Tradition and Revolt in British 18th-Century Literature
One highly visible strain of literary culture in the British 18th Century thought of itself as deriving from the classical past, from the ancient Greek and Roman authors who had come down to European posterity, and many authors saw themselves as the successors to that tradition. On the other hand, from the very beginning of the century London (the largest city in Europe) witnessed the emergence of a marketplace for print in which traditional literary forms and values gave way to new formats for writing such as memoirs, novels, periodical essays, and newspapers. Much 18th-century writing exists in this sometimes tense rivalry between the old and the new, between the aristocratic and classical tradition (almost exclusively male) and an emerging popular and middle-class print culture that counted women among its readers and writers. This tension will be the main organizing theme of a series of readings in 18th-century British writers. Among those we will read are the following: Pope, Swift, Gay, Defoe, Addison, Steele, Thomson, Cowper, Gray, Collins, Johnson, Boswell, and Burke.