charles but entitled Poems by Two Brothers (1827). In his three years at Cambridge, Tennyson wrote a prizewinning poem, Timbuctoo (1829), and Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830) and began his close friendship with Arthur Henry Hallam, son of the historian Henry Hallam.

Upon the death of his father in 1831, Tennyson became responsible for the family and its precarious finances. His volume Poems (1832) included some of his most famous pieces, such as “The Lotus-Eaters,” “A Dream of Fair Women,” and “The Lady of Shalott.” In 1833 he was overwhelmed by the sudden death of Hallam.



Mature Works and Later Life

Tennyson's next published work, Poems (1842), expressed his philosophic doubts in a materialistic, increasingly scientific age and his longing for a sustaining faith. The new poems included “Locksley Hall,” “Ulysses,” “Morte d'Arthur,” and “Break, Break, Break.” With this book he was acclaimed a great poet, and in addition, he was granted an annual government pension of £200 in 1845.

The Princess (1847) was followed in 1850 by the masterful In Memoriam, an elegy sequence that records Tennyson's years of doubt and despair after Hallam's death and culminates in an affirmation of immortality. The same year saw his appointment as poet laureate and his marriage to Emily Sellwood, whom he had courted since 1836 but had been unable to marry because of his precarious financial position. Occasional poems, such as the “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington” (1852) and “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1855), were part of his duties as laureate.

The first group of Idylls of the King appeared in 1859; it was expanded in 1869 and 1872, and in 1885 Tennyson added the final poem. He arranged the 12 poems chronologically in 1888 to constitute a somber ethical epic of the glory and the downfall of King Arthur. In the Arthurian legend, Tennyson projected his vision of the hollowness of his own civilization. Included among his other works are Maud (1855), a “monodrama”; Enoch Arden (1864); several poetic dramas, most notably Becket (1879; produced 1893); Ballads and Other Poems (1880); and Demeter and Other Poems (1889), which contained “Crossing the Bar.”

Tennyson passed his last years in comfort. In 1883 he was created a peer and occupied a seat in the House of Lords. Throughout much of his life he was a popular as well as critical success and was venerated by the general public. Unappreciated early in the 20th cent., Tennyson has since been recognized as a great poet, notable for his mastery of technique, his superb use of sensuous language, and his profundity of thought.







Dickens, Charles


Dickens, Charles, 1812–70, English author, b. Portsmouth, one of the world's most popular, prolific, and skilled novelists.



Early Life and Works

The son of a naval clerk, Dickens spent his early childhood in London and in Chatham. When he was 12 his father was imprisoned for debt, and Charles was compelled to work in a blacking warehouse. He never forgot this double humiliation. At 17 he was a court stenographer, and later he was an expert parliamentary reporter for the Morning Chronicle. His sketches, mostly of London life (signed Boz), began appearing in periodicals in 1833, and the collection Sketches by Boz (1836) was a success.

Soon Dickens was commissioned to write burlesque sporting sketches; the result was The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836–37), which promptly made Dickens and his characters, especially Sam Weller and Mr. Pickwick, famous. In 1836 he married Catherine Hogarth, who was to bear him 10 children; the marriage, however, was never happy. Dickens had a tender regard for Catherine's sister Mary Hogarth, who died young, and a lifelong friendship with another sister, Georgina Hogarth.



Maturity

The early-won fame never deserted Dickens. His readers were eager and ever more numerous, and Dickens worked vigorously for them, producing novels that appeared first in monthly installments and then were made into books. Oliver Twist (in book form, 1838) was followed by Nicholas Nickleby (1839) and by two works originally intended to start a series called Master Humphrey's Clock: The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) and Barnaby Rudge (1841).

