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Sep 18, 2010

Neo-Classical or Augustan Age

The period we are studying is known to us by the name, the Age of Queen Anne; but, unlike Elizabeth, this “meekly stupid” queen had practically no influence upon English literature, so the name Classic or Augustan Age is more often heard  because the poets and critics of this age believed in the works of the Latin writers, as Pope writes in Essay in Criticism:   
        “Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem   
        To copy nature is to copy them.” 
Poetry of the Classical school is the product of the intelligence playing upon the surface of life. It is exclusively a ‘town’ poetry made out of the interests of ‘society’ in the great centres of culture,   which makes it an age of prose and reason. It was now a fashion with the poets to follow (human) Nature, and Pope was its greatest protagonist:
        “First follow Nature, and your judgement frame   
         By her just standard, which is still the same”.       
The qualities such as mystery, imagination, romanticism, came to be discounted and replaced those related to reason and logic. It was for the first time that theoretical as well as practical criticism of drama, poetry, essay, and novel appeared,   such as Pope’s Essay In Criticism (1711), Addison’s Spectators (1711-12-14), Johnson’s Preface To Shakespeare (1765). “The idea of the modern novel seems to have been worked out largely”, says Long, in Augustan Age, in which, the classic Heroic couplet was perfected by Pope {whose “ten thousand verses’ marvelously varied within their couplets, crown the experiments of a century,” (Tillotson)} in The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad. However the percept and epigram, the satire and the Mock-heroic of the Age might have been discarded by the subsequent generations of the writers, but its gift of novel continued long after the Augustan Age had gone out of fashion.

Mock Epic
Another product of the age was Mock Epic. “The true genius of mock heroic lies in travestying the serious epic, in bringing all the leading features of the epic machinery, lofty incidents, character and the style to the exaltation of a trivial Subject; the subject must no doubt have a moral bearing; but the satire ought not to be too apparent” —Courthope Mock heroic poetry takes us back to the days of Homer who is credited with the authorship of Battle of Frog and Mice but Tassoni’s Rape of the Bucket was the first successful example of the true mock heroic poem. In a masterpiece of this type The Rape of the Lock (1714), Pope views through the grandiose epic perspective a quarrel between the belles and elegants of his day over the theft of a Lady’s curl, as he notes:   
         “slight is the subject but not so the praises   
         …    …    …    …    …    …    …       
         what dire offence from amorous causes springs   
         what might contests rise from trivial things.”   
This poem has the complete epic form: there is usual opening proposition and invocation—of the goddess of poetry   
         “say what strange motives, goddess could impel   
         a well-bred lord to assult a gentle belle,”;   
the conventional supernatural ‘machinery’, represented by all the spirits of earth, air, water and fore:   
         “whether the nymphs shall break Diana’s law   
        or some frail china jar receive-flaw.”   
The term mock epic is oft applied to other dignified poetic forms which are purposely mismatched to a lowly subject: for example, to Thomas Gary’s comic “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat” (1748).

Emergence of Novel
“Other great types of literature, like epic, drama, the romance, and the drama were first produced by other nations; but the idea of the modern novel seems to have been worked out largely on English soil.” (Long). A novel (born with Defoe in 1819) is a long prose fiction having a plot, a number of characters, and the plot developing and coming to a logical conclusion through the characters’ interaction with one another. J.B. Priestley defines a novel “as a narrative in prose treating chiefly of imagery characters and events”. Many critics divided the novel into two classes: stories and romance; the story being a form of which relates certain incidents of life with as little complexity as possible; and the romance describes life as led by strong emotions in complex and unusual circumstances,  but the critics have divided the Neo-Classical novels in the following categories:The novel started with Travelogues; the stories relating the adventures of the travelers or voyagers in unknown and unchartered seas. The earliest of them is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe; and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The next is The Picaresque Novel in which the hero is rouge or a bad character who wanders from place to place and encounters many adversaries who are equally roguish, for example the heroine of Defoe’s Moll Flanders. The Epistolary Novel comes next in which plot develops and comes to an end through the medium of letters, i.e., Richardson’s Pamela; there is very little dialogue amongst the characters because they exchange their views and thoughts through their letters and replies. In Neo-Classical novel, the controversy between rules and taste continued because the novel had newly emerged and had no theory or rules of its own available in any ancient or Augustan period, but Fielding was only conscious artist who tried to forge a theory of the novel.

