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Thursday, July 12, 2007
English literature, literature written in English since c.1450 by the inhabitants of the British Isles; it was during the 15th cent. that the English language acquired much of its modern form. For the literature of previous linguistic periods,
Anglo-Saxon literature, the literary writings in Old English , composed between c.650 and c.1100.
There are two types of Old English poetry: the heroic, the sources of which are pre-Christian Germanic myth, history, and custom; and the Christian. Although nearly all Old English poetry is preserved in only four manuscripts—indicating that what has survived is not necessarily the best or most representative—much of it is of high literary quality. Moreover, Old English heroic poetry is the earliest extant in all of Germanic literature. It is thus the nearest we can come to the oral pagan literature of Germanic culture, and is also of inestimable value as a source of knowledge about many aspects of Germanic society. The 7th-century work known as Widsith is one of the earliest Old English poems, and thus is of particular historic and linguistic interest.
Beowulf, a complete epic, is the oldest surviving Germanic epic as well as the longest and most important poem in Old English. It originated as a pagan saga transmitted orally from one generation to the next; court poets known as scops were the bearers of tribal history and tradition. The version of Beowulf that is extant was composed by a Christian poet, probably early in the 8th cent. However, intermittent Christian themes found in the epic, although affecting in themselves, are not integrated into the essentially pagan tale. The epic celebrates the hero's fearless and bloody struggles against monsters and extols courage, honor, and loyalty as the chief virtues in a world of brutal force.
The elegiac theme, a strong undercurrent in Beowulf, is central to Deor, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and other poems. In these works, a happy past is contrasted with a precarious and desolate present. The Finnsburgh fragment, The Battle of Maldon, and The Battle of Brunanburh , which are all based on historical episodes, mainly celebrate great heroism in the face of overwhelming odds. In this heroic poetry, all of which is anonymous, greatness is measured less by victory than by perfect loyalty and courage in extremity.
Much of the Old English Christian poetry is marked by the simple belief of a relatively unsophisticated Christianity; the names of two authors are known. Cædmon—whose story is charmingly told by the Venerable Bede, who also records a few lines of his poetry—is the earliest known English poet. Although the body of his work has been lost, the school of Cædmon is responsible for poetic narrative versions of biblical stories, the most dramatic of which is probably Genesis B.
Cynewulf, a later poet, signed the poems Elene, Juliana, and The Fates of the Apostles; no more is known of him. The finest poem of the school of Cynewulf is The Dream of the Rood, the first known example of the dream vision, a genre later popular in Middle English literature. Other Old English poems include various riddles, charms (magic cures, pagan in origin), saints' lives, gnomic poetry, and other Christian and heroic verse.
The verse form for Old English poetry is an alliterative line of four stressed syllables and an unfixed number of unstressed syllables broken by a caesura and arranged in one of several patterns. Lines are conventionally end-stopped and unrhymed. The form lends itself to narrative; there is no lyric poetry in Old English. A stylistic feature in this heroic poetry is the kenning, a figurative phrase, often a metaphorical compound, used as a synonym for a simple noun, e.g., the repeated use of the phrases whale-road for sea and twilight-spoiler for dragon
Old English literary prose dates from the latter part of the Anglo-Saxon period. Prose was written in Latin before the reign of King Alfred (reigned 871–99), who worked to revitalize English culture after the devastating Danish invasions ended. As hardly anyone could read Latin, Alfred translated or had translated the most important Latin texts. He also encouraged writing in the vernacular. Didactic, devotional, and informative prose was written, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, probably begun in Alfred's time as an historical record, continued for over three centuries. Two preeminent Old English prose writers were Ælfric, Abbot of Eynsham, and his contemporary Wulfstan, Archbishop of York. Their sermons (written in the late 10th or early 11th cent.) set a standard for homiletics.
A great deal of Latin prose and poetry was written during the Anglo-Saxon period. Of historic as well as literary interest, it provides an excellent record of the founding and early development of the church in England and reflects the introduction and early influence there of Latin-European culture.
Middle English literature
Middle English literature, English literature of the medieval period, c.1100 to c.1500.
