The Augustan Age


In the Augustan age England enjoyed a period of internal stability and prosperity after the wars of the previous century. The expanding of the colonial empire, the flourishing economy and trade, made of England not only a leading political and commercial country, but one of the greatest economic power in the world.

The new middle class who had created the wealth of the country consisted mainly of a large merchant and manufacturing class in the towns and big landowners in the country: they were growing in power and prestige.

Thanks to this premises the society opened to the culture, so the middle class developed an interest for education and for news. The increasing of literature caused journalism to boom, with a proliferation of newspaper and periodicals, which became very popular with upper and middle classes. Thanks to the growth of the reading public, among whom also women, the writers of this time started to break free from the patrons and became professionals. Since it was this middle class who bought books, culture began to be indentified with it, whose tastes and needs the writers tried to meet.

Augustan age was also called,in fact, the "age of prose", because in this period there was a large developement of the novel. The greatest novellers often starts their carees as journalists: in fact Daniel Defoe wrote one of the first important periodical : “The Review” (published from 1704 to 1713), and then his masterpiece: the novel “Robinson Crusoe”.

The new middle class

During the XVII century the England started to develope a new kind of agricolture, mainly caracterized by a modernization of the technical and social sides. At the beginning of this period we have the openfield yet: a large part of field destined to the common use. But with the enclosures was borned the private property, so the large landowners , with the fencing of the field, saw the increasing of their power and welfare.

The birth of journalism

The rise of the journalism was supported mainly by two men: Joseph Addison and Richard Steele , with the periodicals "The Tatler" and "The Spectator" . But at the beginning of this century, beyond "The Spectator" in England there were other important journals as "The Review" written and published by Daniel Defoe. "The Review" by Daniel Defoe was published twice or thrice a week from 1704 to 1713. It was an organ of moderation, religious and political, and of broad commercial interest. It was ultimately government intervention that brought this newspaper to a close in 1713.

"The Tatler"

In 1709, Steele started editing "The Tatler": the title comes from "tattle", that is the gossip or unimportant things a group of people talk about. Although the title of this periodical was meant to attract women, the amount of news and entertaining articles gradually diminished and it came more and more to be a periodical essay, which dealt whit subjects of general interest, such as fashion, literature, manners and history.

It came out three times a week, from 1709 to 1711, and its articles were written in a casual and conversational style under the name of different coffee-houses: funny articles came from "White's Chocolate House", poetry from "Will's" and so on.

"The Spectator"

Addison joined Steele at "The Tatler" and they later founded "The Spectator". It was published daily except for Sunday, from 1711 to 1712. This newspaper was an extremely innovative publication, it was very influential. It inaugurated the tradition of the daily periodical whose subject was not news, but literature and manners.
The style was simple, clear and lively and was meant for the middle-classes, which had recently gained social importance.

The aim of the journal was to contribute to pleasure and education and to banish vice and English ignorance. The authors wanted to entertain their readers familiarly, talking about daily life, important events and, at the same time, literary works and imaginary facts. Because of these connotations, women were very interested in reading it.

The rise of the novel

The novel developed in Britain in 18th century , which determined the primacy of prose during the Augustan Age. In this period the novel arose in its modern, abandoning the conventions of the previous narrative genres and employing the technique of realistic detail. It’s caracterized by realistic characters and actions representative of real life, portrayed society as it was known to readers, especially to the middle class public the novel was mainly aimed for.

The 18th-century novelists were the spokesmen of the middle classes and wrote to please them. Bourgeois readers wanted to read about their own problems and individual experiences. As a consequence the hero of the novel is usually the bourgeois man in his struggle to reach social success.

Many factors determined the rise and diffusion of the modern novel in the Augustan Age:

    1) the influence of the so-called “philosophical realism” which focused on the individual, who could discover truth through his own personal
    2)the wider reading public mostly from the middle class, which could now
    afford many and or expensive books and including more and more women
    3)the creation of circulating libraries which increased the demand for novels.
The best known of Defoe’s novels is undoubtedly "Robinson Crusoe" .
The book is thought to be based on a real event: the experiences of Alexander Selkirk, a seaman who, in 1704, was put ashore on the desert island of Juan Fernandez, in the Pacific Ocean, from which he was rescued in 1709. Defoe may certainly have read the account of Selkirk’s adventures, but he also drew inspiration from some of the travel books so fashionable in his time. Robinson Crusoe, in fact, is a travel novel which, though not divided into chapters, is actually made up of three separated sections.
Here is the plot:
    the first section relates how, in spite of his father’s warning, at nineteen, Robinson left his family and went away to sea to make a fortune, and how, after many dangerous experiences, he landed in Brazil, where he became a successful planter. But one day, during an expedition to Africa to buy some slaves for his plantation, he was shipwrecked on a remote island;
    the second section describes Robinson’s life on the island, where he spent twenty-eight years, two months and nineteen days, during which he kept a journal where he recorded what happened to him almost day after day;
    the third section describes Robinson’s return to Europe, where he learnt that his Brazil plantation still intact had made him rich, and where he met a lot of new adventures.
The bulk of the work is the second part, which is actually in the form of a diary-like account of Robinson’s experiences, of how he was able to partly re-create the world he had left behind him, how he eventually saved a young savage from the cannibals and made him his servant with the name of Man Friday, and how he was finally rescued by an English ship which took him back to England. The work is one of the best examples of pure fiction able to intrigue the reader with its matter-of-fact style.

