The 18th Century Literature

The 18th Century Literature

The immorality of the Restoration, which had been almost entirely a Court phenomenon and was largely the reaction against extreme Puritanism, soon spent itself. William III was a severe moralist, and Anne, his successor, was of the same character.

“It was an age which introduces sweet reasonableness of life. This middle way of control and reason, and the distrust of enthusiasm are faithfully reflected in the literature of the period.”


For the first time, a huge mass of pamphlets, journals, booklets, and magazines was produced which reflected every shade of life during this century. Affordable publications for general public came out regularly which consisted of “light” literature. It did not speak from the clouds, instead, related with the readers on human level. Furthermore, the novel and the periodical paper were two new genres which were introduced in English literature, and some of the best prose of the age is found in these new genres. Another important aspect is that the female point-of-view was given due consideration in this age because of the huge number of female readers.

Essays and Periodicals (Non-fiction):

Publishers and editors became rich. Literature was meant to circulate. It became a matter of trade. Authors didn’t depend on their patrons anymore. New Publishing Houses were established and there was a growth of Journalism through Periodicals. People wrote what they spoke/thought in whatever way they wished to adopt. The content was ground reality of the time. Short 1/2/3 page essays of ordinary interest were popular. Major Prose Writers: Joseph Addison, Richard Steele

Beginning of Satire:

Expression of bitterness through subtle ways. Literature + Politics = Satire (finding fault in others, negative, destructive). Focus on minimizing disagreements. Subjects of satire: etiquette’s, manners, “one should be simple and not pretentious” –contrast with philosophical goodness etc. Whigs and Tories rewarded the writers of this age for satirising their opponents.

Beginning of the Novel (Fiction):

It was an age of religious, social, political, and literary controversies. Masses started taking interest in these controversial matters and poetry was inadequate to deal with such issues. Hence, there was a rapid development of Prose. Mode of thought had changed, and people looked up to the value of harmonious living. Pursuit of knowledge through Scientific Method was encouraged. Efforts were made to minimize uncertainties. Therefore, the rational faculties entered literature. Major Novelists: Jonathan Swift, Daniel Dafoe


There was a rebellion against exaggerations and fantastical style of writing (like Metaphysical Poets). Instead of poetry of passion, the ideals of wit and common sense were pursued. The poetry dealt with satire, criticism, controversy, and focused on reflecting the actual life.

18th century reader had become aware of the ancient forms of literature through Alexander Pope. He initially wrote translations of the Classics. Poetry of this age was a mirror image of the ancient classic writers in appearance, but their inner spirit was lacking (Pseudo Classicism). It was paralleled by Horace, Virgil, Cicero, and other brilliant writers who made Roman Literature famous under the rule of King Augustus. (Augustan Age)


There was a decline in drama because the Puritan prejudice against the theatres continued, and the court had also withdrawn its patronage after the Restoration Age.

A Snapshot of the Literature


         The Rape of the Lock

  • Mock Epic elements
  • Satire on Pretensions and Manners. Entertains and exposes hypocrisies of the society to the reader.
  • Susceptibility of danger for women in a male dominant society
  • Belinda’s obsession with physical appearance vs. Clarissa’s point of view
  • Promotes harmonious and peaceful living. Minimizes disagreements.


         Novel: Gulliver’s Travels

Satire on previous and on-going human activities. Highlights the faults with what people were doing. Religious, political and intellectual satire.

Man shown as weak, ugly and stupid. Becomes the “social animal”.

      Novel: Robinson Crusoe

A practical story about perseverance against odds in order to survive and gain profits and dominance over others. Opposite to the metaphysical ways of thinking. Ultimate objective is to gain profits.

Practical Humanism. Colonization. Commercialism. Materialism.

       Essay: Household Superstitions

Short essay which satires strange behaviours of the society. Simple language. Promotes Realism and a rational approach instead of believing in things without justifiable reasons. Against uncertainty. Gives a moral message in the end. Simple, direct, and precise language. “The content is ground reality of that time.” (Ordinary topic)

       Essay: The Story of Alexander Selkirk

Short essay which summarises the entire adventure of Alexander Selkirk within 2-3 pages. Gives a moral message in the end. Simple, direct, and precise language. “The content is ground reality of that time.” (Ordinary topic)

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