English Literature in the Second Half of the 18th Century

English Literature in the Second Half of the 18th Century


Another trend in the English literature of the second half of the 18th century was the so-called pre-romanticism. It originated among the conservative groups of men of letters' as a reaction against Enlightenment.

The mysterious element plays a great role in the works of pre-romanticists. One of pre-romanticists was William Blake (1757 —1827), who in spite of his mysticism, wrote poems full of human feelings and sympathy for the oppressed people. Blake's effectiveness comes from the poetic "contrasts" and simple rhythms.

William Blake (1757-1827)

William Blake was born in London into the family of trades people. The family was neither rich nor poor. Blake did not receive any formal education but he demonstrated good knowledge of English literature, particularly Milton. At the age of 14 he became an apprentice engraver, and is as well known for his engravings as for his poetry.

Blake has always been seen as a strange character, largely because of his childhood experience of seeing visions. He was a very religious man, but he rejected the established church, declaring that personal experience, the inner-light, should direct and guide man.

William Blake had a very individual view of the world. His religious philosophy is seen through his works Songs of Innocence (1789), The Marriage of Heaven and Hell ( 1790) and Songs of Experience (1794). His poems are simple but symbolic. For example, in his poems The Tiger and The Lamb, the tiger is the symbol of mystery, the lamb — the symbol of innocence.

The Tyger is a mystical poem that, rather than describes a tiger, an animal that Blake had never seen, is a perception of the Universal Energy, a power beyond good and evil. In the poem the nature of universal energy becomes clear through a series of questions, which the reader is forced to answer. This makes the reader enter into the poem, becoming part of the poetic experience. During the poem, the reader passes from a state of ignorance to a state of understanding. In this way the poem becomes an "experience" for the reader as well as a picture of an experience felt by the poet.

From Songs of Experience The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art,

Could twist the sinews of the heart?

And when the heart began to beat,

What dread hand ? And what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?

In what furnace was they brain?

What the anvil? What dread grasp

Dave its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,

And water' d heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

From Songs of Experience


I wander thro' each charter'd street.

Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,

In every Infant's cry of fear,

In every voice, every ban

The mind forg'd manaclesI hear.

English Literature in the Beginning of the 19th Century


The period of Romanticism covers approximately 30 years, beginning from the last decade of the 18th century and continuing up to the 1830s. Romanticism as a literary current can be regarded as a result of two 'great historical events: 1) the Industrial Revolution in England and 2) the French Bourgeois Revolution of 1789. The Industrial Revolution began with the invention of a weavring-machine which could do the work of 17 people. The weavers that were left without work thought that the machines were to blame for their misery. They began to destroy these machines, or frames as they were called. The frame-breaking movement was called the Luddite movement, because the name of the first man to break a frame was Ned Ludd.

The reactionary ruling class of England was against any progressive thought influenced by the French Revolution. The last decade of the 18th century became known as the "white terror". Progressive-minded people were persecuted and forced into exile.

The Industrial Revolution in England, as well as the French Bourgeois Revolution, had a great influence on the cultural life of the country. Romanticists were dissatisfied with the present state of things in their country. Some of the writers were revolutionary: they denied the existing order, called upon the people to struggle,for a better future, shared the people's desire for liberty andobjected to colonial oppression. They supported the national liberation wars on the continent against feudal reaction. Suchwriters were George Gordon Byron andPercy Bysshe Shelley [‘pə:si ‘bi∫ ‘∫eli]. Others, though they had welcomed the French Revolution and the slogan of liberty, fraternity and equality, later abandoned revolutionary ideas. They turned their attention to nature and to the simple problems of life. They turned to the ideas of the feudal past by way of protest of capitalist reality. Among these writers were the poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, who formed the "Lake School", called so because they all lived for a time in the beautiful Lake District in the north-west of England. They dedicated much what they wrote to Nature. Legends, tales, songs and ballads became part of the creative method of the romanticists. The romanticists were talented poets and their contribution to English literature was very important.

1. When did romanticism come into being? What historical events did this new literary current coincide with? 2. Why did romanticism come into being?

4. What are the representatives of revolutionary romanticism?

5. What writers belonged to the "Lake School"? What themes did they choose for their verses?

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

William Wordsworth was the greatest representative of the Lake School Poets. He was born in a lawyer's family and grew up in the Lake District, a place of mountains and lakes. Soon after mother's death in 1788 he was sent to Hawkshead ['ho:k∫əd] Grammar School, situated in a lovely village near Lake Windermere ['windəmiə]. The boy was allowed plenty of leisure: to go boating and fishing on the lake and studying wild life in the woods. There William came to know and love the world of nature. His father died leaving him an orphan at the age of thirteen. His two uncles sent him to Cambridge University. During his college days William took a walking tour in France, Switzerland and Italy. After graduating he toured Wales and France and became deeply involved in the cause of the French Revolution in which he saw a great movement for human freedom. Later he was greatly disappointed at the outcome of the Revolution. He thought that it had brought only cruelty and bloodshed. William withdrew into the quiet of the country.