Fragmentation and Intolerance

In the Augustan age the religious context was too lively, ‘cause after the revolution of Lutero, the Protestantism spread, and quickly changed the mind of the population.

In fact in this age in England, there were more protestants then anglicans and the major part of protestants were Puritans (or called head- rounded). They were more radical , in fact they want to purify the corrupted English Church by punishing every form extraneous from the Scripture. Soon English government suppressed the inconvenient “new religion” applying many restriction.

In this period we collocated the figure of John Milton (1608-1674), the writer who published the epic poem “Paradise lost”, in 1667. This talks about the biblical episode of the man’s falling: the temptation of Adamo and Eva by Satan and their expulsion from the Eden.

The main character is Satan, the fallen angel that, because of his ambition and pride, starts to defie God. God is represented as a tyrannical creator who induces to war and, thanks to his enormous power, wins Satan who falls on the Earth.

The vision of the literary criticism, who thinks that he sympathizes for the Devil,entailed his imprisoniment during the Restoration of Carl II..
So, if in the reign of Oliver Cromwell the Puritans were widely accepted, subsequently it wasn’t so. With the "Conventicle Act" of 1664 we have conventicles (religious meeting) of every religion but Anglicanism prohibited . After that a large part of puritans community decided to embark on board of the Mayflower, whereby they could reach the America.

Internal stability

In the Augustan age we can discerne to different historical period: The Interregnum with Oliver Cromwell and the Restoration with Charles II.

The Interregnum

After the execution of Charles I and the victory of the Parliament in 1649 Oliver Cromwell takes over the England and in 1653 he was apponited as Lord Protector of England and Scotland .

The Puritans views began to be imposed on the rest of the country, also thanks to him, who was a Puritan, so often credited their reforms (abolition of holidays such as Christmas and Easter, abolition of theatral representation except for the opera who was considered a noble art…);

Although Cromwell didn’t have a military experience, he conviced Parliament to establish a professional Army , The New Model Army in 1645: the new army was highly specialized and qualified and demonstrated a strict military discipline.

In January 1655, Cromwell dissolved the first protectorate Parliament, ushering in a period of military rule by the Major Generals (England was divided into ten lands each of which was governed by a Major Generals);

Cromwell died in 1658 and his nominated successor as Lord Protector his son Richard, proved unable to govern effectively as various political parties strove to gain power.

The Restoration

Charles II was on exile when the Parliament on 8 May 1661 proclaimed that King Charles II had been the lawful monarch since the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649;

He organized the parliamentary system that was divided into: Tories (the party of the conservatives) and Whigs ( the party of the progressives )and encouraged the cooperation between them; But after this initial activism, the King gradually lost initiative and he also began to betray his catholic sympathies which made him untrustworthy in the eyes of Parliament. The threat of the Papists increasing their influence over the country became more tangible when his brother James II accessed the throne in 1685.

James II ,was a fervent catholic who wants to increase the power of the Cristian Church against the will of the Parliament and people; So seven members of Whigs and seven of Tories sent a letter to William III , the statholder of Holland who was married with Mary Stuart , the daughter of James II. Mary had been educated according to the Puritan ritual, so the majority of english population wanted her and his husband as the governors of the England.

With the Glorious Revolution in 1688, the couple became king and queen of England and Scotland. But after that Charles II escaped in Ireland, where with the decisive Battle of the Boyne in 1690, William of Orange overthrowned James. After the Revolution, in 1689 the king and queen signed the Bill of Rights , one of the cornerstones of the constitutional system of the UK.


When James VI of Scotland became also James I of England his actual dominion did not include a single acre of soil outside the British Isles. Ninety-nine years later, when William III died, the whole of the North American side between the French Acadia on the North and the Spanish Florida on the South was occupied by British colonists.

The most famous episode of the colonization of the America was in the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims famously shared a harvest feast with the American Indians; the meal is now considered the starting point of the nowadays traditional Thanksgiving holiday.
England was also in possession of sundry islands, and the East India Company had established a footing on the Indian Peninsula. Her colonial system was in full play, and her Indian Empire will be nearly born.

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