22 July 2018

The Restoration Age (1660-1700) And Its Literary Characteristics | NET Exam Notes


The Restoration Age (1660-1700) And Its Literary Characteristics | NET Exam Notes,  net english study material, net exam notes for english literature



The period from 1660 to 1700 is known as the Restoration period or the Age of Dryden. Dryden was the representative writer of this period. The restoration of King Charles II in 1660 marks the beginning of a new era both in the life and the literature of England. The King was received with wild joy on his return from exile. The change of government from Commonwealth to Kingship corresponded to a change in the mood of the nation.
In this period the Renaissance delight in this world and the unlimited possibilities of the exploration of the world, and the moral zeal and the earnestness of the Puritan period could no more fascinate the people of England. Moody and Lovett remark: ―But in the greater part of the Restoration period there was awareness of the limitations of human experience, without faith in the extension of the resources. There was the disposition to accept such limitations, to exploit the potentialities of a strictly human world.‖ The historical events like the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the religious controversy and the revolution of 1688 deeply influenced the social life and the literary movements of the age. 

The Restoration 
The Restoration of Charles II brought about a revolutionary change in life and literature. During this period gravity, moral earnestness and decorum in all things, which distinguished the Puritan period, were thrown to the winds. The natural instincts which were suppressed during the previous era came to violent excesses. The King had a number of mistresses and numerous children. He was surrounded by corrupt and degenerate ministers. Profligacy was glorified in the royal court. Corruption was rampant in all walks of life. The Great Fire of 1665 and the Plague that followed were popularly regarded as suitable punishments for the sins of the profligate and selfish King. While London was burning and the people were suffering, the King and his nobles kept up their revels. The beginning of the Restoration began the process of social transformation. The atmosphere of gaiety and cheerfulness, of licentiousness and moral laxity was restored. The theatres were reopened. There was a stern reaction against the morality of the Puritans. Morality was on the wane. There was laxity everywhere in life. All these tendencies of the age are clearly reflected in the literature of the period.
During the Restoration period there was a rapid development of science. The establishment of the Royal Society was a landmark in history of England. The interest in science began to grow. The growing interest in science resulted in the beginning of rational inquiry and 
scientific and objective outlook. Objectivity, rationality and intellectual quality also enlivened the literature of this period. The French influence was predominant during this period because the King had spent the period of his exile in France. The French manners and fashion spread from the court to the aristocracy. It also influenced contemporary literature. 

Religious and Political Conflicts 
This era also witnessed the rise of two political parties the Whigs and the Tories. These parties were to play a significant role in English politics. The Whigs sought to limit the powers in the interest of the people and the Parliament. The Tories supported the Divine Right theory of the King, and strove to restrain the powers of the people in the interest of the hereditary rulers. The rise of these political parties gave a fresh importance to men of literary ability. Almost all the writers of this period had political affiliations. Dryden was a Tory. The religious controversies were even more bitter. The supporters of the Puritan regime were fanatically persecuted. The nation was predominantly Protestant and the Catholics were unduly harassed. The religion of the King himself was suspect. His brother James was a Papist (Roman Catholic). As Charles II had no legitimate heir, it was certain that after him his brother James, a Catholic, would succeed to the throne. Efforts were made to exclude James from the throne. The King sided with his brother and he removed all obstacles for the accession of James. Dryden‘s famous poemAbsalom and Achitophel reflects these religious and political conflicts of the day. 

 The Revolution 
James II ascended the throne in 1685. He soon revealed his Roman Catholic prejudices and he secretly tried to establish Catholicism in the country. He became unpopular within three years and the whole nation rose against him. The bloodless revolution of 1688 called the Protestant William and Mary of Orange to the throne. The country was once again restored to health and sanity. These deep and vigorous movements brought about certain changes in the inner social life. With the revival of factions and parties and the excitement caused by the Popish plot, a quality of force and ardour revived in civic feelings, so that the tone of literature and of social life is somewhat modified. With the political and moral transformation which began in 1688, the very Keynote of English literature, as of English life, was greatly changed. It can be said that the last years of the seventeenth century form a distinct period. It is a brief but well-marked transition separating the Restoration from the age of classicism. 


