4. The Literature of the Revolution and the Restoration Period (1642–88) The social climate of the period and the struggle1 between the king and the Puritans are reflected in the literature of the 17th century. The Puritans had little interest in science and art and Oliver Cromwell banned theatre in 1642.
The king’s supporters’ poetry can be described as metaphysical. It is complicated, the authors wrote about things that cannot be seen or touched – love, religion, God, death, nature. They did not form a group, they were called “metaphysical” later by Samuel Johnson and became popular thanks to Romantic writers.
JOHN DONNE (1572–1631) wrote sonnets (Songs and Sonnets) and religious poetry (Divine Poems, Holy Sonnets), used metaphors, contrasts and ambiguous words. He did not publish his poems, only sermons2. He also coined3 the phrase “to whom the bell tolls4”.
JOHN MILTON (1608–74, not a metaphysical poet) is one of the most important figures of English literary history. He was a pamphleteer and essayist and he stood on the Puritans’ side. After the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, he was imprisoned and after he was released he wrote his best work, Paradise Lost. It is an epic poem about the struggle between God and Satan and about the fall of Man. Milton also wrote a sequel to this work – Paradise Regained about Christ’s victory over Satan.
JOHN BUNYAN (1628–88) was a preacher5 and the king’s critic; when in prison, he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress – a dream vision about Christian, a pilgrim who wanders from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. On his way, he meets a lot of obstacles6 which test his faith7 and strength. The book is an allegory of life of a Christian person.
JOHN DRYDEN (1631–1700) is probably the most important playwright of the period (All for Love). His satirical poetry was also successful (Absolom and Achitophel).
5. Enlightenment8 and Classicism in English Literature (1689–1760) The shape of literature changed dramatically during the period of Enlightenment. It is sometimes called the Age of Reason – during the period, natural sciences strengthened9 their position, capitalism flourished10 and education spread among lower classes. Journalism was also quickly developing and SAMUEL JOHNSON published the first English Dictionary. The art of the Baroque made space11 for Classicism.
Personal lyrical poetry fell out of favour12 and was substituted by rational, ancient style imitating poetry. Many poems were written for satirical and humorous purposes and form was considered superior to content. Heroic couplet was one of the most popular verses.
ALEXANDER POPE (1688–1744) is the author of the satirical poem The Rape of the Lock. It tells a story of Belinda whose lock13 of hair is cut by the Baron. Pope expresses here how a minor incident can cause a storm.
The drama of the period is represented by tragedies, heroic plays and sentimental comedies (cynical comedies about good manners).
By the beginning of the 18th century, the novel had finally developed. DANIEL DEFOE (1660–1731) wrote the notoriously known Robinson Crusoe14 – a popular story of a castaway15 on a deserted island who befriends a savage16 whom he names Friday. Defoe also wrote a sequel, The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.
The poor savage who fled17, but had stopped, though he saw both his enemies fallen and killed, as he thought, yet was frighted with the fire and noise of my piece18, that he stood stock-still, and neither came forward or went backward, though he seemed rather inclined to fly still, than to come on. I halloed again to him, and made signs to come forward, which he easily understood, and came a little way; then stopped again, and then a little further, and stopped again, and I could then perceive that he stood trembling, as if he had been taken prisoner, and had just been to be killed as his two enemies were. I beckoned him again to come to me, and gave him all the signs of encouragement19 that I could think of; and he came nearer and nearer, kneeling down every ten or twelve steps, in token20 of acknowledgement for my saving his life. I smiled at him, and looked pleasantly, and beckoned to him to come still nearer; at length he came close to me, and then he kneeled down again, kissed the ground, and laid his head upon the ground, and taking me by the foot, set my foot upon his head; this, it seems, was in token of swearing to be my slave for ever. I took him up, and made much of him, and encouraged him all I could.
In a little time I began to speak to him, and teach him to speak to me; and, first, I made him know his name should be Friday, which was the day I saved his life: I called him so for the memory of the time.
