British Literature




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Helped the Greeks in their struggle for independence from the Turks; fever, died at Missolonghi in April 1824.

  • His poetry very popular in the 19th century, lost its appeal in the modern era:

  • a heartless, prejudiced, morally dishonest mind lacking a true perception of beauty?

  • spiritual truth could be experienced only through the sensations.

  • His poems are filled with vibrant energy; his stories are also told in an exciting way, manifesting a considerable technical skill.

Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822)

  • a son of a rich Sussex aristocrat;

  • Expelled from Oxford in 1810 for writing a text in defence of atheism;

  • he married the sixteen-year-old daughter of a London tavern owner and moved to Dublin;

  • In 1814 Shelley fell in love with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; they eloped to France in July 1814, taking with them Mary's stepsister Jane (later "Claire") Clairmont.

  • joined Lord Byron at Geneva (Frankenstein);

  • His wife committed suicide; he marries Mary;

  • Shelley and his friend Edward Williams sailed to Leghorn to welcome his friend Leigh Hunt; their boat sank.

  • After his death, Mary devoted herself to dissemination of his fame and his works.

  • his short lyrics are regarded the finest examples of English Romantic poetry.

  • Shelley often expresses the idea that humanity is essentially good and that institutions and conventional morality destroy and corrupt mankind.

  • he also manifests his hatred of authority and of any form of tyranny.

  • He saw poets as those who can reform the world through poetry, through their power of creative imagination and the enhanced perception of beauty.

  • Poets should become actual leaders of society and provide an inspiring example by unleashing their creative powers.

John Keats (1795-1821)

  • the son of a livery-stable manager and received relatively little formal education;

  • in the medical profession, worked as a junior house surgeon at different hospitals in London;

  • at 22 he devoted himself entirely to poetry;

  • tuberculosis;

  • he was ordered to spend the winter in a warmer climate, Keats left for Rome, where he died.

  • The year 1819 was crucial for his poetical career – it was during that year that John Keats created all of greatest poetry:

  • The odes (all composed in 1819) focus on the dichotomy of eternal, transcendental ideals and the transcience and the ephemeral character of the physical world.

Ode on a Grecian Urn

  • the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” the themes of permanence and transcience, of beauty and life are discussed through the description of the figures upon the Greek urn.

  • everything truly beautiful is also ephemeral.

  • the greatest thing life can offer us is found in beauty, therefore the aim of every individual should be to devote one’s life to the endless search for it.



THE EARLY NINETEENTH-CENTURY NOVEL – SCOTT, AUSTEN AND THE GOTHIC
Jane Austen (1775-1817)

• Jane Austen was born in the Hampshire village of Steventon, where her father, the Reverend George Austen, was rector.

• She remained single all her life.

• she only wrote six novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion)

• the comedy of manners of middle-class life, that of country landed gentry in the England of her time

• the topic: a young girl who is either about to be married, or ready for it.

• World events do not impinge on the novels, and a ball at a local country house is more important than a great victory or defeat of Napoleon's.
Her Style

• classical restraint and elegant awareness of the form, skilful use of a dialogue

• a superb satirist, an extremely competent story-teller

• she makes us feel that we know her characters.


The Manners and Morality in Austen's novels

• Behaviour must be controlled, regardless of personal feelings - the people who cannot exercise restraint are condemned

• she does not object to people marrying for love, if there is enough money in the marriage to help love along the way. Marriage should be based on love, genuine understanding - and social suitability.

• she despises everything that is pretentious, arrogant and proud - but also breach of duty and decorum (e.g., when Lydia Bennett elopes scandalously).


Pride and Prejudice

• the clash between Elizabeth Bennet, the intelligent daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam aristocratic landowner.

• Darcy is proud of his rank and Elizabeth's inferiority of family;

• Elizabeth's pride is her self-respect and she is prejudiced against Darcy's snobbery.

• Ultimately, they come together in love and self-understanding.
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

• educated at the high school at Edinburgh

• he became an attorney like his father

• He also became a partner in a printing (and later publishing) firm owned by James Ballantyne and his brother John.

• Scott saved the company from bankruptcy, from 1813 onward everything he wrote was done partly in order to pay off the lasting debts he had incurred.