In about 1795 William Wordsworth met the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who became one of his closest friends. In 1797 the two poets published their best work Lyrical Ballads .

William Wordsworth wrote sonnets and ballads. The most characteristic themes of Wordsworth's poetry were the defense of the common country people, their feelings and beliefs, the beauty of nature. Every object in nature was in his eyes a source of poetry. His fame grew worldwide. When he died he was buried in the little church at Grasmere in the Lake District.

1. Give a brief account of Wordsworth's life. 2. Name his first notable work.

3. What were the most characteristic themes of Wordsworth's poetry?

George Byron (1788-1824)

George Gordon Byron, the great romantic poet, has often been called a poet of "world sorrow". In almost all his poetry there is a current of gloom and pessimism. The reason for this gloom and sorrow may be found in the social and political events of his day which influenced him so deeply.

At the same time the Industrial Revolution developed in England and the invention of new machines, which supplanted workers, brought misery to thousands of labourers. Wars, political oppression of the masses, all these facts observed by the poet, gave rise to his discontent with the social and political life of his time and that's why his poetry was full of gloom and sorrow. But Byron was not inclined to accept the then existing conditions passively. He raised his voice to condemn them, and to call men to active struggle against the social evils of his time. That's why he may be rightly called a revolutionary romanticist. Byron's heroes, like the poet himself, are strong individuals who are disillusioned in life and fight single-handed against the injustice and cruelty of society.

The poet was born on January 22, 1788 in an ancient aristocratic family in London. His father, an army captain, died when the boy was three years old. The boy spent his childhood in Aberdeen, Scotland, together with his mother. His mother, Catherine Gordon, was a Scottish lady of honourable birth and respectable fortune. Byron was lame and felt distressed about it all his life, yet, thanks to his strong will and regular training, he became an excellent rider, a champion swimmer and a boxer and took part in athletic activities.

When George lived in Aberdeen he attended grammar school. In 1798 George's granduncle died and the boy inherited the title of lord and the Byron's family estate, Newstead Abbey. It was situated near Nottingham, close to the famous Sherwood Forest. Together with his mother the boy moved to Newstead Abbey from where he was sent to Harrow School. At the seventeen he entered Cambridge University. He was very handsome. He had a beautiful manly profile. His contemporary young men tried to imitate his clothes, his manners and even his limping gait. He seemed proud, tragic and melancholic. But he could also be very cheerful and witty.

Byron's literary career began while he was at Cambridge. His first volume of verse entitled Hours of Idleness (1807) contained a number of lyrics dealing with love, regret and parting. There were also some fragments of translation from Latin and Greek poetry.

His poems were severely criticized by the Edinburgh Review, the leading literary magazine of that time. The poet answered with a biting satire in verse, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), in which he attacked the reactionary critics and the three Lake School Poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey.

After graduating from Cambridge University in 1809 Byron started on a tour through Portugal, Spain, Greece, Turkey and Albania. He returned home in 1811. By right of birth he was a member of the House of Lords. On February 27, 1812 Byron made his first speech in the House of Lords. He spoke passionately in defense of the Luddites. He blamed the government for the unbearable conditions of workers' life. In his parliament speech Byron showed himself a staunch champion of the people's cause, and that made the reactionary circles hate him.

In 1812 the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage were published. They were received by his contemporaries with a burst of enthusiasm. He became one of the most popular men in London. He himself remarked, "I awoke one morning and found myself famous".

Between 1813 and 1816 Byron composed his Oriental Tales . The most famous of tales are The Giaour ['dgauə], The Corsair [‘ko:seə] and Lara , all of which embody the poet's romantic individualism. The hero is a rebel against society, a man of strong will and passion. Proud and independent, he rises against tyranny and injustice to gain his personal freedom and happiness. His revolt, however, is too individualistic, and therefore it is doomed to failure. In this period Byron began to write his political satires, the most outstanding of which is the Ode to Framers of the Frame Bill.