The Norman conquest of England in 1066 traditionally signifies the beginning of 200 years of the domination of French in English letters. French cultural dominance, moreover, was general in Europe at this time. French language and culture replaced English in polite court society and had lasting effects on English culture. But the native tradition survived, although little 13th-century, and even less 12th-century, vernacular literature is extant, since most of it was transmitted orally. Anglo-Saxon fragmented into several dialects and gradually evolved into Middle English, which, despite an admixture of French, is unquestionably English. By the mid-14th cent., Middle English had become the literary as well as the spoken language of England.
The Early Period
Several poems in early Middle English are extant. The Orrmulum (c.1200), a verse translation of parts of the Gospels, is of linguistic and prosodic rather than literary interest. Of approximately the same date, The Owl and the Nightingale (see separate article) is the first example in English of the débat, a popular continental form; in the poem, the owl, strictly monastic and didactic, and the nightingale, a free and amorous secular spirit, charmingly debate the virtues of their respective ways of life.
The Thirteenth Century
Middle English prose of the 13th cent. continued in the tradition of Anglo-Saxon prose—homiletic, didactic, and directed toward ordinary people rather than polite society. The “Katherine Group” (c.1200), comprising three saints' lives, is typical. The Ancren Riwle (c.1200) is a manual for prospective anchoresses; it was very popular, and it greatly influenced the prose of the 13th and 14th cent. The fact that there was no French prose tradition was very important to the preservation of the English prose tradition.
In the 13th cent. the romance, an important continental narrative verse form, was introduced in England. It drew from three rich sources of character and adventure: the legends of Charlemagne, the legends of ancient Greece and Rome, and the British legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Layamon's Brut, a late 13th-century metrical romance (a translation from the French), marks the first appearance of Arthurian matter in English. Original English romances based upon indigenous material include King Horn and Havelok the Dane, both 13th-century works that retain elements of the Anglo-Saxon heroic tradition.
However, French romances, notably the Arthurian romances of Chrétien de Troyes, were far more influential than their English counterparts. In England French romances popularized ideas of adventure and heroism quite contrary to those of Anglo-Saxon heroic literature and were representative of wholly different values and tastes. Ideals of courtly love, together with its elaborate manners and rituals, replaced those of the heroic code; adventure and feats of courage were pursued for the sake of the knight's lady rather than for the sake of the hero's honor or the glory of his tribal king.
Continental verse forms based on metrics and rhyme replaced the Anglo-Saxon alliterative line in Middle English poetry (with the important exception of the 14th-century alliterative revival). Many French literary forms also became popular, among them the fabliau; the exemplum, or moral tale; the animal fable; and the dream vision. The continental allegorical tradition, which derived from classical literature, is exemplified by the Roman de la Rose, which had a strong impact on English literature.
Medieval works of literature often center on a popular rhetorical figure, such as the ubi sunt, which remarks on the inevitability—and sadness—of change, loss, and death; and the cursor mundi, which harps on the vanity of human grandeur. A 15,000-line 13th-century English poem, the Cursor Mundi, retells human history (i.e., the medieval version—biblical plus classical story) from the point of view its title implies.
A number of 13th-century secular and religious Middle English lyrics are extant, including the exuberant Sumer Is Icumen In, but like Middle English literature in general, the lyric reached its fullest flower during the second half of the 14th cent. Lyrics continued popular in the 15th cent., from which time the ballad also dates.
The Fourteenth Century
The poetry of the alliterative revival , the unexplained reemergence of the Anglo-Saxon verse form in the 14th cent., includes some of the best poetry in Middle English. The Christian allegory The Pearl is a poem of great intricacy and sensibility that is meaningful on several symbolic levels. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by the same anonymous author, is also of high literary sophistication, and its intelligence, vividness, and symbolic interest render it possibly the finest Arthurian poem in English. Other important alliterative poems are the moral allegory Piers Plowman, attributed to William Langland, and the alliterative Morte Arthur, which, like nearly all English poetry until the mid-14th cent., was anonymous.
The works of Geoffrey Chaucer mark the brilliant culmination of Middle English literature. Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales are stories told each other by pilgrims—who comprise a very colorful cross section of 14th-century English society—on their way to the shrine at Canterbury. The tales are cast into many different verse forms and genres and collectively explore virtually every significant medieval theme. Chaucer's wise and humane work also illuminates the full scope of medieval thought. Overshadowed by Chaucer but of some note are the works of John Gower.