JONATHAN SWIFT (1667–1745) is famous for writing Gulliver’s Travels – Gulliver undertakes21 four travels to different places – the land of Lilliputians, the giant island of Brobdingnag, the flying island of Laputa and the horse land of Houyhnhnms. The work sharply satirises the English society of the early 18th century. SAMUEL RICHARDSON (1689–1761) wrote Pamela and Clarissa, epistolary novels22, the latter23 being one of the longest novels written in English (over 980,000 words). HENRY FIELDING (1707–1754) is the author of Tom Jones, one of the first books to criticise class differences.
6. The Period of Romanticism (1760–1837) The second half of the 18th century marked the end of traditional society. Industrial revolution started, people began to move to cities and new problems arose24. The period of Romanticism brought radical changes to literature. As a lot of artists were dissatisfied with the sterile nature of life bound25 by Classicist values (e.g. reason), they sought for26 spontaneity elsewhere and they often found it outside the city – in the nature. Sensitive and intimate poetry returned, various forms emerged or returned – ode, song forms, ballads, Spenserian stanza. The writers found inspiration in old myths, legends, old tales and other cultures.
The most important precursors27of Romanticism were WILLIAM BLAKE (1757–1827) and ROBERT BURNS (1759–96). Blake was not very popular in his times, he was too mystical. He also illustrated his poems. He wrote Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. These two collections show two contrary states of human soul describing one particular thing.
Infant Joy (Songs of Innocence)
Infant Sorrow (Songs of Experience)
“I have no name:
My mother groan’d28! My father wept.
I am but two days old.”
Into the dangerous world I leapt29.
What shall I call thee30?
Helpless, naked, piping loud,
“I happy am,
Like a fiend31 hid in a cloud.
Joy is my name.”
Sweet joy befall thee!
Struggling in my father’s hands,
Striving against my swaddling bands32,
Bound and weary, I thought best
Sweet joy but two days old,
To sulk33 upon my mother’s breast.
Sweet joy I call thee:
Thou dost34 smile,
I sing the while,
Sweet joy befall thee!
Robert Burns was a poet of the nature. He lived in Scotland and is one of the most favourite Scottish writers. He wrote the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne”, a song that is usually sung after New Year’s midnight. His poems were published as Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.
Robert Burns: My Heart’s in the Highlands
Robert Burns: A Red, Red Rose
My heart’s in the highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the highlands, my heart is not here,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile!
My heart’s in the highlands, a-chasing the deer,
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe –
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH (1770–1850) and SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (1772–1834) represent high37 Romanticism in English literature and they are also known as the Lakeland Poets. Together they published Lyrical Ballads, in whose preface38 they summed up their poetic programme – they focus on the reader’s aesthetic experience, poetry should be sensitive and written in a language that is comprehensible39 to laymen40. Coleridge wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a ballad-like epic poem about a sailor who shoots an albatross, for which he is punished by imprisonment on the sea. He is also the author of “Kubla Khan” and “Christabel”.
The Shelley Group consisted of late romantic and radical poets. Lord GEORGE GORDON BYRON (1788–1824) wrote “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, a long poem about a man travelling around foreign countries. PERCY BYSHE SHELLEY (1792–1822) is famous for his lyrical verse drama Prometheus Unbound and “The Revolt of Islam”. JOHN KEATS (1795–1821) is another important figure of the generation.
As for prose, JANE AUSTEN’s (1775–1817) novel of manners Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous works written during the Romanticism period. It is about Elizabeth Bennet, who sees her four sisters getting married and is having troubles with her own relationship with Mr Darcy.
