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18th Century Literature Essay, Research Paper

18th Century Literature

The 18th century is a period of great literary works. The styles are

different throughout the period, but the unity of the work is still present.

Much of this period focused on public and general themes, until the Pre-

Romantic era when literary works began to focus upon personal expression. 18th

century literature can be broken down into three main parts: the Restoration,

the Age of Pope, and Pre-Romantics.

The literature of the Restoration period covers a time span from

Charles’s recovery of the throne to the years until the expulsion of James II

in 1688 or until the death of John Dryden in 1700. The literature of the

Restoration was characterized by wit and elegance influenced by French

classical taste. This period pertained to traditional values and “wit”. The

Diary of Samuel Pepys written by Samuel Pepys and A Journel of the Plague Years

by Daniel Defoe are just a few examples of literary works from the Restoration

Period. The Diary of Samuel Pepys is also an example of journalistic fiction.

In the excerpts from Pepys’ diary, he shows the historical background and

culture of the 18th century. The reader is able to understand the values and

ethics of the time through the description detailed by Samuel Pepys and the

reader is also exposed to the life a man in the 1660’s. A Journal of the

Plague Year is an example of historical fiction. Defoe uses wide ranges of

vivid descriptions including verisimilitudes and imagery, to give the reader a

realistic feel of what took place through the eyes of a witness. This literary

time period also included works from John Dryden, who used elegance and

cleverness in his writings. This period ended about 1700, and enabled a new

age of literature.

In literary history, the first half of the 18th century is known as the

Age of the Pope. In this age, the writers expressed views of the public and

restrained from writing personal topics or expressions. In the Age of the Pope

or the Neoclassical Age, most of the literary themes were of social, political,

and moral life. The Rape of the Lock and Epigrams by Alexander Pope, and “A

Modest Proposal” and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift are some examples from

the Age of Pope or the Neoclassical age. Most of the literary works in this

period used satirical styles to express a concern in society. “Puffs, powders,

patches, Bibles, billet-doux”, from The Rape of the Lock shows an example of

pathos a satirical device used in this age of literature. Jonathan Swift also

uses satire in Gulliver’s Travels to mock the Parliament, and in “Modest

Proposal” he writes about eating children as a solution to a socioeconomic

problem. After the writings, literature began to focus on private expressions

rather than public thoughts and emotions.

The Age of Johnson or the Pre-romantic era was shown in various ways.

Characteristics of the age included ballads, a new taste for ruins, Gothic

castles and tales of mystery, and secret societies interested in magic. Pre

Romantics wrote about a mood in which the inner world of wonder and strange

feelings that led to private thoughts and emotions. Selecte Poems by William

Blake and the “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray are some

examples of Pre Romantic literature. Both of this literary works focused on the

self, rather than on the society or public, which was the beginning of the

Romantic Period.

The 18th century was known as the Restoration Period. The people of

this period sought unity and stability in everything. The people wanted to

unify and stablize life, government, and even maybe their literature. 18th

century was filled with many different types of devices and styles of

literature. The three major literary periods of this era were the Restoration,

the Age of the Pope, and the Pre Romanitics.

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