The Fifteenth Century
The 15th cent. is not distinguished in English letters, due in part to the social dislocation caused by the prolonged Wars of the Roses. Of the many 15th-century imitators of Chaucer the best-known are John Lydgate and Thomas Hoccleve. Other poets of the time include Stephen Hawes and Alexander Barclay and the Scots poets William Dunbar, Robert Henryson, and Gawin Douglas. The poetry of John Skelton, which is mostly satiric, combines medieval and Renaissance elements.
William Caxton introduced printing to England in 1475 and in 1485 printed Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur. This prose work, written in the twilight of chivalry, casts the Arthurian tales into coherent form and views them with an awareness that they represent a vanishing way of life. The miracle play, a long cycle of short plays based upon biblical episodes, was popular throughout the Middle Ages in England. The morality play, an allegorical drama centering on the struggle for man's soul, originated in the 15th cent. The finest of the genre is Everyman.
The Tudors and the Elizabethan Age
The beginning of the Tudor dynasty coincided with the first dissemination of printed matter. William Caxton's press was established in 1476, only nine years before the beginning of Henry VII's reign. Caxton's achievement encouraged writing of all kinds and also influenced the standardization of the English language. The early Tudor period, particularly the reign of Henry VIII, was marked by a break with the Roman Catholic Church and a weakening of feudal ties, which brought about a vast increase in the power of the monarchy.
Stronger political relationships with the Continent were also developed, increasing England's exposure to Renaissance culture. Humanism became the most important force in English literary and intellectual life, both in its narrow sense—the study and imitation of the Latin classics—and in its broad sense—the affirmation of the secular, in addition to the otherworldly, concerns of people. These forces produced during the reign (1558–1603) of Elizabeth I one of the most fruitful eras in literary history.
The energy of England's writers matched that of its mariners and merchants. Accounts by men such as Richard Hakluyt, Samuel Purchas, and Sir Walter Raleigh were eagerly read. The activities and literature of the Elizabethans reflected a new nationalism, which expressed itself also in the works of chroniclers (John Stow, Raphael Holinshed, and others), historians, and translators and even in political and religious tracts. A myriad of new genres, themes, and ideas were incorporated into English literature. Italian poetic forms, especially the sonnet, became models for English poets.
Sir Thomas Wyatt was the most successful sonneteer among early Tudor poets, and was, with Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, a seminal influence. Tottel's Miscellany (1557) was the first and most popular of many collections of experimental poetry by different, often anonymous, hands. A common goal of these poets was to make English as flexible a poetic instrument as Italian. Among the more prominent of this group were Thomas Churchyard, George Gascoigne, and Edward de Vere, earl of Oxford. An ambitious and influential work was A Mirror for Magistrates (1559), a historical verse narrative by several poets that updated the medieval view of history and the morals to be drawn from it.
The poet who best synthesized the ideas and tendencies of the English Renaissance was Edmund Spenser. His unfinished epic poem The Faerie Queen (1596) is a treasure house of romance, allegory, adventure, Neoplatonic ideas, patriotism, and Protestant morality, all presented in a variety of literary styles. The ideal English Renaissance man was Sir Philip Sidney—scholar, poet, critic, courtier, diplomat, and soldier—who died in battle at the age of 32. His best poetry is contained in the sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella (1591) and his Defence of Poesie is among the most important works of literary criticism in the tradition.
Many others in a historical era when poetic talents were highly valued, were skilled poets. Important late Tudor sonneteers include Spenser and Shakespeare, Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, and Fulke Greville. More versatile even than Sidney was Sir Walter Raleigh—poet, historian, courtier, explorer, and soldier—who wrote strong, spare poetry.
Early Tudor drama owed much to both medieval morality plays and classical models. Ralph Roister Doister (c.1545) by Nicholas Udall and Gammer Gurton's Needle (c.1552) are considered the first English comedies, combining elements of classical Roman comedy with native burlesque. During the late 16th and early 17th cent., drama flourished in England as never before or since. It came of age with the work of the University Wits, whose sophisticated plays set the course of Renaissance drama and paved the way for Shakespeare.