Age of Prose and Reason
“Our excellent and indispensable eighteenth century” (Johnson) was a classical age, an age of prose and reason. Actually, the ideas which developed in this age, had already taken roots in the seventeenth century, when the writers like Dryden, Waller and Denham had shown the new path. The Elizabethan age had been an age of romanticism, imaginative, and melodrama which lacked balance, but 18th century was marked by reason, good sense, refinement, wit and logicism with a fair amount of realism. It was now a fashion with the poets to follow Nature, and Pope was the greatest protagonist in this regard. By “Nature,” it was implied human Nature—a view taken by great Romanists like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats in the next two centuries. Pope advised writers to follow the Nature:   
        “First follow Nature, and your judgement frame   
          By her just standard, which is still the same”.   
Pope laid stress on the writers (poets’ in particular) following the rules set up by the ancient masters instead of carving out new grooves of writing for themselves.   
         “Who rules the old discover’d not devised,   
        Are Nature still, but Nature methodiz’d”.   
Thus, even Nature was to methodiz’d, it was too moulded within the rigid rules set by the ancients. Then Pope advises further—   
         “Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem,    
         To copy Nature is to copy them”.   
Thus, it was basically the age of prose and reason, dominated chiefly, apart from Pope, by such celebrated prose writers as Addison, Steele, swift, Gibson, Burke, etc. It is clear that new milieu wanted a different treatment which was argumentative in nature and could be expressed only through polished prose and the best and the most suitable vehicle.

Picaresque element in the Novel

“The picaresque novel is the tale of the hardworking travelling hero, suffering from vicissitude good or bad and enduring them all.”—Edwin Muir. The word picaresque comes from the Spanish word “Picaro” meaning a rogue or a villain. A picaresque novel is a work of art/fiction which deals with the adventures of rogues and the villains, who is the central figure, plays many roles and wears many masks. The novelist narrates these episodes one by one, and thus the whole plot becomes episodic and disjointed.Picaresque fiction is realistic in manner, episodic in structure (that is, composed of sequence of events held together largely because they happened to one person), and often satiric in aim. Carvantes’ great quasi-picaresque narrative Don Quixote (1605) was the single most important progenitor of the modern novel; in it, an engaging madman who tries to live by the ideals of chivalric romance in the everyday world is used to explore the relations of illusion and reality in human life. In 1719, Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe and in 1722, Moll Flanders: both of these are still picaresque in type, in sense that their structure is episodic rather than in the organized form of a plot; while Moll is herself a colourful female version of the old picaro: “Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia.” as title page resounding informs us. But Robinson Crusoe is given an enforced unity of action by its focus on the problem of surviving on an uninhabited island, and both stories present so convincing a central character, set in so solid and detailedly realized a world, that Defoe is often credited with the writing the first novel of incident.

Criticism of the Neo-Classical period, like its drama, poetry, essay and novel, takes off in the later seventeenth century where the Renaissance critics had left it. It was for the first time that theoretical as well as practical criticism appeared on such a large scale, such as, Pope’s Essay in Criticism (1711), Granville’s Essay on Unnatural Flights in Poetry (1701) Addison’s Spectators (1711-12-14), Fielding’s Preface to Joseph Andrews (1742), and Johnson’s Preface to Shakespeare (1765). In dramatic criticism, from Dryden to Johnson, the debate centered on the comparative assessment of the ancients and the modernistic approach. No doubt, Johnson continued to talk of the principle of unities and “nature” in place of “abstract rules.” In poetic criticism, the poets and critics alike showed greater confidence in classical rules. Hence the Neo-Classical mode of mock heroic, its love of satire and comic verse, flourished on an unprecedented scale—the only critical debate that found some favour during the period centered on the concept of “nature.” In case of novel, too, the controversy between rules and taste continued. Here, two factors made the controversy:  Firstly, the novel had newly emerged and had no theory or rules; Secondly, it emerged as literature of the middleclass, which was also new and without any tradition behind. Fielding tried to forge a theory: how to reconcile the rules of construction.