Dickens wrote rapidly, sometimes working on more than one novel at a time, and usually finished an installment just when it was due. Haste did not prevent his loosely strung and intricately plotted books from being the most popular novels of his day. When he visited America in 1842, he was received with ovations but awakened some displeasure by his remarks on copyright protection and his approval of the abolition of slavery. He replied with sharp criticism of America in American Notes (1842) and the novel Martin Chuzzlewit (1843). The first of his Christmas books was the well-loved A Christmas Carol (1843). In later years other short novels and stories written for the season followed, notably The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth.

Dickens lived in Italy in 1844 and in Switzerland in 1846. Dombey and Son (1848) was the first in a string of triumphant novels including David Copperfield (1850), his own favorite novel, which was partly autobiographical; Bleak House (1853); Hard Times (1854); Little Dorrit (1857); A Tale of Two Cities (1859); Great Expectations (1861); and Our Mutual Friend (1865). In 1856 he bought his long-desired country home at Gadshill. Two years later, because of Dickens's attentions to a young actress, Ellen Ternan, his wife ended their marriage by formal separation. Her sister Georgina remained with Dickens to care for his household and the younger children.

Dickens was working furiously, editing and contributing to the magazines Household Words (1850–59) and All the Year Round (1858–70) and managing amateur theatricals. To these labors he added platform readings from his own works; three tours in the British Isles (1858, 1861–65, 1866–67) were followed by one in America (1867–68). When he undertook another English tour of readings (1869–70), his health broke, and he died soon afterward, leaving his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished. His grave is in Westminster Abbey.




Dickens's Genius

Charles Dickens is one of the giants of English literature. He wrote from his own experience a great deal—the Marshalsea prison dominates Little Dorrit, and his father was at least partially the model for Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield. Although he was expert at journalistic reporting, he wrote nothing that was not transformed from actuality by his imagination. Sharp depiction of the eccentricities and characteristic traits of people was stretched into caricature, and for generations of readers the names of his characters—Mr. Pickwick, Uriah Heep, Miss Havisham, Ebenezer Scrooge—have been household words.

His enormous warmth of feeling sometimes spilled into sentimental pathos, sometimes flowed as pure tragedy. Dickens was particularly successful at evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of London, and the customs of his day. He attacked the injustices of the law and social hypocrisy and evils, but after many of the ills he pictured had been cured he gained still more readers. Some critics complain of his disorderliness in structure and of his sentimentality, but none has attempted to deny his genius at revealing the very pulse of life.








Browning, Robert


Browning, Robert, 1812–89, English poet. His remarkably broad and sound education was primarily the work of his artistic and scholarly parents—in particular his father, a London bank clerk of independent means. Pauline, his first poem, was published anonymously in 1833. In 1834 he visited Italy, which eventually became his second homeland. He won some recognition with Paracelsus (1835) and Sordello (1840). In 1837, urged by William Macready, the Shakespearean actor, Browning began writing for the stage. Although not especially successful, he wrote eight verse plays during the next nine years, two of which were produced—Strafford in 1837 and A Blot in the 'Scutcheon in 1843. The narrative poem Pippa Passes appeared in 1841; it and subsequent poems were later published collectively as Bells and Pomegranates (1846). Included were “My Last Duchess” and “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” both dramatic monologues; this form proved to be the ideal medium for Browning's poetic genius. Other notable poems of this kind are “Fra Lippo Lippi,” “Andrea del Sarto,” and “The Bishop Orders His Tomb.” In 1846, after a romantic courtship, Browning secretly married the poet Elizabeth Barrett and took her to Italy, where they lived for 15 happy years. There he wrote Christmas Eve and Easter Day (1850) and Men and Women (1855). In 1861, after the death of his wife, he returned to England, where he wrote Dramatis Personae (1864). This was followed by what is considered his masterpiece, the murder story The Ring and the Book (4 vol., 1868–69). Set in 17th-century Italy, the poem reveals, through a series of dramatic dialogues, how a single event—a murder—is perceived by different people. Browning gained recognition slowly, but after the publication of this work he was acclaimed a great poet. Societies were instituted for the study of his work in England and America. His later works include Dramatic Idyls (2 vol., 1879–80) and Asolando (1889). Browning's thought is persistently optimistic. He believed in commitment to life. His psychological portraits in verse, ironic and indirect in presentation, and his experiments in diction and rhythm have made him an important influence on 20th-century poetry. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.


