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Augustan Age, Artefice and real life: a survey of Augustan literature

The literature of Augustan Age was characterized by output in a variety of genres and an increasing popular interesting in reading. In the country farmers and laborers were quite illiterate while in the towns semi-literacy was commoner than total illiteracy. There where few schools but attendance at these school was irregular: poor children left school when were 6-7 to work in the fields or factories. The books were expensive but there were some cheaper: pamphlets ballad, newspaper (with stories and novels); the houses were overcrowded and there wasn’t light to read even during the day (for the window tax). Libraries acquired great importance; women of the upper classes had more spare time and led a more sedentary life, therefore they went in for reading. Middle classes influenced prose genre. The belief in the power of the reason and the individual’s trust in his own abilities found expression in the novel and journalism. Important is the self doubt, used by Swift and Fielding in their novels, where different aspects of rationality were criticized. The largest category of books were religious. Defoe and Richardson combined religious and secular interest in their works (this compromise began the most important trend of 18th century literature and found its earliest expression in the establishment of periodicals (The Spectator).

SAMUEL JOHNSON wrote The dictionary of the English language, that included all English words excluding only technical or vulgar ones. This age continued the poetry of the Restoration: the poet’s function was to provide social poetry. Poetry seldom gave voice to the poets’ personal feelings; therefore satire and mock-heroic verse were still the favorite techniques for criticism and moral concern. Horace with Ars Poetica influenced poets of this age in the search of perfection and in the rejection of everyday language in favor of poetic diction, whose features were: standard phrases and periphrases, frequent use of apostrophe, inversion and personification, latinising words and constructions. Were used heroic couplets, epigrams, epistles and Pindaric odes. While the court withdrew its support from theater the middle classes began to patronize it in bigger numbers. The age was marked by the beginning of pantomime (by French and Italian troupes) associated with ballad-opera, mixture of political satire, picaresque adventures and love interest.
Ballad-opera had been invented by JOHN GAY, who wrote The Beggar’s Opera (time contemporary, characters rogue and vagabonds and fantastic world). Popular was also melodrama that punished vice, where sinners reclaimed, distressed maidens saved, generosity rewarded. Comedy Of Manners was replaced by Sentimental Comedy a type of play dealing with everyday problems of family in simple language. At the end of the age OLIVER GOLDSMITH and RICHARD SHERIDAN began to react against excessive sentimentalism in plays and they got rid of the ingredients of the Comedy of Manners, but kept the witty dialogue (for comic situations).

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