The Wits included John Lyly, famed for the highly artificial and much imitated prose work Euphues (1578); Robert Greene, the first to write romantic comedy; the versatile Thomas Lodge and Thomas Nashe; Thomas Kyd, who popularized neo-Senecan tragedy; and Christopher Marlowe, the greatest dramatist of the group. Focusing on heroes whose very greatness leads to their downfall, Marlowe wrote in blank verse with a rhetorical brilliance and eloquence superbly equal to the demands of high drama. William Shakespeare, of course, fulfilled the promise of the Elizabethan age. His history plays, comedies, and tragedies set a standard never again equaled, and he is universally regarded as the greatest dramatist and one of the greatest poets of all time.
The Jacobean Era, Cromwell, and the Restoration
Elizabethan literature generally reflects the exuberant self-confidence of a nation expanding its powers, increasing its wealth, and thus keeping at bay its serious social and religious problems. Disillusion and pessimism followed, however, during the unstable reign of James I (1603–25). The 17th cent. was to be a time of great upheaval—revolution and regicide, restoration of the monarchy, and, finally, the victory of Parliament, landed Protestantism, and the moneyed interests.
Jacobean literature begins with the drama, including some of Shakespeare's greatest, and darkest, plays. The dominant literary figure of James's reign was Ben Jonson, whose varied and dramatic works followed classical models and were enriched by his worldly, peculiarly English wit. His satiric dramas, notably the great Volpone (1606), all take a cynical view of human nature. Also cynical were the horrific revenge tragedies of John Ford, Thomas Middleton, Cyril Tourneur, and John Webster (the best poet of this grim genre). Novelty was in great demand, and the possibilities of plot and genre were exploited almost to exhaustion. Still, many excellent plays were written by men such as George Chapman, the masters of comedy Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger, and the team of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Drama continued to flourish until the closing of the theaters at the onset of the English Revolution in 1642.
The foremost poets of the Jacobean era, Ben Jonson and John Donne, are regarded as the originators of two diverse poetic traditions—the Cavalier and the metaphysical (see Cavalier poets and metaphysical poets). Jonson and Donne shared not only a common fund of literary resources, but also a dryness of wit and precision of expression. Donne's poetry is distinctive for its passionate intellection, Jonson's for its classicism and urbane guidance of passion.
Although George Herbert and Donne were the principal metaphysical poets, the meditative religious poets Henry Vaughan and Thomas Traherne were also influenced by Donne, as were Abraham Cowley and Richard Crashaw. The greatest of the Cavalier poets was the sensuously lyrical Robert Herrick. Such other Cavaliers as Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling, and Richard Lovelace were lyricists in the elegant Jonsonian tradition, though their lyricism turned political during the English Revolution. Although ranked with the metaphysical poets, the highly individual Andrew Marvell partook of the traditions of both Donne and Jonson.
Among the leading prose writers of the Jacobean period were the translators who produced the classic King James Version of the Bible (1611) and the divines Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, and John Donne. The work of Francis Bacon helped shape philosophical and scientific method. Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) offers a varied, virtually encyclopedic view of the moral and intellectual preoccupations of the 17th cent. Like Burton, Sir Thomas Browne sought to reconcile the mysteries of religion with the newer mysteries of science. Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler (1653), produced a number of graceful biographies of prominent writers. Thomas Hobbes wrote the most influential political treatise of the age, Leviathan (1651).
The Jacobean era's most fiery and eloquent author of political tracts (many in defense of Cromwell's government, of which he was a member) was also one of the greatest of all English poets, John Milton. His Paradise Lost (1667) is a Christian epic of encompassing scope. In Milton the literary and philosophical heritage of the Renaissance merged with Protestant political and moral conviction.
With the restoration of the English monarchy in the person of Charles II, literary tastes widened. The lifting of Puritan restrictions and the reassembling of the court led to a relaxation of restraints, both moral and stylistic, embodied in such figures as the Earl of Rochester. Restoration comedy reveals both the influence of French farce (the English court spent its exile in France) and of Jacobean comedy. It generously fed the public's appetite for broad satire, high style, and a licentiousness that justified the worst Puritan imaginings. Such dramatists as Sir George Etherege, William Wycherley, and William Congreve created superbly polished high comedy. Sparkling but not quite so brilliant were the plays of George Farquhar, Thomas Shadwell, and Sir John Vanbrugh.