Four Wheels of Novel
The group of first four novelists of the Augustan Age—Richardson, Smollett, Fielding and Sterne—are called the four wheels of novel. The beginning of novel writing is made with an enthralling and mysterious figure, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) who gives us travelogue novel Robinson Crusoe (1719). He regards the novel, not as a work of imagination, but as ‘a true relation,’ and even the element of fact decreases, he maintains the close realism of pseudo-fact. The combination of these qualities has given Robinson Crusoe its immediate and continuous appeal. The next development in the novel, and possibly the most important in its whole history in England, comes by the ancient, Samuel Richardson (1639-1761), who is famous for Epistolary Novel Pamela (1740-41) in which plot develops and comes to an end through the medium of letters. Richardson has suffered from the appearance of contemporary, who disliked his work, and who took an early opportunity of satirizing it, named Henry Fielding, who published Andrew Joseph (1742) to ridicule Richardson’s Pamela; he contrived this satire by revering the situation in Richardson’s novel. The next wheel, Tobias Smollett (1721-71) was Fielding’s contemporary, though he is not of equal stature. If he brought to the novel nothing that was new in form, he was able to introduce a new background, in accounts of sea in the livid days of the old Navy in Roderick Random (1748), which portrays the life of rogue hero until his marriage with the loyal, beautiful and incredible Narcissa. Of the eighteenth century novelists, the strangest, and the most variously judged, is Laurence Sterne (1713-68), who is known for Life and Opinion of Tristram Shandy (1759-67) in which the reader has to wait until the third book before the hero is born, and even then his future life remains undefined. After the work of these four masters, the stream of fiction broadens continually, until it reaches the flood with which no single intelligence and contended.

Heroic Couplet
Heroic couplet is the form in which the sense is ended with almost absolute regularity at the end of every second line, note for instance:   
        “Great wits are sure to madness near allied,   
        And thin partitions do their bounds divine.”    (Pope)
here, the sense is almost complete in the first line and the second line only gives an extension of the idea contained in the first line. This verse was introduced into English poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer (in The Legend of Good Women and most the Canterbury Tales), and has been constant use ever since. Later Shakespeare also used the couplet at the last two lines of his sonnets. Earlier, Surrey had done this. In the Neo-Classical Age, the heroic couplet was predominant English measure for all the poetic kinds; some poets, including Dryden, Pope, used it almost to the exclusion of other meters. In Restoration Age, Dryden wrote in closed couplets, in which the end of each couplet tends to coincide with the end either of a sentence or self-sufficient unit of syntax.    
        “In friendship false, implacable in hate,   
        resolve to ruin or to rule the state.”(Absalom & Achitophel)

in The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad. In Romantic Age, Keats used couplets at the start of Endymion:   
        “A thing of beauty is a joy forever;   
        Its loveliness increase; it will never   
        Pass into nothingness, but still keep.”   
It is quite understandable that Keats’s couplets are not close ended, nor are his lines iambic pentameters. In sum, heroic couplet is suited mainly to satirical and narrative poetry but Prologues and epilogues were also written in couplets to create special effect.

Periodical Essay
The periodical essay was chiefly the invention of Steele (1672-1729) when on April 12, 1709 he started The Tatler, thrice in a week, the chief aim of which was “to expose the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity and affection, and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, our discourse, and our behaviour.” The Spectator (1711), The Guardian (1712) The Free Holder (1715), The Old Whig (1719) are some periodical essays which appeared (and generally died) in the eighteenth century.  The Neo-Classical Age had seen in Addison, Steele and Johnson a prose in essay which was closer to common talk than any other species of writing in literature has ever been. The main reason for the popularity of the periodical was that it suited to the genius of the period, as much of the authors, as of the people who exhibited specific spirit and tasted in the period. An essay by Bacon consists of a few pages of concentrated wisdom, with little elaboration of the ideas expresses, but in an essay of Addison, the thought is thin and diluted, and the tendency is now towards light didacticism and now personal gossip: “it is said of Socrates, that he brought philosophy down from heaven to inhabit among men; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me that I have brought philosophy out of closets and libraries, school and colleges, to dwell in clubs and  assemblies at tea-tables and in coffee-houses. The periodical essay was continued  in the later eighteenth century by no less a literary giant than Samuel Johnson (1709-84), whose twice weekly Rambler were a prestigious contribution to the literature of periodical essays.  After Johnson the English essay rather dwindled, and was redeemed later by the Romantic Hazlitt and Lamb, but the Romantic essay is quite different spices altogether. Addison’s collaborator in launching several periodicals of the time, Steele, not only originated periodical essays but also raised it to the status of literature.

Neo Classical Drama
In dramatic criticism from Dryden to Johnson the debate centered on the comparative assessment of the ancients and the moderns, on rules deprives from the foreign ancients and the actual practice by the native dramatists. The neoclassical dramatists were theoretically committed to the classical rules, but their reverence for Shakespeare’s plays always convinced them otherwise. They preferred the Elizabethan variety of ancient and characters, the Elizabethan mixing of tragedy and comedy, the Elizabethan poetic language. Thus, between the classical rules on one hand and the native tradition and taste on the other, the Neo-Classical critics continued their debates attacking and counterattacking.
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