Theme 4: The Enlightenment and Reflection of its Ideas in English Literature.
1. The Enlightenment Ц its ideals and objectives.
2. Daniel Defoe Ц his life and work. 'Robinson Crusoe'.
3. Jonathan Swift Ц his life and work. 'Gulliver's travels'
4. Henry Fielding Ц his life and work. His best novels.
5. Richard Sheridan Ц his life and work. 'School for Scandal'.
6. Robert Burns Ц his life and work. His best poems.
The Enlightenment Ц its ideals and objectives
In the 18th century in England, as in other European countries, there sprang into life a public movement known as the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, on the whole, was an expression of struggle of the then progressive class of bourgeoisie against feudalism. The Enlighteners fought against class inequality, prejudices and other survivals of feudalism. They attempted to place all branched of science at the service of mankind by connecting them with the actual needs and requirements of people. The problem of men comes to the fore superseding all other problems in literature. The Enlighteners prove that man is born kind and honest and if he becomes depraved, it is only due to the influence of corrupted social environment.
Fighting the survivals of feudalism, the enlighteners at the same time were prone to accept bourgeois relationships as rightful and reasonable relationships among people. The English writers of the time formed two groups. The first Ц hoped to better the world simply by teaching (Defoe). The other Ц openly protested against the vicious social order (Swift, Fielding, Sheridan, Burns).
Daniel Defoe (Foe) was born in London in 1660. His father was a well-to-do butcher. Defoe's biography is typical of energetic and enterprising man of that epoch. Hi tried his luck in many professions, but failed everywhere because he was more interested in politics than in business.
His first political pamphlet was 'The True-Born Englishman' (1701) in which he exposes the aristocracy and tyranny of the church. A year later he wrote the pamphlet aimed against the official church. The House of Commons ordered to burn the pamphlet. Defoe was arrested and placed in the public square before imprisonment.
He published political and literary magazine 'The Review of the Affairs of France and of all Europe' (1704-1713) which was written entirely by Defoe himself. The figure of an enlightener who stood for the rights of common people rises from the pages of Defoe's best essays and pamphlets published in the magazine. He laid bare the vices of the ruling classes and expressed belief in human reason and knowledge.
The year 1719 marked a new period in Defoe's literary activity. At the age of 60 he published his first novel 'Robinson Crusoe' Ц the book on which his fame mainly rests to the present day. The development of industry and trade brought to the fore men of a new stamp who had to be reflected in the new literature (the story of Alexander Selkirk).
The novel is the first book that glorifies the human creative labor. The image of an enterprising Englishman of the 18th century was created by Daniel Defoe in this book. Robinson is a toiler but a typical bourgeois at the same time. Robinson is the first positive image of a bourgeois in literature. He reflects the progressive role of bourgeoisie in the epoch of its flourishing. If now we perceive the book as an adventurous novel, people of the 18th century perceived it as a work of full great social and philosophical sense. This book was one of the forerunners of the English 18th century realistic novel.
His other novels are: 'Captain Singleton' (1720), 'Moll Flanders' (1722), 'Colonel Jack' (1722), 'Roxana' (1724), 'A Journal of the Plague Year' (1722).
The principle problem of the Enlightenment Ц influence of society on man's nature Ц stands in the centre of all these novels. The writers and philosophers of the Enlightenment believed that man is good and noble by nature but many succumb to the evil environment.
In his novels Defoe also shows with great realism how life and social surrounding spoil people. Poverty breeds crime. Thus in 'Colonel Jack' Defoe with warmth and sympathy depicts a poor boy, who being honest and kind by nature, becomes a thief when he is faced with the alternative either to steal or to starve.
Defoe selected secular subject banished allegory, his fictions were easily mistaken for narrations of facts.
J. Swift was born of English parents in Dublin. Swift's father was an attorney by profession. He died a few months before the birth of his son. Circumstances of want, dependence and humiliation were the early impressions of Swift's childhood.
He studied at a college in Dublin. At the age of 21 Swift went to England and became a secretary in the service of a distant relative of his mother, Sir William Temple, a man of letters and a well-known diplomat of the time. Swift's intercourse with Temple and other politicians who visited his patron initiated Swift into the contemporary political world, its intrigues and machinations. The two years at Temple's place were filled for Swift with intense studying and reading. His learning and erudition won him great respect at Oxford where Swift in 1692 took his degree as Master of Arts.
Temple treated Swift a little better than a servant. Finally Swift broke with Temple and returned to Ireland. He took holy orders and went to a little parish church in Ireland. But soon he went back into the employ of Temple, who having realized what a good secretary he had lost, repeatedly invited Swift with a promise of help and promotion.
During the four years of his second stay at Temple's Swift wrote his famous satires, which were published several years later, 'Tale of a Tub' (1697-1704) and 'Battle of Books' (1697). After Temple's death, Swift returned to Ireland where he obtained the vicarage of Laracon, in a small Irish town.
In 1704, Swift wrote his immortal political satire 'Tale of a Tub'. It is an allegory in which Swift criticizes various forms of religion and bitterly exposes religious dogmas and superstitions. Different forms of Christian doctrines, theories are compared to rotten tubs which help the whale-hunters divert the attention of the whales (i.e. people) the easier to kill them.
In 1712, Swift wrote 'The Conduct of the Allies'. In this pamphlet, Swift raises his voice against the war waged by England on the continent. He showed that war
is a burden for the common people and demanded peace. The pamphlet engaged an unprecedented success. Swift's popularity sprang widely.
