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Augustan Literature

The economic and intellectual progress of the Augustan Age was reflected in its literary works by the development of a variety of genres and an increasing interest in reading. The reading public was yet limited due to the fact that not all could read and write; the countryside folk was quite illiterate and even in the cities schools were few and children of the lower classes would not be able to attend them long as they would start working at the early age of about seven. Books were very expensive although there were cheaper printed versions of ballads, pamphlets, romances and criminal stories and newspapers, which also published series of novels, for the lower classes. Moreover, houses were overcrowded and thus lacking privacy and light conditions were often not sufficient to read. In this period, libraries acquired more importance and helped to increase the reading public.
The development of the prose genre was deeply affected by the growing power of the middle classes; the novels and journalism were expressions of the time beliefs in the power of reason and individual self-confidence in one’s own abilities. The use of reason in analyzing the world led to the paradox in which the function of reasoning was also analyzed leading to a sense of self-doubt. Most books published were religious and the puritan morality was still very much appreciated among the middle-class readers. Often, moral, religious and secular interests were combined leading to the establishment of periodicals.

Poetry was also well developed and continued the trend of the Restoration Age using satire and mock-heroic verse to convey criticism and moral concern in what was a “social” poetry. The Augustan poetry felt the influence of Latin authors and was characterized by the use of poetic diction instead of everyday language, the use of periphrases and Latinizing words and constructions as well as the frequent use of apostrophe, inversion and personification. Augustan poets gave emphasis on the form rather than on the originality of the verse and they believed that poetry had to deal with Nature.

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