Historical novels became popular and Sir WALTER SCOTT (1771–1832) is considered one of the best romantic prose writers. His work comprises41 novels such as Waverley, Rob Roy or Ivanhoe. Gothic novels emerged thanks to the writers’ interest in the mysterious, horror, mythology and depressing environments. Characters are often found being tested by immoral evil. Among the best are The Mysteries of Udolpho by ANNE RADCLIFFE, The Monk by MATTHEW GREGORY LEWIS, Frankenstein42by MARY SHELLEY or Melmoth the Wanderer by CHARLES ROBERT MATURIN.
7. Realism and Victorian Literature
In the Victorian era, the literature became realistic as it dealt with problems of life in modern society. The authors started depicting43 life as it was and often criticised social injustice. The period is the golden age of the English novel and many authors are still widely read. Later, realism culminated in naturalism, which is a movement founded by Émile Zola in France and which described the human nature in accordance with44 biological theories. Such writings are full of crime, prostitution and alcoholism. It is also worth noting that 1859 saw the release of The Origin of Species by CHARLES DARWIN.
From poetry, ALFRED TENNYSON (1809–92) is worth mentioning.
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY (1811–63) is the author of Vanity Fair, The Book of Snobs and The Luck of Barry Lyndon (a novel about an unimportant Irish nobleman getting into high society and causing pain in the world he does not belong to).
CHARLES DICKENS (1812–70) is probably the best-known Victorian author. His novels are praised for realism and social criticism. He wrote about poor people and described problems the society had to deal with (orphanages45, poverty, illiteracy, crime). His most famous works are The Pickwick Papers, The Adventures of Oliver Twist(about an orphan getting into a thieves’ company), A Christmas Carol (a novella about a greedy old man), David Copperfield, Little Dorrit or Great Expectations.
CHARLOTTE (1816–55), EMILY (1818–48) and ANNE (1820–49) BRONTË are well-known female writers of the period. Their most famous writings are Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Anne’s Wuthering Heights, a story of a gypsy orphan called Heathcliff falling in love with his step-sister Catherine. THOMAS HARDY (1840–1928) was another Victorian realist. His important works are Far from the Madding Crowdor Tess of d’Urbervilles. OSCAR WILDE (1854–1900) was an Irish novelist and playwright, most famous for his The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The period also saw the rise of popular genres (adventure and detective stories) and children’s literature. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON (1850–94) is famous for Treasure Island (about pirates led by Long John Silver sailing to a deserted island to find their buried treasure, narrated46 by a teenager called Jim Hawkins) and Jekyll & Hyde about a man having a dual personality, a good and a bad one. Sir ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE (1859–1930) wrote about the character of Sherlock Holmes, a detective famous for his incredible intelligence and ways of solving crimes. Doyle wrote four novels (e.g. The Hound of the Baskervilles) and many short stories about Holmes and his loyal assistant, Dr. Watson, who is usually the narrator. His fans loved the stories so much that Doyle even resurrected the character after killing him. The Lost World is another of Doyle’s well-known works, being about an expedition looking for the dinosaurs in South America. RUDYARD KIPLING (1865–1936) wrote both poetry and prose and is famous for his Jungle Book, a collection of stories partly following a boy called Mowgli raised in the jungle. Kipling was the first British author to win the Nobel Prize for literature.47HERBERT GEORGE WELLS (1866–1946) was a pioneer of the sci-fi genre and his novels The Time Machine and The Invisible Man became bestsellers.
8. Modernism and the 1st Half of the 20th Century In the beginning of the 20th century, writings became more complicated and experimental. The authors expressed their ideas on living in modern world. Some wrote positively, some negatively. Many movements48 arose, e.g. Futurism, Dadaism or Surrealism. Some authors travelled between Europe and the USA.
EZRA POUND (1885–1972) was one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. He was born in the USA but spent a long time in Europe, he also spoke many languages. He is one of the most complex writers in history. He was involved in pioneering new styles and movements – Imagism (words provoke pictures in the reader’s mind) or Vorticism. His most important work is called Cantos. T. S. ELIOT (1888–1965) lived in Britain and wrote “The Waste Land”, a very complicated modernist poem.