Swift's life in Ireland gave him an intimate knowledge of the miserable condition of the people. A desire to serve Ireland became one of his ruling passions. He published 'A proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture' (ѕредложение о всеобщем употреблении ирландской мануфактуры) Ц a pamphlet where he came out in defense of the Irish rights for free development of their own industries. In 1704, Swift published under a disguise of a common trader a series of letters called Drapier's Letters. In this work he reveals the machination with money in Ireland.
In 1716, Swift's greatest work 'Gulliver's Travels' made its appearance. Swift portrays contemporary life satirically. It contains the adventures of a ship surgeon as told by him and is divided into four parts of voyages.
The first part contains an account of Lilliput and its little people. They are less than six inches high. Everything else in the country is in the same proportion. Here the satire is directed to the meanness and conventionality of the morality of politicians and statesmen.
The second part tells of Brobdignag and its giants, they are sixty feet in height. The giants live a simple Utopian life.
The third part tells about Laputa, a flying island. Ladago is a city with an absurd academy and so on. Glubbdubdrib, and Ireland of magicians, and Luggnagg, another island where wretched people continue living.
The fourth part brings Gulliver to the country of the Honyhnhums, where the intelligent creatures are horses, and all the human beings (Yahoos) monsters are reduced to the level of brutes. It is in describing these Yahoos that Swift shows how bitterly he hated society vices. He decides that horses are clever and more decent creatures than men.
Swift did not swim over the surface of contemporary life. Swift penetrated into the depths and saw the social corruption at its worst. Swift died in Dublin in 1745. Bourgeois critics describe Swift as a misanthrope and a sceptic. Nothing is farther from the truth. Swift hated all kinds of oppression Ц political, economic, religious; but he loved people which found expression in his upholding the defense of the Irish people in their struggle for freedom. Swift, like other writers-philosophers of the Enlightenment, at first believed that an enlightened monarch could give happiness to people. Reality frustrated that belief. Then Swift became a republican. Unlike many other writers of Enlightenment Swift refused to pin his hopes on bourgeois progress.
Political situation in England and in Europe was anything but encouraging: the English revolution was a thing of the past; the 'Glorious Revolution' had ended in a compromise between the aristocracy and bourgeoisie; the first risings of the English proletariat as well as the French revolution were yet far to come. Everything around Swift witnessed vice oppression and misery. He failed to see the way that would lead people to freedom and happiness. Swift's greatness lies in the unparalleled satirical description of the vices of his age. His greatness also consists in the fact that in his famous works, particularly in his pamphlets, he addressed himself to common people.
Henry Fielding was born on the 22nd of April 1707 to an aristocratic family. His father was a General. He was educated at Eton College and the University of Leyden, Holland. But the poverty of the family ran so high that the future writer was compelled to leave the university after a year and a half of studies. He began to make his own living from his very youth.
Fielding began his literary career in 1728 and soon became one of the most popular playwrights in London. In his best comedies 'A Judge Caught in His Own Trap' (1730), 'Don Quixote in England' (1734), 'Pasquin' (1736). Fielding mercilessly exposed England courts of law, the parliamentary system and the cupidity of state officials. He criticized the vices of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy Ц their hypocrisy, greed and cruelty Ц and revealed the most striking aspect of contemporary society. Prime Minister Walpole, who had also been victimized by Fielding's sharp critical satire in one of his plays, took revenge by introducing a censorship of the stage, which put an end to Fielding's career as a dramatist. Deprived of means of subsistence, at the age of 30 he entered a law school. Fielding studied law and acquired a profession of a lawyer, continuing to write at the same time.
The period from 1741-1751 saw the publication of Fielding's remarkable novels Ц 'The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend Mr. Abraham Adams' (1742), 'The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great' (1743), Fielding's masterpiece 'The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling' (1749) and his last novel 'Amelia' (1751).
In 1754, he left England for Portugal to recover his health. He arrived in Lisbon and stayed there for some time. The warm climate, however, did not restore his health and he died in October 8, 1754. He was buried in Lisbon.
The novel 'The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great' is based on the life of a notorious criminal who ended his career on the gallows. Showing Jonathan's thievish activity Fielding likens him to Prime Minister Walpole. Fielding's satire is becoming very sharp when he describes the prison where Jonathan is sitting. Fielding turns this prison into an allegorical description of the English social and political life of that time. It refers to the kind of novels about adventures.
'The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling' (1749) is his principal novel. It contains a picture of life and manners and tells the story of Tom Jones, a generous, open, manly young fellow who gets into all sorts of scrapes.
In his works Fielding strongly criticizes social relations in the contemporary England. Aristocrats and men set in authority embody all the evils; they persecute the heroes and obstruct their every more and action.
The author's positive characters are always people with natural unspoiled feelings. To make them acceptable to the 18th century reader, Joseph Andrews, the manservant, and Tom Jones, the foundling, though of noble origin, still they have nothing aristocratic about them and in their feelings and behavior remain closely related to the common people.
Fielding was the first to introduce into the novel real characters in their actual surroundings. His characters are vivid full-blooded and humane people. In search of happiness they travel about the country, and their various adventures are full of humour and sound cheerfully. Their hearts are open to pure love, virtue and justice. His novels are bright, sparkling and full of the liveliest humor.
Fielding's works display boundless optimism, broad humanity and inexhaustible faith in man. All these features plus the brilliant artistic language of his writings, make Fielding one of the greatest masters of the realistic novels.
Many generations have read 'The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling' rightly called an ancestor of the modern realistic novel.
The history of literature knows a few writers endowed with such versatile talents as Fielding. He left a rich legacy of novels, comedies, poems, pamphlets and essays. A talented novelist and a playwright of great originality, a master of humor and satire, he was one of the most outstanding figures in that significant period in history known as the age of Enlightenment.