John Dryden began as a playwright but became the foremost poet and critic of his time. His greatest works are satirical narrative poems, notably Absalom and Achitophel (1681), in which prominent contemporary figures are unmistakably and devastatingly portrayed. Another satiric poet of the period was Samuel Butler, whose Hudibras (1663) satirizes Puritanism together with all the intellectual pretensions of the time. During the Restoration Puritanism or, more generally, the Dissenting tradition, remained vital. The most important Dissenting literary work was John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1675), an allegorical prose narrative that is considered a forerunner of the novel. Lively and illuminating glimpses of Restoration manners and mores are provided by the diaries of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn.
to be continued
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Thursday, July 12, 2007
The Eighteenth Century
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 firmly established a Protestant monarchy together with effective rule by Parliament. The new science of the time, Newtonian physics, reinforced the belief that everything, including human conduct, is guided by a rational order. Moderation and common sense became intellectual values as well as standards of behavior.
These values achieved their highest literary expression in the poetry of Alexander Pope. Pope—neoclassicist, wit, and master of the heroic couplet—was critical of human foibles but generally confident that order and happiness in human affairs were attainable if excesses were eschewed and rational dictates heeded. The brilliant prose satirist Jonathan Swift was not so sanguine. His “savage indignation” resulted in devastating attacks on his age in A Tale of a Tub (1704), Gulliver's Travels (1726), and A Modest Proposal (1729).
Middle-class tastes were reflected in the growth of periodicals and newspapers, the best of which were the Tatler and the Spectator produced by Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele. The novels of Daniel Defoe, the first modern novels in English, owe much to the techniques of journalism. They also illustrate the virtues of merchant adventure vital to the rising middle class. Indeed, the novel was to become the literary form most responsive to middle-class needs and interests.
The 18th cent. was the age of town life with its coffeehouses and clubs. One of the most famous of the latter was the Scriblerus Club, whose members included Pope, Swift, and John Gay (author of The Beggar's Opera). Its purpose was to defend and uphold high literary standards against the rising tide of middle-class values and tastes. Letters were a popular form of polite literature. Pope, Swift, Horace Walpole, and Thomas Gray were masters of the form, and letters make up the chief literary output of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lord Chesterfield. The novels of Samuel Richardson, including the influential Clarissa (1747), were written in epistolary form. With the work of Richardson, Fanny Burney, Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett, and Laurence Sterne the English novel flourished.
Probably the most celebrated literary circle in history was the one dominated by Samuel Johnson. It included Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, and James Boswell, whose biography of Johnson is a classic of the genre. Other great master prose writers of the period were the historian Edward Gibbon and the philosopher David Hume. Dr. Johnson, who carried the arts of criticism and conversation to new heights, both typified and helped to form mid-18th-century views of life, literature, and conduct. The drama of the 18th cent. failed to match that of the Restoration. But Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan rose above the prevalent “weeping comedy”—whose sentimentalism infected every literary genre of the period—to achieve polished comedy in the Restoration tradition.
Among the prominent poets of the 18th cent. were James Thomson, who wrote in The Seasons (1726) of nature as it reflected the Newtonian concept of order and beauty, and Edward Young, whose Night Thoughts (1742) combined melancholy and Christian apologetics. Anticipations of romanticism can be seen in the odes of William Collins, the poems of Thomas Gray, and the Scots lyrics of Robert Burns. The work of William Blake, the first great romantic poet, began late in the 18th cent. Blake is unique: poet, artist, artisan, revolutionist, and visionary prophet.
In prose fiction, departures from social realism are evident in the Gothic romances of Horace Walpole, Anne Radcliffe, “Monk” Lewis, Charles Maturin, and others. These works catered to a growing interest in medievalism, northern antiquities, ballads, folklore, chivalry, and romance, also exploited in two masterpieces of forgery—the Ossian poems of James Macpherson and the “medieval” Rowley poems of Thomas Chatterton.
The Romantic Period
At the turn of the century, fired by ideas of personal and political liberty and of the energy and sublimity of the natural world, artists and intellectuals sought to break the bonds of 18th-century convention. Although the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau and William Godwin had great influence, the French Revolution and its aftermath had the strongest impact of all. In England initial support for the Revolution was primarily utopian and idealist, and when the French failed to live up to expectations, most English intellectuals renounced the Revolution. However, the romantic vision had taken forms other than political, and these developed apace.