In 1815 Byron married Miss Isabella Milbanke, a religious woman, cold and pedantic. It was an unhappy match for the poet. Though Byron was fond of their only child Augusta Ada, he and his wife parted. The scandal surrounding the diverse was great. Byron's enemies found their opportunity and used it against him. They began to persecute him. The great poet was accused of immorality and had to leave his native country. In May 1816 Byron went to Switzerland where he made the acquaintance of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the two poets became close friends. While in Switzerland Byron wrote Canto the Third of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1816), The Prisoner of Chillon [∫ilən] (1816), a lyrical drama Manfred (1817) and a number of lyrical poems.

In 1817 Byron went to Italy, where he lived till 1823. At this time political conditions in Italy were such as to rouse his indignation. He wished to see the country one and undivided. Acting on this idea, the poet joined the secret organization of the Corbanari which was engaged in the struggle against the Austrian oppressors.

The Italian period (1817— 1823), influenced by revolutionary ideas, is considered the summit of Byron's poetical career. Such works as Beppo (1818), and his greatest work Don Juan (1819—1824) are the most realistic works written by the poet. It is a novel inverse, that was to contain 24 cantos, but death stopped his work and only 16 and a half cantos were written. Though the action in takes place at the close of the 18th century, it is easy enough to understand that the author depicts the 19th century Europe and gives a broad panorama of contemporary life. Other works of this period are: Canto the Fourth of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1817), The Prophecy of Dante (1821), where speaking in the person of the great Italian poet Dante, Byron calls upon Italians to fight for their independence. The poet's heart was buried in Greece, his body was taken to England and buried near Newstead. The government did not allow him to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

Only in 1969 the authorities finally allowed his remains to be buried in the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. His death was mourned by the progressive people throughout Europe. Pushkin called Byron a poet of freedom. Goethe spoke of him in his Faust, Belinsky called him "a giant of poetry".

1.Why has Byron often been called a poet of "world sorrow'? 2. Why may he rightly be called a revolutionary romanticist? 3. What are the characteristic features of Byron's heroes?

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Percy Bysshe Shelley was the most progressive revolutionary romanticist in English literature. Like Byron, he came of an aristocratic family and like Byron he broke with his class at an early age.

He was born at Field Place, Sussex. His father was a baronet. Shelley was educated at Eton public school and Oxford University. There he wrote a pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism for which he was expelled from the University. His father forbade him to come home. Shelley had an independent spirit, and he broke with his family and his class for ever. He travelled from one town to another, took an active part in the Irish liberation movement and at last left England for Italy in 1818. There he wrote his best poetry. Shelley's life was mainly spent in Italy and Switzerland, but he kept ties with England.

In 1822 the poet was drowned. When his body was washed ashore he was cremated by Byron and his other friends. His remains were buried in Rome. The inscription on his tomb reads: Percy Bysshe Shelley - Cor Cordium (the heart of hearts).

Like Byron, Shelley was devoted to the revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. He believed in the future of mankind. He never lost faith in the power of love and good will. He thought that if men were granted freedom and learned to love one another they could live together peacefully. This hope fills his first poems Queen Mab (1813), The Revolt of Islam (1818) and his later poetic drama Prometheus Unbound [prə’mi:θjəs].

The plot of the poem Queen Mab is symbolic. Queen Mab, a fairy, shows the past, present and future of mankind to a beautiful girl. Queen Mab shows the ideal society of the future where men are equal, free and wise.

The Revolt of Islam is a romantic and abstract poem, but it is a revolutionary one. Shelley protested against the tyranny of religion and of the government, gave pictures of the revolutionary movement for freedom and foretold a happier future for the whole of mankind.

In Prometheus Unbound Shelley gives the Greek myth his own interpretation. He sings of the struggle against tyranny. The sharp conflict between Prometheus and Jupiter (the chief of the Roman gods) is in the centre of the drama. Prometheus is bound to a rock by Jupiter for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to mankind. The huge spirit Demogorgon [‘diməu’go:gən], representing the Creative Power, defeats Jupiter and casts him down. Prometheus is set free and reunited with his wife Asia (Nature). The fact that Jupiter is dethroned symbolizes change and revolution. Now the mind of man can look forward to a future which is "good, joyous, beautiful and free".

1. What family did Shelley come from? Where was he educated? 2. Why can we call Shelley the most progressive revolutionary romanticist? 3. Name his first notable works.

Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Walter Scott ['wo:ltə 'skot], the father of the English historical novel, was born in the family of a lawyer. His mother was the daughter of a famous Edinburgh physician and professor. She was a woman of education and stirred her son's imagination by her stories of the past as a world of living heroes.

As Walter was lame and a sickly child he spent much of his boyhood on his grandfather's farm near the beautiful river Tweed. He entered into friendly relations with plain people and gained first-hand knowledge of the old Scottish traditions, legends and folk ballads.