Bibliography

See variously published volumes of his letters; complete works, ed. by R. A. King (5 vol., 1967–82); biographies by M. Ward (2 vol., 1967–69), B. Miller (1952, repr. 1973), and W. Irvine and P. Honan (1974); studies by R. Langbaum (1963), P. Drew (1966 and 1970), R. E. Gridley (1972), T. Blackburn (1967, repr. 1973), and J. Woolford (1988).







Hardy, Thomas


Hardy, Thomas, 1840–1928, English novelist and poet, b. near Dorchester, one of the great English writers of the 19th cent.

The son of a stonemason, he derived a love of music from his father and a devotion to literature from his mother. Hardy could not afford to pursue a scholarly career as he wished and was apprenticed to John Hicks, a local church architect. He continued, however, to study the Greek and Latin classics. From 1862 to 1867 he served as assistant to Arthur Blomfield, a London architect; ill health forced him to return to Dorset, where he worked for Hicks and his successor until 1874.

Despite his employment, Hardy was writing continually during this period of his life. Such early novels as Desperate Remedies (1871) and A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) met with small success and may be considered formative works. After the appearance of Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), popular as well as critical acclaim enabled him to devote himself exclusively to writing. His success also made marriage feasible, and in 1874 he married Emma Lavinia Gifford.

Over the next 22 years Hardy wrote many novels, including those he referred to as “romances and fantasies”—most of which were first serialized in popular magazines. His major works are The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1896), the latter two considered masterpieces.

Hardy's novels are all set against the bleak and forbidding Dorset landscape (referred to as Wessex in the novels), whose physical harshness echoes that of an indifferent, if not malevolent, universe. The author's characters, who are for the most part of the poorer rural classes, are sympathetically and often humorously portrayed. Their lives are ruled not only by nature but also by rigid Victorian social conventions. Hardy's style is accordingly roughhewn, sometimes awkward, but always commanding and intense.

Hardy had always written poetry and regarded the novel as an inferior genre. After Jude the Obscure was attacked on grounds of supposed immorality (it dealt sympathetically with open sexual relations between men and women), he abandoned fiction. However, the compelling reason was probably that his thought had become too abstract to be adequately expressed in novels. Beginning at the age of 58, Hardy published many volumes of poetry, including Wessex Poems (1898), Satires of Circumstance (1914), Moments of Vision (1917), and Winter Words (1928).

His poetry is spare, unadorned, and unromantic, and its pervasive theme is man's futile struggle against cosmic forces. His verse drama The Dynasts (written 1903–8) is a historical epic of the Napoleonic era, expressing the view that history, too, is guided by forces far more powerful than individual will. Hardy's vision reflects a world in which Victorian complacencies were dying but its moralism was not, and in which science had eliminated the comforting certainties of religion.

Hardy's wife died in 1912, and in 1914 he married Florence Emily Dugdale, a children's book writer, some 40 years his junior. He spent the latter half of his life at Max Gate, a house built after his own designs in his native Dorset, and died there. His ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey, but his heart is buried separately, with a certain dark propriety, near the Egdon Heath made famous by his novels.



Bibliography

See E. Hardy and F. B. Pinion, ed., One Rare Fair Woman, his letters to Florence Henniker (1972); M. Millgate, ed., The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy (1978–1988); biographies by his wife F. E. Hardy (1928 repr. 1971), E. Hardy (1953, repr. 1973), R. Gittings (1975 and 1978), M. Seymour-Smith (1994), M. Millgate (rev. ed. 2004), C. Tomalin (2006), and R. Pite (2007); studies by R. C. Carpenter (1964), C. J. Weber (2d ed. 1965), I. Howe (1967), M. Millgate (1971), J. I. M. Stewart (1971), F. R. Southerington (1971), and M. Williams (1972); studies of his poetry by E. Brennecke (1924, repr. 1973), J. O. Bailey (1971), P. Zietlow (1974), and I. Gregor (1974).