In Lyrical Ballads (1798 and 1800), a watershed in literary history, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge presented and illustrated a liberating aesthetic: poetry should express, in genuine language, experience as filtered through personal emotion and imagination; the truest experience was to be found in nature. The concept of the Sublime strengthened this turn to nature, because in wild countrysides the power of the sublime could be felt most immediately. Wordsworth's romanticism is probably most fully realized in his great autobiographical poem, “The Prelude” (1805–50). In search of sublime moments, romantic poets wrote about the marvelous and supernatural, the exotic, and the medieval. But they also found beauty in the lives of simple rural people and aspects of the everyday world.
The second generation of romantic poets included John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and George Gordon, Lord Byron. In Keats's great odes, intellectual and emotional sensibility merge in language of great power and beauty. Shelley, who combined soaring lyricism with an apocalyptic political vision, sought more extreme effects and occasionally achieved them, as in his great drama Prometheus Unbound (1820). His wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wrote the greatest of the Gothic romances, Frankenstein (1818).
Lord Byron was the prototypical romantic hero, the envy and scandal of the age. He has been continually identified with his own characters, particularly the rebellious, irreverent, erotically inclined Don Juan. Byron invested the romantic lyric with a rationalist irony. Minor romantic poets include Robert Southey—best-remembered today for his story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”—Leigh Hunt, Thomas Moore, and Walter Savage Landor.
The romantic era was also rich in literary criticism and other nonfictional prose. Coleridge proposed an influential theory of literature in his Biographia Literaria (1817). William Godwin and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote ground–breaking books on human, and women's, rights. William Hazlitt, who never forsook political radicalism, wrote brilliant and astute literary criticism. The master of the personal essay was Charles Lamb, whereas Thomas De Quincey was master of the personal confession. The periodicals Edinburgh Review and Blackwood's Magazine, in which leading writers were published throughout the century, were major forums of controversy, political as well as literary.
Although the great novelist Jane Austen wrote during the romantic era, her work defies classification. With insight, grace, and irony she delineated human relationships within the context of English country life. Sir Walter Scott, Scottish nationalist and romantic, made the genre of the historical novel widely popular. Other novelists of the period were Maria Edgeworth, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and Thomas Love Peacock, the latter noted for his eccentric novels satirizing the romantics.
The Victorian Age
The Reform Bill of 1832 gave the middle class the political power it needed to consolidate—and to hold—the economic position it had already achieved. Industry and commerce burgeoned. While the affluence of the middle class increased, the lower classes, thrown off their land and into the cities to form the great urban working class, lived ever more wretchedly. The social changes were so swift and brutal that Godwinian utopianism rapidly gave way to attempts either to justify the new economic and urban conditions, or to change them. The intellectuals and artists of the age had to deal in some way with the upheavals in society, the obvious inequities of abundance for a few and squalor for many, and, emanating from the throne of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), an emphasis on public rectitude and moral propriety.
The Victorian era was the great age of the English novel—realistic, thickly plotted, crowded with characters, and long. It was the ideal form to describe contemporary life and to entertain the middle class. The novels of Charles Dickens, full to overflowing with drama, humor, and an endless variety of vivid characters and plot complications, nonetheless spare nothing in their portrayal of what urban life was like for all classes. William Makepeace Thackeray is best known for Vanity Fair (1848), which wickedly satirizes hypocrisy and greed.
Emily Brontë's single novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), is a unique masterpiece propelled by a vision of elemental passions but controlled by an uncompromising artistic sense. The fine novels of Emily's sister Charlotte Brontë, especially Jane Eyre (1847) and Villette (1853), are more rooted in convention, but daring in their own ways. The novels of George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) appeared during the 1860s and 70s. A woman of great erudition and moral fervor, Eliot was concerned with ethical conflicts and social problems. George Meredith produced comic novels noted for their psychological perception. Another novelist of the late 19th cent. was the prolific Anthony Trollope, famous for sequences of related novels that explore social, ecclesiastical, and political life in England.
Thomas Hardy's profoundly pessimistic novels are all set in the harsh, punishing midland county he called Wessex. Samuel Butler produced novels satirizing the Victorian ethos, and Robert Louis Stevenson, a master of his craft, wrote arresting adventure fiction and children's verse. The mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, writing under the name Lewis Carroll, produced the complex and sophisticated children's classics Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871). Lesser novelists of considerable merit include Benjamin Disraeli, George Gissing, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Wilkie Collins. By the end of the period, the novel was considered not only the premier form of entertainment but also a primary means of analyzing and offering solutions to social and political problems.
