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Old Sunday, May 23, 2010
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serene syeda! is on a distinguished road
Default importance of histrory of english literature!


"Do not applaud me. It is not I who speaks to you, but history which speaks through my mouth" (Fustel de Coulanges)

History is a major part of everyday life. Everyone has a history, a past. It's the same way with English. It's not enough just to understand the stories and the author's purpose for writing them. Understanding where it came from is very important to making sense of the whole subject. It's like last names. Many people got their last names from the type of work they did, so passed it on to their children, to be able to distinguish themselves from all the other people in their town. So a blacksmith would have the last name of Smith, Smyth, or Smythe, depending on the village. History can teach you something about what was happening at the time that a certain book was written, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin or The Grapes of Wrath. I find history very fascinating, and can't imagine any school not including it in their curriculum.Here's another day, your child might ask you something about history. Think of the hero you would be in his/her eyes if you actually knew the answer because of what you studied?
contextual awareness.
while many human eperiences remain the same whatever the era, other experiences are affected by the differences: socially (look at attitudes to women, marriage and class in austen, or the poverty in dickens) and politically (ww1 poetry is an obvious example of needing to understand a political climate)
also to compare and contrast, the literature's development needs to be studied. influences on the authors/poets are important and seeing what made someone's writing stand out and last.
Any art, literature included, grows out of it's history. When you read Kurt Vonnegut Jr, you can see how it grew out of Mark Twain's writing, and built upon it. If you understand Twain, you can better understand Vonnegut. Additionally, the life of the author, their experiences in history can greatly effect their writing. To keep on Vonnegut, to know his experience in WWII is to better understand Slaughterhouse V.
Today's literature did not arrive without a history. Every author consciously or unconsciously is drawing on hundreds of years of tradition. In order to fully appreciate what you are reading you need to have some knowledge of that back story.
Detective stories go back at least to Henry Fielding in the 18th Century. The first journey to the moon was written in ancient Roman times.
It is the same with any field of study. You should know a little of how we got to where we are, and I hope you also study some of the History of Art and the History of Science
If you can read it, you can understand it, and even appreciate it, but your reaction will be bedevilled by all the assumptions, prejudices and other limitations of your own times and your social and cultural environment. But the more you know about the time and other attendant circumstances of its original composition and publication, the more you will be able to make allowances for your own prejudices and enhance your understanding. Whether this is worth the effort will depend on the quality and reputation of the original work! I am reminded of a discussion when I was an undergraduate about the "wife murder" plays of the 17th century Spanish playwright Calderon. There is clear evidence that he wrote these to shame Spaniards into rejecting the assumption that a man's honour required him to kill a wife who committed adultery or even acquired a possibly false public reputation of having done so. We also have clear evidence that almost all theatre-goers of his time misunderstood him totally, thinking he was approving this horrible tradition. Should we therefore judge the plays by the author's intention or by the effect on his intended (contemporary) audience?
Or should we judge them by how they strike us and ignore the plays' "failure" when they were first staged? Should we judge Virgil's paeon of praise of Roman world conquest that is the "Aeneid" by its purpose (and whether we approve of that purpose!) or judge it by the quality of its poetry, descriptive power, wonderful use of the Latin language, and word power? Macbeth is an attack on males showing weakness: King Duncan who cannot control his kingdom and Macbeth who is similarly inept in controlling his spouse. If we believe in neither autocracy nor subservience in wives, and have no interest in flattery of the Stuart dynasty, can we fully appreciate Shakespeare's play? believe in order to understand the present and the future we must understand are past. just like when you begin dating a person in order to understand why the person is the way they are you have find out about there past and what led them to be the person they are now.
If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development....(Aristotle)
Literature Is The Record Of An Understanding As use of language is the exercise of understanding, the literature of a community is the record of the nature of that community's understanding at the time. So the rise then decline of the English speaking public's understanding, which is the rise then decline of English speaking civilization, is reflected by he history of English literature.Literature Reveals The Start Of A Civilization Chaucer is recognised as the father of the English language, which became a national tongue in the latter part of the 14th century, marking the beginning of English civilization. The gradual rise of the community's ability to think clearly is demonstrated by the improvement from the awkward verse of Chaucer, to the brilliant prose of such writers as Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, Locke and Hume published in the eighteenth century.So to understand their works we need to study histroy of english literature untill unless we know then histroy than we will be able to understand the great works of great literary writerswe must study histroy because it is interesting and, among other things, gives us an insight to how people in the past lived and thought
Historical context can influence the style and structure of the text (where the author is responding to contemporary fashions or ideas), as well as the themes and settings of the books.
Examples demonstrating this include:
(1) STYLE: the style of literary works often follow the particular style of the times. Different literary styles are typical of different times: sensational styles in novels (such as Wilkie Collins's 'Woman in White') were popular in the 1860s and 1870s. So, this popular way of writing in the particular historical period gave rise to particular literary works.
2) STRUCTURE/FORM: modes of production tied to historical context have also influenced the form which literature takes. In the second half of the 18th century the novel became a popular and accepted literary form. Production such as serial releases of novels supported the rise of this form of literature.
(3) THEMES AND SETTINGS: themes are frequently influenced by the historical context in which the author writes. For example, Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' tell of medieval life, while Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe' tells of travel in its period. This gives the texts a realistic feel. Even works which do not tell of contemporary life are thematically influenced by the context in which their authors write. For example, Jean Rhys sets her 'Wide Sargasso Sea' in the 1830s she wrote it in the 1960s - and the postcolonial and postmodern themes are more evidently a product of Rhys's age than the age she is writing about.

Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be,animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results... (Machiavelli)

Why study history of English literature? The answer is because we virtually must, to gain access to the laboratory of human experience. When we study it reasonably well, and soacquire some usable habits of mind, as well as some basic data about the forces that affect our own lives, we emerge with relevant skills and an enhanced capacity for informed citizenship, critical thinking, and simple awareness. The uses of history are varied. Studying history of english literature can help us develop some literally "salable" skills, but study must not be pinned down to the narrowest utilitarianism. Some history—that confined to personal recollections about changes and continuities in the immediate environment—is essential to function beyond childhood. Some history depends on personal taste, where one finds beauty, the joy of discovery, or intellectual challenge. Between the inescapable minimum and the pleasure of deep commitment comes the history that, through cumulative skill in interpreting the unfolding human record, provides a real grasp of how the world works.

To converse with historians is to keep good company; many of them were excellent men, and those who were not, have taken care to appear such in their writings....(Lord Bolingbroke)

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