• The corollary - haste in the production of all his later books and compulsive work whose strain shortened his life.


The Historical Novel

• Scott was a born storyteller

• He was a master of virtually new literary form, the historical novel.

• He had deep knowledge of Scottish history and society and depicted the whole range of Scottish society, from beggars and rustics to the middle classes and the professions and on up to the landowning nobility.

• He used the technique of the omniscient narrator and in dialogues regional speech.

• Romantic themes treated in a realistic manner.


Scott's Influence

• His influence on other European and American novelists was immediate and profound

• interest in some of his books declined somewhat in the 20th century.
The English Gothic Novel


  • novels published in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century which expressed a vivid interest in the supernatural, the weird and the horrible, violence and unbridled passion, usually in a medieval settings.

  • The most popular novels of the genre:

    • Matthew Gregory Lewis' The Monk (1796)

    • Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)

    • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897),

    • Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.


THE VICTORIAN PERIOD

Queen Victoria

• In 1837 William IV (10 illegitimate children) was succeeded as monarch by his 18-year-old niece, Victoria.

• She was a religious mother of nine children, devoted to her husband, Prince Albert, and was regarded as the personification of contemporary morals.
Victorian virtues

a close-knit family life, a sense of public duty, and respectability.

• evangelical religion

• utilitarian notions of efficiency and good business practice.


The age of reforms

• two politicians marked the period: William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli

• Women and children were barred from underground work in mines (1842) and limited to 10-hour working days in factories (1847).
Disraeli vs. Gladstone

Disraeli, greatly preferred by the queen;



  • social reforms:

    • trade union legalization

    • slum clearance;

  • also concerned with upholding the British Empire in Africa and Asia.

Gladstone saw politics in terms of moral principles;



  • He introduced some of the most important Liberal legislation of the 19th century:

    • the creation of a national system of elementary education;

    • the full admission of religious dissenters to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge;

    • a merit-based civil service;

    • the secret ballot.


Irish Famine

• The winter of 1845-1846 marked by a potato blight in Ireland and the consequent Irish Famine.

• The blight returned in the winter of 1846, and the wheat harvest in Great Britain and continental Europe was poor.

• one million people are thought to have died between 1847 and 1851

• An estimated further two to three million immigrated to the United States, many of whom died en route.
Economic boom

• From the late 1840s until the late 1860s, Britain experienced an economic boom.

• The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London symbolized Great Britain's industrial supremacy.
The age of great inventions

• The railway network of 1850 more than doubled during the mid­ Victorian years, the number of passengers carried each year went up sevenfold.

• the telegraph provided instant long-distance communication

• inexpensive steel was made possible;

• steamship building began in the 1860s.

• The value of British exports tripled,

• overseas capital investments quadrupled.

• Working-class living standards also improved,

• the founding of the Trades Union Congress in 1868.
Late Victorian deflation

• unrest among Irish tenant farmers in the second half of the 19th century

• falling profit margins

• occasional large-scale unemployment

• the United States and Germany overtook Great Britain in the production of steel and other manufactured goods.
Britain Abroad


  • Britain, in alliance with France and Turkey, entered the Crimean War (1854-56) against an expansionist Russia.

  • In 1858 Britain abolished the rule of the East India Company and made India a crown colony; in 1877 Queen Victoria became Empress of India.


British Empire

• British arrogance about their culture and civilization.

• The British saw themselves as having the duty to spread their culture and civilization around the world.

• British arrogance about their culture and civilization.



• The British saw themselves as having the duty to spread their culture and civilization around the world.
Troubles Abroad

  • in 1899 Britain entered the the Boer War which ended with a tarnished British victory in 1902 (concentration camps for the civilian Boer population).


The End of an Age (the Edwardian period: 1901-1910)

  • In 1901 Queen Victoria died; she had ruled for 64 years.

  • The rule of Victoria's successor, Edward VII, was in sharp contrast to that of his mother: the period was marked by never ending questioning of traditional opinions, institutions, and conventions.



Victorian Novel

Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontës

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

  • middle class origins;

  • his schooling ended at 15;

  • worked as:

  • a clerk in a solicitor’s office,

  • a shorthand reporter at the law courts,

  • a parliamentary and newspaper reporter.