Among the Victorian masters of nonfiction were the great Whig historian Thomas Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle, the historian, social critic, and prophet whose rhetoric thundered through the age. Influential thinkers included John Stuart Mill, the great liberal scholar and philosopher; Thomas Henry Huxley, a scientist and popularizer of Darwinian theory; and John Henry, Cardinal Newman, who wrote earnestly of religion, philosophy, and education. The founders of Communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, researched and wrote their books in the free environment of England. The great art historian and critic John Ruskin also concerned himself with social and economic problems. Matthew Arnold's theories of literature and culture laid the foundations for modern literary criticism, and his poetry is also notable.
The preeminent poet of the Victorian age was Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Although romantic in subject matter, his poetry was tempered by personal melancholy; in its mixture of social certitude and religious doubt it reflected the age. The poetry of Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was immensely popular, though Elizabeth's was more venerated during their lifetimes. Browning is best remembered for his superb dramatic monologues. Rudyard Kipling, the poet of the empire triumphant, captured the quality of the life of the soldiers of British expansion. Some fine religious poetry was produced by Francis Thompson, Alice Meynell, Christina Rossetti, and Lionel Johnson.
In the middle of the 19th cent. the so-called Pre-Raphaelites, led by the painter-poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, sought to revive what they judged to be the simple, natural values and techniques of medieval life and art. Their quest for a rich symbolic art led them away, however, from the mainstream. William Morris—designer, inventor, printer, poet, and social philosopher—was the most versatile of the group, which included the poets Christina Rossetti and Coventry Patmore.
Algernon Charles Swinburne began as a Pre-Raphaelite but soon developed his own classically influenced, sometimes florid style. A. E. Housman and Thomas Hardy, Victorian figures who lived on into the 20th cent., share a pessimistic view in their poetry, but Housman's well-constructed verse is rather more superficial. The great innovator among the late Victorian poets was the Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins. The concentration and originality of his imagery, as well as his jolting meter (“sprung rhythm”), had a profound effect on 20th-century poetry.
During the 1890s the most conspicuous figures on the English literary scene were the decadents. The principal figures in the group were Arthur Symons, Ernest Dowson, and, first among them in both notoriety and talent, Oscar Wilde. The Decadents' disgust with bourgeois complacency led them to extremes of behavior and expression. However limited their accomplishments, they pointed out the hypocrisies in Victorian values and institutions. The sparkling, witty comedies of Oscar Wilde and the comic operettas of W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan were perhaps the brightest achievements of 19th-century British drama.
The Early Twentieth Century
Irish drama flowered in the early 20th cent., largely under the aegis of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. John Millington Synge, William Butler Yeats, and Sean O'Casey all wrote on Irish themes—mythical in Yeats's poetic drama, political in O'Casey's realistic plays. Also Irish, George Bernard Shaw wrote biting dramas that reflect all aspects of British society. In fact, many of the towering figures of 20th-century English literature were not English; Shaw, Yeats, Joyce, O'Casey, and Beckett were Irish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, T. S. Eliot was born an American, and Conrad was Polish.
Poetry in the early 20th cent. was typified by the conventional romanticism of such poets as John Masefield, Alfred Noyes, and Walter de la Mare and by the experiments of the imagists, notably Hilda Doolittle (H. D.), Richard Aldington, Herbert Read, and D. H. Lawrence. The finest poet of the period was Yeats, whose poetry fused romantic vision with contemporary political and aesthetic concerns. Though the 19th-century tradition of the novel lived on in the work of Arnold Bennett, William Henry Hudson, and John Galsworthy, new writers like Henry James, H. G. Wells, and Joseph Conrad expressed the skepticism and alienation that were to become features of post-Victorian sensibility.
World War I shook England to the core. As social mores were shaken, so too were artistic conventions. The work of war poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the latter killed in the war (as were Rupert Brooke and Isaac Rosenberg), was particularly influential. Ford Madox Ford's landmark tetralogy, Parade's End, is perhaps the finest depiction of the war and its effects. The new era called for new forms, typified by the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, first published in 1918, and of T. S. Eliot, whose long poem The Waste Land (1922) was a watershed in both American and English literary history. Its difficulty, formal invention, and bleak antiromanticism were to influence poets for decades.