Eliot, George


Eliot, George, pseud. of Mary Ann or Marian Evans,1819–80, English novelist, b. Arbury, Warwickshire. One of the great English novelists, she was reared in a strict atmosphere of evangelical Protestantism but eventually rebelled and renounced organized religion totally. Her early schooling was supplemented by assiduous reading, and the study of languages led to her first literary work, Life of Jesus (1846), a translation from the German of D. F. Strauss. After her father's death she became subeditor (1851) of the Westminster Review, contributed articles, and came to know many of the literary people of the day. In 1854 she began a long and happy union with G. H. Lewes, which she regarded as marriage, though it involved social ostracism and could have no legal sanction because Lewes's estranged wife was living. Throughout his life Lewes encouraged Evans in her literary career; indeed, it is possible that without him Evans, subject to periods of depression and in constant need of reassurance, would not have written a word.

In 1856, Mary Ann began Scenes of Clerical Life, a series of realistic sketches first appearing in Blackwood's Magazine under the pseudonym Lewes chose for her, George Eliot. Although not a popular success, the work was well received by literary critics, particularly Dickens and Thackeray. Three novels of provincial life followed—Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), and Silas Marner (1861). She visited Italy in 1860 and again in 1861 before she brought out in the Cornhill Magazine (1862–63) her historical romance Romola, a story of Savonarola. Felix Holt (1866), a political novel, was followed by The Spanish Gypsy (1868), a dramatic poem. Middlemarch (1871–72), a portrait of life in a provincial town, is considered her masterpiece. She wrote one more novel, Daniel Deronda (1876); the satirical Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879); and verse, which was never popular and is now seldom read. Lewes died in 1878, and in 1880 she married a close friend of both Lewes and herself, John W. Cross, who later edited George Eliot's Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals (3 vol., 1885–86). Writing about life in small rural towns, George Eliot was primarily concerned with the responsibility that people assume for their lives and with the moral choices they must inevitably make. Although highly serious, her novels are marked by compassion and a subtle humor.


Bibliography

See her letters (ed. by G. S. Haight, 7 vol., 1954–56); her collected essays (ed. by T. Pinney, 1964); biographies by L. and E. Hanson (1952), G. S. Haight (1968), F. R. Karl (1995), R. Ashton (1997), and K. Hughes (1999); studies by E. S. Haldane (1927), J. Thale (1959), B. Hardy (1967), D. Carroll, ed. (1971), T. S. Pearce (1973), and G. Beer (1983).






Wilde, Oscar


Wilde, Oscar , 1854–1900, Irish author and wit, b. Dublin. He is most famous for his sophisticated, brilliantly witty plays, which were the first since the comedies of Sheridan and Goldsmith to have both dramatic and literary merit. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he distinguished himself for his scholarship and wit, and also for his elegant eccentricity in dress, tastes, and manners. Influenced by the aesthetic teachings of Walter Pater and John Ruskin, Wilde became the center of a group glorifying beauty for itself alone, and he was famously satirized (with other exponents of “art for art's sake”) in Punch and in Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta Patience. His first published work, Poems (1881), was well received. The next year he lectured to great acclaim in the United States, where his drama Vera (1883) was produced. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, and they had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan.

Later he began writing for and editing periodicals, but his active literary career began with the publication of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891) and two collections of fairy tales, The Happy Prince (1888) and The House of Pomegranates (1892). In 1891 his novel Picture of Dorian Gray appeared. A tale of horror, it depicts the corruption of a beautiful young man pursuing an ideal of sensual indulgence and moral indifference; although he himself remains young and handsome, his portrait becomes ugly, reflecting his degeneration.