Ulysses(1922) by the Irish writer JAMES JOYCE (1882–1941) is probably the most significant and important piece of modernist prose. It is very complicated and difficult to read, as it is written as the so called “stream of consciousness49”, which follows unlimited thoughts and ideas. It describes one day in the life of Leopold Bloom, a character compared to the Greek hero Odysseus. Dubliners is a collection of short stories concerning the people of Dublin shortly before their fight for independence.
Controversy is typical for the writings of the period. One of the best-known examples is Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. LAWRENCE (1885–1930). It is a book describing the intimate relationship between Lady Constance Chatterley and her lower-class lover. The novel was censored and criticised for its description of sexual intercourse50 and the use of language.
The best representative of drama is the Irish playwright GEORGE BERNARD SHAW (1856–1950). He is famous for Pygmalion, a play about Professor Henry Higgins teaching Eliza Doolittle good manners so that she could enter the high society. The name refers to the mythical sculptor Pygmalion, whose sculptures came to life. The play was made into the musical called My Fair Lady. SAMUEL BECKETT (1906–89) is one of the founders of the Theatre of the Absurd.
9. Beyond Modernism and Contemporary English Literature In the second half of the 20th century, popular genres flourish. Ethnic writers (Jews, Indians, Africans) become more involved as the British society becomes more and more culturally diverse.
J. R. R. TOLKIEN (1892–73) was a linguist and writer, nowadays most famous for his fantasy novels The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings(1954). Both take place in the fictional world of Middle-Earth, inhabited by elves, men, dwarves, orks and hobbits, and describe the fight between the forces of good and evil. The former is a story for children following a young hobbit Bilbo Baggins and a company of thirteen dwarves on their quest to reclaim the dwarvish kingdom of the Lonely Mountain. The latter is a much more elaborated51 story of Frodo Baggins carrying the Ring of Power to the dark land of Mordor to destroy it. Silmarillion is a collection of stories set before The Hobbit and describing the creation of Tolkien’s fantasy universe. Tolkien’s works show him not only as the master of the fantasy genre, but also as a linguist and philosopher. C. S. LEWIS (1898–1963), Tolkien’s friend, is known especially among children for the series of books about Narnia, a fictional world ruled by the mighty lion Aslan. The seven books (The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Horse and His Boy, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair and The Last Battle) incorporate a lot of Christian themes.
As for sci-fi, ANTHONY BURGESS (1917–93), ARTHUR C. CLARKE (1917–2008) and BRIAN ALDISS (1925) are worth mentioning. Burgess is the author of the cult novel A Clockwork Orange, which tells the story of a young hooligan Alex, who finds pleasure in violence and assaulting52 people. Clarke was a writer, inventor and TV host. He wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey and many short stories. Aldiss wrote Non-stop, a novel about a multigenerational space flight.
AGATHA CHRISTIE (1890–1976) created two detectives in her successful crime novels – Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. She is the author of Murder on the Orient Express, Death in the Clouds, Dumb Witness, Death on the Nile or Ten Little Niggers. IAN FLEMING (1908–64) is the author of the James Bond novels (Casino Royale, Dr. No, Goldfinger and many others).
GEORGE ORWELL (1903–1950) was a left-wing53 writer. Two of his books are widely read nowadays thanks to their brilliant allegory and criticism of power misuse54. Animal Farm is an allegory of the Soviet version of Communism. After driving out their cruel master, Mr. Jones, the animals of the Manor Farm start their own society based on equality and solidarity. However, the clan of the pigs gradually usurps power and rules as tyrants. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel about a society where everything is controlled by the Party and Big Brother, its leader, and everything the people do is recorded by cameras. The issues of being watched and controlled are widely debated nowadays and many people fear the installation of CCTV cameras, quoting Nineteen Eighty-Four.