  • In 1836 his Pickwick Papers appeared, and Dickens became the most popular author of the day.

  • started editing a monthly magazine, Bentley’s Miscellany, in which Oliver Twist appeared between 1837 and 1839;

  • He became a public figure, praised for his after-dinner speeches, for his amateur acting and his reports in the press;

  • In the 1840s Dickens founded and edited several periodicals;

  • he remained the public's favourite until his sudden death in 1870.

Dickens’s Early Novels

  • e.g. Pickwick Papers, often display overly sentimental and melodramatic passages that are loosely connected and lack solid structure.

  • As all his early works were published in serial form (just a collection of short stories and anectodes, rather than complete novels?).

  • Oliver Twist stands out; although still containing humorous passages, it is already more focussed on social problems and moral evil.

Dickens’s Later Period

  • his later period: he focuses on the social wrongs of contemporary society and finds virtue and human decency most often among the poor, humble and simple. (David Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times and Little Dorrit).

  • His final novels (the 1860s); his finest achievements: Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend.

Typical Features

  • attacking social evils and inadequate institutions;

  • topical issues;

  • situated in London;

  • a not very intellectual belief in benevolence, i.e. the conviction that the world would be a better place if people were nicer to each other. In his old age Dickens becomes more pessimistic;

  • Dickens's novels offer a fascinating and detailed description of all the classes forming the British society of his time.

Strong Characterisation

  • strong characterisation – label names (e.g. the Veneerings in Our Mutual Friend, emphasizing their superficiality) link the characters to one dominant feature or detail;

  • his characters do not develop and change during the novel and that some of them border on one-dimensional caricatures.

Women and Children

  • ideal of the passive and helpless woman;

  • Children are the pure and innocent representatives of humanity. Other characters are judged by their reaction to them: if you treat them well, this is the sign of your general goodness; if you treat them badly, this shows your deep corruption, and general sinfulness.

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)

  • born in Calcutta, India;

  • studied at Cambridge, but left for London without taking a degree;

  • considered painting as a profession for a while and went to Paris to study art where he soon lost all his fortune through gambling and bad investments;

  • a correspondent from Paris for his stepfather's newspaper;

  • Thackeray returned to London where he became a journalist.

  • Between 1847 and 1848, he published in monthly parts the novel Vanity Fair which brought him fame and prosperity.

Vanity Fair

  • a satirical and sometimes world-weary portrait of the top level of society;

  • two school friends, Amelia Sedley and Becky Sharp;

  • Becky fights her way up through society; she is good-looking, intelligent and ruthless,

  • Amelia is wealthy, well born and passive, the Victorian ideal of a good woman;

  • At the end: Amelia marries the good Colonel Dobbin, and Becky devotes herself to charitable works.

The Brontës

  • Their work expresses violence, passion, and the emotions;

  • they grew up in a remote but cultivated vicarage in Yorkshire;

  • Their novels were strongly influenced by Romanticism, e.g. Gothic plots and Byronic passions.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)

  • her first novel, Jane Eyre (1847)

  • the governess Jane Eyre marries above her, and the man she loves, however, both parties have to undergo suffering (Rochester, the hero, for example is almost burnt alive)

  • Jane Eyre is at one and the same time a Cinderella, rags-to-riches story, a moral tract, and a novel of passion, love and mystery.

Emily Brontë (1818-1848)

  • her only novel, Wuthering Heights (1847)

  • Emily died from tuberculosis in 1848 at the age of 30.

  • The novel generates its own morality, rising up above conventional morals and making them seem irrelevant to the great love affair that is at its centre.

Wuthering Heights

  • The novel is almost tragic in its scope, dealing in good and evil;

  • it is imbued with an elemental, primitive force (e.g. civilised people are kidnapped, and dealt with violently; a man starves himself to death willingly for the sake of along-dead lover; babies are dropped over banisters; anvils thrown at people; a pet spaniel hanged from a tree by the man who is going to marry the dog's owner; and a character beats his head against the tree in anguish until the blood flows).

The Later Victorian Novel, Victorian Poets and Theatre

The Later Victorian Novel

  • George Eliot

  • Thomas Hardy

George Eliot

  • Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880);

  • stern religious education; kept house for her father until his death in 1849.