Wilde's stories and essays were well received, but his creative genius found its highest expression in his plays—Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), which were all extremely clever and filled with pithy epigrams and paradoxes. Wilde explained away their lack of depth by saying that he put his genius into his life and only his talent into his books. He also wrote two historical tragedies, The Duchess of Padua (1892) and Salomé (1893).

In 1891, Wilde met and quite soon became intimate with the considerably younger, handsome, and dissolute Lord Alfred Douglas (nicknamed “Bosie”). Soon the marquess of Queensberry, Douglas's father, began railing against Wilde and later wrote him a note accusing him of homosexual practices. Foolishly, Wilde brought action for libel against the marquess and was himself charged with homosexual offenses under the Criminal Law Amendment, found guilty, and sentenced (1895) to prison for two years. His experiences in jail inspired his most famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), and the apology published by his literary executor as De Profundis (1905). Released from prison in 1897, Wilde found himself a complete social outcast in England and, plagued by ill health and bankruptcy, lived in France under an assumed name until his death.



Bibliography

See his collected works, ed. by R. Ross (1969); letters, ed. by R. Hart-Davis (1962); complete letters, ed. by M. Holland and R. Hart-Davis (2000); notebooks, ed. by P. E. Smith 2d and M. S. Helfant (1989); biographies by R. Ellman (1988) and P. Raby (1988); studies by M. Fido (1974), N. Kohl (1989), and G. Woodcock (1989).






Ruskin, John


Ruskin, John, 1819–1900, English critic and social theorist. During the mid-19th cent. Ruskin was the virtual dictator of artistic opinion in England, but Ruskin's reputation declined after his death, and he has been treated harshly by 20th-century critics. Although it is undeniable that he was an extravagant and inconsistent thinker (a reflection of his lifelong mental and emotional instability), it is equally true that he revolutionized art criticism and wrote some of the most superb prose in the English language.



Early Life

Educated by his wealthy, evangelical parents, Ruskin was prepared for the ministry, and until 1836 he spent his mornings with his domineering mother, reading and memorizing the Bible. In 1833 the family went on the first of its many tours of Europe, and the boy ardently studied nature and painting. His stay (1836–40) at Oxford resulted in his winning the Newdigate Prize for poetry and in his determining not to enter the ministry. A breakdown of health in 1840 forced him to travel.



Critic and Reformer

The first volume of Ruskin's Modern Painters appeared in 1843. This work started as a defense of the painter J. M. W. Turner and developed into a treatise elaborating the principles that art is based on national and individual integrity and morality and also that art is a “universal language.” He finished the five volumes in 1860. The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) applied these same theories to architecture. In 1848, Ruskin married Euphemia Gray, a beautiful young woman with social ambitions; the union, which apparently was never consummated, was annulled in 1854, and Mrs. Ruskin subsequently married the painter John Everett Millais.

From his position as the foremost English art critic, Ruskin in 1851 defended the work of the Pre-Raphaelite group. His third great volume of criticism, The Stones of Venice (1851–53), maintained that the Gothic architecture of Venice reflected national and domestic virtue, while Venetian Renaissance architecture mirrored corruption. About 1857, Ruskin's art criticism became more broadly social and political. He wrote Unto This Last (in Cornhill Magazine, 1860) and Munera Pulveris (in Fraser's Magazine, 1862–63). These works attacked bourgeois England and charged that modern art reflected the ugliness and waste of modern industry.

Ruskin's positive program for social reform appeared in Sesame and Lilies (1865), The Crown of Wild Olive (1866), Time and Tide (1867), and Fors Clavigera (8 vol., 1871–84). Many of his suggested programs—old age pensions, nationalization of education, organization of labor—have become accepted doctrine. He was made the first professor of art in England (Slade professor, Oxford, 1870) and his lectures were well attended. His multifarious activities broke down his health, however, and in 1878 he suffered his first period of insanity. Recurrences of unbalance became more frequent, though some of his greatest prose, the autobiography Praeterita (1885–89), was written in the lucid intervals.








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