„Jak uplatní člověk svou moc nad druhým, Winstone?“
Winston přemýšlel. „Tím, že ho přinutí trpět,“ odpověděl.
„Přesně. Tím, že ho přinutím trpět. Poslušnost nestačí. Pokud netrpí, jak si můžeš být jistý, že podléhá tvé vůli a ne své vlastní? Moc spočívá v tom, že člověk způsobí druhému bolest a ponížení. Moc spočívá v tom, že se lidské vědomí roztrhá na kusy a zase složí do nových tvarů, podle toho, jak si usmyslíme. Začínáš chápat, jaký svět vytváříme? Přesný opak hloupých hedonistických Utopií, o kterých snili staří reformátoři. Svět strachu, zrady a útrap, svět, v němž týrá jeden druhého, svět, který, až se zlepší, nebude méně nemilosrdný, ale ještě nemilosrdnější. Pokrok v našem světě bude pokrok směrem k větší bolesti. Staré civilizace tvrdily, že jsou založeny na nenávisti. V našem světě nebudou žádné city kromě strachu, zloby, radosti z vítězství a sebepokoření. Všechno ostatní zničíme – všechno. Už teď potíráme návyky, myšlení, které přežívají z doby před Revolucí. Přeťali jsme spojení mezi dítětem a rodiči, mezi člověkem a člověkem, mezi mužem a ženou. Už dnes se nikdo neodváží důvěřovat manželce, dítěti anebo příteli. V budoucnosti nebudou však ani manželky ani přátelé. Děti budou matkám odebírány při narození, jako se odebírají vajíčka slepicím. Pohlavní pud bude vykořeněn. Plození bude každoroční formalita jako obnovení přídělových poukázek. Zrušíme orgasmus. Naši neurologové už na tom pracují. Nebude věrnost kromě věrnosti Straně. Nebude láska kromě lásky k Velkému bratru. Nebude smích kromě smíchu štěstí z vítězství nad poraženým nepřítelem. Nebude umění, nebude literatura, nebude věda. Až budeme všemocní, nebudeme vědu potřebovat. Nebude rozdíl mezi krásou a ošklivostí. Nebude zvědavost ani radost ze života. Všechny ostatní požitky budou zničeny. Ale vždy – na to nezapomínej, Winstone – vždy tu bude opojení mocí, které bude neustále sílit a bude stále rafinovanější. Stále, v každém okamžiku, bude existovat vzrušení z vítězství, pocit, že šlapeš po bezmocném nepříteli. Jestli chceš obraz budoucnosti, představ si vysokou botu, která dupe po lidské tváři – navždycky.“
ALDOUS HUXLEY (1894–1963) wrote Brave New World, which is another novel describing a dystopian society. WILLIAM GOLDING (1911–93) is best known for his novel Lord of the Flies. A group of students finds itself on a deserted island after their plane crashes. They form their own society, however, they gradually turn into barbarians and start hunting and killing each other. Lucky Jim by KINGSLEY AMIS (1922–95) is a satire making fun of university teachers.
TERY PRATCHETT (1948–2015) is the author of a series of novels about Discworld. J. K. ROWLING (1965) wrote the Harry Potter novels (H. P. and the Philosopher’s Stone, H. P. and the Chamber of Secrets, H. P. and the Prisoner of Azkaban, H. P. and the Goblet of Fire, H. P. and the order of the Phoenix, H. P. and the Half-Blood Prince and H. P. and the Deathly Hallows) about a wizard boy fighting the evil Lord Voldemort. The series is praised for its implementation of moral values and courage, and also for “making the children read again”.
Sources: Shakespeare, William. Hamlet; Král Lear. Praha: KMa, 2005.
47 There have been 11 Nobel Prize laureates in British literature so far: Rudyard Kipling, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw (both for the Irish Free State), John Galsworthy, T. S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell, sir Winston Churchill, William Golding, sir V. S. Naipaul, Harold Pinter, Doris Lessing,