At the age of eight Walter entered the Edinburgh High School. Later Walter Scott studied law at the University. Though he was employed in his father's profession he was more interested in literature than in law.

Walter Scott's literary career began in 1796 when he published translations of German ballads. In 1802 he prepared a collection of ballads under the title of The Minstrelsy' of the Scottish Border . In 1804 Walter Scott gave up the law entirely for literature. His literary work began with the publication of The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), a poem which made him the most popular poet of the day. A series of poems followed which included Marmion [‘ma:mjən] (1808) and The Lady of the Lake (1810). These poems brought fame to the author. They tell us about the brave Scottish people, their past and the beauty of their homeland.

Soon, however, Scott realized that he was not a poetic genius, and he turned to writing in prose.

Scott's first historical novel Waverley ['weivəli] published in 1814 was a great success and he continued his work in this new field. From 1814 to 1830 he wrote 29 novels, many of which are about Scotland and the struggle of this country for independence. Such novels as Waverley , Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquary (1816), The Black Dwarf (1816), Old Mortality (1816), Rob Roy (1818), The Heart of Midlothian [mid 'ləuθjən] (1818) describe Scotland in the 18th century.

The Bride of Lammermoor ['læməmuə] (1819) and The Legend of Montrose (1819) have the 17th century background. Ivanhoe ['aivənhəu] (1820) deals with the English history of the 12th century. The Monastery (1820), The Abbot and Kenilworth ['kenilwe:θ] (1821) describe the times of Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth. Quentin Durward (1823) refers to the reign of Louis [lui] XI in France.

Misfortune struck the great novelist in 1825—1826: the publishing firm, where he had been partner went bankrupt. Walter Scott had to pay a large sum of money. This affected his health and he died on September 21, 1832 at his estate in Abbotsford. Walter Scott was buried at Dryburgh Abbey.

Walter Scott was the creator of the historical novel in English literature. He realized that it was the ordinary people who were the makers of history and the past was not cut off from the present but influenced it. This romantic love of the past made him create rich historical canvases with landscape and nature descriptions, as well as picturesque details of past ages. His descriptions of the life, customs and habits of the people are realistic. We can agree with Belinsky that the reader of Scott's novels becomes, in a way, a contemporary of the epoch and a citizen of the country in which the events of the novel take place.

1. Give a brief account of Walter Scott's life.

2. What were the main historical themes he wrote about in his novels?

3. What is the contribution of Walter Scott to the development of the historical novel in English literature?

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, in the Hampshire village of Steventon, where her father, the Rev.(reverend) George Austen, was rector. She was the second daughter and seventh child in the family of eight: six boys and two girls. Her closest companion was her elder sister.

Austen's earliest known writings date from 1787, and between then and 1795 she wrote a large body of material that was collected in three manuscript notebooks: Volume the First, Volume the Second, and Volume the Third. In all, these contain 21 items: plays, verses, short novels, and other prose.

In 1793 — 1794 Jane Austen wrote a short novel-in-letters Lady Susan. Jane was a girl of seventeen. Some of the letters tell of herenjoyment of local parties and dances in Hampshire, of visits toLondon, Bath, Southampton, Kent and to seasideresorts in Devon and Dorset.

Sense and Sensibility was begun about 1795 as a novel-in-letters called Elinor and Marianne after its heroines. She contrasted two sisters: Elinor who is rational and self-controlled, and Marianne who is more emotional. Between October 1796 and August 1797 she completed the first version of Pride and Prejudice. Northanger Abbey was written in about 1798— 1799. In 1811 she began her novel Mansfield Park . Between January 1814 and March 1815 she wrote Emma.

Jane Austen's novels are deeply concerned with love and marriage. The novels provide indisputable evidence that the author understood the experience of love and of love disappointed. This observation relates most obviously to her last novel Persuasion (1815—1816). The years after 1811 seem to have been the most rewarding of her life. She had the satisfaction of seeing her work in print and well reviewed and of knowing that the novels were widely read. The reviewers praised the novels for their moral entertainment, admired the character drawing, and welcomed the homely realism. Although Jane Austen preserved her anonymity and avoided literary circles, she knew about the reception of her novels.

Jane Austin is different from other writers of her time, because her main interest is in the moral, social and psychological behaviour of her characters. She writes mainly about young heroines as they grow up and search for personal happiness. She does not write about the social and political issues, but her observations of people apply to human nature in general.

Modern critics are fascinated by the structure and organization of the novels, by the realistic description of unremarkable people in the unremarkable situations of everyday life.

Question: 1) What family did Jane Austen come from? 2) Name Jane Austen’s notable novels.


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