The literature of the Restoration period marked the complete breaking of ties with the Renaissance literature. It reflected the spirit of the age. The spirit of corruption and moral laxity, which were predominant in the social life of the restoration, are reflected in literature. The following are the chief feature of the period: 

1 Rise of Neo-classicism 
The Restoration marks a complete break with the past. The people believed in the present, the real and the material. Moody and Lovett remark: ―In all directions it appeared as a disposition towards conservation and moderation. Men had learned to fear individual enthusiasm, and therefore they tried to discourage it by setting up ideals of conduct in accordance with reason and common sense, to which all men should adapt themselves. Rules of etiquette and social conventions were established and the problem of life became that of self-expression within the narrow bounds which were thus prescribed.‖ All these tendencies were reflected in the literature of this period. The writers, both in prose and poetry, tacitly agreed upon the rules and principles in accordance with which they should write. Rules and literary conventions became more important than the depth and seriousness of the subject matter to the writers of this period. They express superficial manners and customs of the aristocratic and urban society and did not pry into the mysteries of human mind and heart. 

Imitation of the Ancient Masters 
The authors of the period were not endowed with exceptional literary talents. So they turned to the ancient writers, in particular, to the Latin writers, for guidance and inspiration. It was generally believed that the ancients had reached the acme of excellence and the modern poets could do no better than model their writings on the classics. Thus grew the neo-classical school of poetry. The neo-classicists or pseudo-classicists could not soar to great imaginative heights or could not penetrate deeply into human emotions. They directed their attention to the slavish imitation of rules and ignored the importance of the subject matter. This habit was noticeable in the age of Dryden. It strengthened in the succeeding age of Pope. 

3 Imitation of the French Masters 
King Charles II and his companions had spent the period of exile in France. They demanded that poetry and drama should follow the style to which they had become accustomed in France. Shakespeare and his contemporaries could not satisfy the popular literary taste. Pepys wrote in his diary that he was bored to see Shakespeare‘s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Italian influence had been dominant in Elizabethan period. Now began the period of French influence, which showed itself in English literature for the next century. Commenting on the French influence on the literature of this period W. H. Hudson writes: ―Now the contemporary literature of France was characterized particularly by lucidity, vivacity, and by reason of the close attention given to form – correctness, elegance and finish. It was essentially a literature of polite society, and had all the merits and all the limitations of such a literature. I was moreover a literature in which intellect was in the ascendant and the critical faculty always in control. It was to this congenial literature that English writers now learned to look for guidance; and thus a great impulse was given to the development alike in our prose and in our verse of the principles of regularity and order and the spirit of good sense. As in verse pre-eminently these were now cultivated at the expense of feeling and spontaneity, the growth of an artificial type of poetry was the inevitable result.‖ The famous French writers like Corneille, Racine, Moliere and Boileau were imitated. Boileau‘s ―good sense‖ ideal became very popular. English writers imitated the French blindly; rather they copied the worst vices of the French, instead of their wit, delicacy and refinement. The French influence is seen in the coarseness and indecency of the Restoration comedy of manners. The combined influence of French and classical models of tragedy is seen in the heroic tragedy. The French influence is responsible for the growth and popularity of opera. 

4 Correctness and Appropriateness
 The work of the authors of the Restoration period was imitative and of limited quality. Since they lacked creativity and flight of imagination, they abandoned freedom altogether and slavishly followed the rules. Edward Albert writes: ―Thus they evolved a number of ―rules‖ which can usefully he summarised in the injunction ―Be Correct‖, correctness means avoidance of enthusiasm, moderate opinions moderately expressed, strict care and accuracy in poetic technique; and humble imitation of the style of Latin Classics.‖
The new tendency, which reached its climax in the Age of Pope, is very clearly marked in the literature of the Restoration period. To Dryden Dr. Johnson applied the term ―Augustan‖, saying that Dryden did to English literature what Augustus did to home, which he found ―of brick 
and left of marble.‖ Dryden was the first representative of the new ideas that were to dominate English literature till the end of the eighteenth century. 

5 Realism and formalism 
Restoration literature is realistic. It was very much concerned with life in London, and with details of dress, fashions and manners. ―The early Restoration writers‖, observes W. J. Long, ―sought to paint realistic pictures of corrupt court and society, and emphasized vices rather than virtues and gave us coarse, low plays without interest or moral significance. Like Hobbes, they saw only the externals of man, his body and appetites, not his soul and his ideals…. Later, however, this tendency to realism became more wholesome. While it neglected romantic poetry, in which youth is eternally interested, it led to a keener study of the practical motives which govern human action.‖ The Restoration writers eschewed all extravagances of thought and language and aimed at achieving directness and simplicity of expression. Dryden accepted the excellent rule for his prose, and adopted the heroic couplet, as the next best thing for the greater part of this poetry. It is largely due to Dryden that ―writers developed formalism of style, that precise, almost mathematical elegance, miscalled classicism, which ruled the English literature for the next century.

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