  • took private lessons; influenced by the ideas of Ludwig Feuerbach and Auguste Comte, she lost her faith and embraced rationalism and positivist materialism.

  • After the death of her father, she lived with various friends for a while.

  • In 1851 she decided to move to London and work as a free-lance writer and as subeditor of The Westminster Review.

  • She fell in love with George Henry Lewes, a married journalist, and lived with him openly as his wife until his death. Encouraged by Lewes, she started writing stories which brought her instant success.

  • When Lewes died in 1878, Evans married her banker John Walter Cross, 19 years her junior, and died the same year.

  • Her reputation has declined lately and rests nowadays on her longer novels: Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), all of them providing close studies of English rural life, her masterpiece Middlemarch (1871-1872), a study of the life of a provincial town, and Daniel Deronda (1876), contemporary portrayal of a Jewish family.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

  • a son of a stonemason and jobbing builder, grew up in an isolated cottage in Dorset and was educated at local schools.

  • meagre formal education, intensive self study.

  • became apprenticed to an architect and worked as a draftsman in one of the leading architectural offices in London. When he was 32 he devoted himself completely to literature.

  • Between 1870 and 1900 Hardy wrote 14 novels, some of them the finest achievements of the period. But since his works got some brutally hostile reviews, he turned to poetry in the new century.

  • He published a total of 8 collections of poetry which brought him enormous fame at home and worldwide.

  • major prose works: the novels recreating the rural life in his fictional Wessex, The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895).

  • His novels proved particularly suitable for film and television adaptation.

Victorian Poets

  • Alfred Tennyson

  • Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  • Matthew Arnold

  • Gerard Manley Hopkins

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

  • born in Lincolnshire, the son of a rector; educated at Cambridge

  • went to Spain to support the unsuccessful revolution against Ferdinand VII.

  • left Cambridge without taking a degree.

  • In 1850 he happily married and published his elegies for Arthur Hallam, In Memoriam. His speculation about death and mortality proved immensely successful with reviewers, the public and the Queen, who appointed him poet laureate in succession to Wordsworth.

  • raised to the peerage in 1884.

  • the leading poet of the Victorian Age in England – the spokesman for the educated middle-class Englishman in every regard, from morality and religion to politics and literary taste - lost its appeal today.

  • Criticism: Tennyson’s technical skill often covers up deficiencies in thought. Ideas matter a great deal less than sensations and musical quality in his poetry.

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  • Robert Browning (1812-1889);

  • a slight formal education;

  • He started his literary career by writing plays in verse and long poems (1832-1846);

  • He married Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861), already an established writer and a semi-invalid and lived with her in Italy, mainly in Florence;

  • The most important works of Robert’s last years were long narrative or dramatic poems, often dealing with contemporary themes.

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

  • educated at Oxford and worked for 35 years as an Inspector of Schools, travelling all over the country.

  • In 1857 he was elected to the Oxford chair of poetry which he held for 10 years.

  • theoretical approach to translation, arguing for the plainness and nobility in style (On Translating Homer (1861)).

  • an extremely important literary, social and religious critic.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

  • a prosperous middle-class family; educated at Oxford.

  • became a member of the Jesuit order in 1868; served as parish priest in various Jesuit churches in London, Oxford, Liverpool and Glasgow. In 1884 he was appointed professor of Greek literature at University College in Dublin, where he also died.

  • Hopkins’ poetry:

  • intense, spiritual, sensual and highly experimental for its time;

  • his language is consciously literary and full of new words, combined in surprising and original ways;

  • No conventional metrical structure;

  • Influenced immensely modern poetry, e.g. T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, W. H. Auden.

Victorian Theatre

  • only two theatres allowed by law in London, Covent Garden and Drury Lane;

  • Their monopoly ended in the middle of the 19th century.

  • early Victorian drama was a popular art form, appealing primarily to an uneducated audience.

  • the influence of two non-English dramatists: the Russian Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), and the Norwegian Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) who in his social drama offered a refreshing new blend of naturalism and symbolism.

  • In the 1890s, some outstanding dramatic innovations were introduced by two Irishmen: Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.




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