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Reason and common sense

Enlightened thinkers, following the philosophers Locke and Addison, rejected the Calvinist theory of the original sin and the depravity of man. Liberal thought confirmed free will, salvation for all men, the goodness of mankind, and its ability to progress. More people claimed entertainment and fulfilment as rights, in fact sexuality was accepted and gratification was dissociated from sin and shame.
1. Optimism encouraged faith in progress and human perfection and reason, which made man different from beasts, helped him in crucial choices and allowed man to doubt external influences.
2. A desire of balance and symmetry began to appear, especially in connection to the idea of imitation of nature.
3. In the Augustan Age social virtue came to have two particular meanings. Firstly a disposition of benevolence towards oneself and others, creating happiness. Secondly, there was a growing importance given to human virtue connected with heart and sensibility. These trends will constitute the basis of Romanticism.


The big interest of middle-class people in social problems and political life, and moreover their eagerness to be informed and to discuss events and characters, gave much impulse to the birth of a new literary form, journalism. The two main men who contributed to the success of newspapers were Joseph Addison and Richard Steele. Steele started editing the Tattler, the first important newspaper, which talked about gossip or unimportant things discussed by the people. The Tattler became a periodical essay, which dealt with subjects of general interest, such as fashion, literature, manners and history.
Steele tried to be a cunning journalist and introduced bright ideas in order to deliver moral teachings under the guise of entertainment (or in the form), making the society more refined.
The Tattler was written in a casual conversational style under the names of different coffee-houses. Addison joined Steele at the Tattler and they later founded The Spectator, a daily journal. Mr Spectator, who stood for the authors themselves, commented upon all the customs and morals, the vices and virtues of contemporary society. His fellow members represented the various social classes: following the structure of this journal, these members used to talk to Mr Spectator about various themes: from popular vices to high literature arguments. The style was simple, clear and adapted to the middle-class, which regained social importance in this period.

The rise of the novel

The most important writers which established the new type of novel were Richardson and Defoe. In the 18th century novelists were spokespeople for the middle class. The plots which had traditionally made up the bulk of English literature for the previous centuries were abandoned by new novelists. The aim of the writers was not to satisfy the patron by writing in the language of the elite, but to write in a simpler language, to divulgate their production and to sell it. Since it was the bookseller and not the patron who granted the career, speed and output were important economic virtues. The writer aimed at realism: he tried to portray human experience from different perspectives. The realism was not about the kind of life portrayed, but about the way in which it was depicted. All the characters struggle for survival and for social success and can be divided into two groups:
1. Some of them live with reason, like Robinson Crusoe
2. Others cannot control their passions and subordinate reason to their cravings
The narrative facts of the novel were told in chronological order. The settings were very realistic because in previous fiction the idea of place had been fragmentary, while now it was given a large amount of details such as town and street names to add to the realism of the novel.


Defoe was born in a family of dissenters in 1660. He started his career as a journalist, writing for Whig papers and supporting William of Orange under the reign of queen Anne. She did not like his critical attitude and put him in prison. After some time he denied his Whig ideas so he was freed and became a secret agent.

The journalist

As a journalist he wrote the Review, a periodical which did not have much in common with the Tattler. It was an organ of moderation which spoke also of commercial interest.

The pamphleteer

Defoe’s most important pamphlet was The Shortest Way with Dissenters where he assumed the character of a Tory and argued ironically that the shortest way of dealing with the Dissenters was to eradicate them.

The novelist

In 1719 he published Robinson Crusoe, which was followed by Captain Singleton. In 1722 he published Moll Flanders and Colonel Jack

Structure of the novels

Defoe’s long narratives were produced with extraordinary speed; they are fictional autobiographies which pretend to be true, written in diary form. Defoe never planned or revised his works: his aim as a writer was to produce a large and effective output. There are two different narrative methods: a combination of full scenic where, at a definite time, all the actions were presented. Defoe’s characters tell the story in first person. The point of view of the author always coincided with that of the main character. The characters are introduced with their actions. They usually appear in isolation and in a struggle to survive or to earn money, so they live in difficult conditions.

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