Equally important was the novel Ulysses, also published in 1922, by the expatriate Irishman James Joyce. Although his books were controversial because of their freedom of language and content, Joyce's revolutions in narrative form, the treatment of time, and nearly all other techniques of the novel made him a master to be studied, but only intermittently copied. Though more conventional in form, the novels of D. H. Lawrence were equally challenging to convention; he was the first to champion both the primitive and the supercivilized urges of men and women.
Sensitivity and psychological subtlety mark the superb novels of Virginia Woolf, who, like Dorothy Richardson, experimented with the interior forms of narration. Woolf was the center of the brilliant Bloomsbury group, which included the novelist E. M. Forster, the biographer Lytton Strachey, and many important English intellectuals of the early 20th cent. Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh satirized the group and the period, while Katharine Mansfield and Elizabeth Bowen captured their flavor in fiction.
Moved by the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, and English policies of appeasement, many writers and intellectuals sought solutions in the politics of the left—or the right. Wyndham Lewis satirized what he thought was the total dissolution of culture in Apes of Gods (1930). George Orwell fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. The experience left him profoundly disillusioned with Communism, a feeling he eloquently expressed in such works as Animal Farm (1946) and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949). The poets W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender, and C. Day Lewis all proclaimed their leftist respective political commitments, but the pressing demands of World War II superseded these long-term ideals.
Irish literary renaissance
Irish literary renaissance, late 19th- and early 20th-century movement that aimed at reviving ancient Irish folklore, legends, and traditions in new literary works. The movement, also called the Celtic renaissance, was in part the cultural aspect of a political movement that was concerned with self-government for Ireland and discovering a literary past that would be relevant to the struggle for independence. The revival produced some of the best plays of the 20th cent. in the dramas of J. M. Synge and Sean O'Casey and some of the greatest poetry in the works of W. B. Yeats. One of the movement's most impressive achievements was the establishment of the Abbey Theatre. Other important writers of the revival were Lady Gregory, G. W. Russell (pseud. A. E.), and James Stephens. James Joyce was a caustic sometime participant in the movement.
The Postwar Era to the Present
After the war most English writers chose to focus on aesthetic or social rather than political problems; C. P. Snow was perhaps the notable exception. The novelists Henry Green, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Joyce Cary, and Lawrence Durrell, and the poets Robert Graves, Edwin Muir, Louis MacNeice, and Edith Sitwell tended to cultivate their own distinctive voices. Other novelists and playwrights of the 1950s, often called the angry young men, expressed a deep dissatisfaction with British society, combined with despair that anything could be done about it.
While the postwar era was not a great period of English literature, it produced a variety of excellent critics, including William Empson, Frank Kermode, and F. R. Leavis. The period was also marked by a number of highly individual novelists, including Kingsley Amis, Anthony Burgess, William Golding, Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch, and Muriel Spark. Anthony Powell and Richard Hughes continued to work in the expansive 19th-century tradition, producing a series of realistic novels chronicling life in England during the 20th cent.
Some of the most exciting work of the period came in the theater, notably the plays of John Osborne, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, David Storey, and Arnold Wesker. Among the best postwar British authors were the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and the Irish expatriate novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett. Thomas's lyricism and rich imagery reaffirmed the romantic spirit, and he was eventually appreciated for his technical mastery as well. Beckett, who wrote many of his works in French and translated them into English, is considered the greatest exponent of the theater of the absurd. His uncompromisingly bleak, difficult plays (and novels) depict the lonely, alienated human condition with compassion and humor.
Other outstanding contemporary poets include Hugh MacDiarmid, the leading figure of the Scottish literary renaissance; Ted Hughes, whose harsh, postapocalyptic poetry celebrates simple survival, and Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet who is hailed for his exquisite style. Novelists generally have found as little in the Thatcher and Major eras as in the previous period to inspire them, but the work of Margaret Drabble, John Fowles, David Lodge stands out, and the Scottish writer James Kelman stands out.
Ref : The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2007, Columbia University Press.
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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.
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.
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).
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, 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.”
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, 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.
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).
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, 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.
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.
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, 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.
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, 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.
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, 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.
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 , 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.
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, 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.
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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