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first steps towards an evolution of writing, that later will involve the readers directly (the next

step will be made by Sterne).

Fielding shows a very paternal attitude towards both his readers and his characters. This

way, he foregrounds his authorial presence, meaning that his presence is not hidden, but

declared: for example, in the introduction to some chapters etc. Fielding gives attention to

the writing and the way it’s built, and his authorial persona becomes, in a sense, another

character in the novel. There are some introductory chapters in which the authorial voice

directly addresses the reader. Moreover, this voice enters the novel from the very beginning

because this voice explains the plot and even the method of writing. So, the author openly

with his audience, and this way he even controls the readers’ response. In


this way, there’s no verisimilitude provided by the first-person narrative; at the same time,

the reading experience is enriched by the analysis of the author, who is an all-knowing one

(he’s simultaneously in touch with the narrative and his characters and the readers).

Laurence Sterne (1713-1768)

He’s the last great novelist in the 18 th

-century tradition. His vocation as a writer was for

comic-satiric narrative and it is in this field that he produced his best books, i.e.:

1) The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760-67) in 9 volumes;

2) A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768).

said that Sterne didn’t write a novel, but an anti-novel.

Some critics

There are different interpretations to Sterne’s little sketch and doodles on his works; we

know that he surely wants the readers to look for a meaning (even inside themselves): there

are no unique meanings of those doodles. The possible decryptions are just speculation: he

wants every reader to give his own meaning and interpretation.

He’s the first to focus his attention to the ‘inner time’ (later studied by Bergson as the durée)

– the way time is perceived by the single person.

Tristram Shandy is a goofy but sincere man: he can’t control time, but he can’t even control

– it’s like he can’t focus on what he’s doing, he’s confused by time passing.

his own writing

The Shandean humour

Tristram Shandy is an eccentric novel that breaks all the rules even of language and

punctuation and deliberately excludes all suggestions of a plot so that, despite the

considerable length of the book, nobody gets anywhere, nothing happens and the hero

doesn’t succeed even in getting himself born until half-way through! When we believe the

story is about to develop, Sterne introduces an incredible digression, a blank sheet, a

collection of asterisks, a long piece of Latin with translation on the opposite page!

L. Sterne and the Anti-Novel by Sterne’s monstrous

No sooner has the novel emerged in England than it is deconstructed

anti-novel. He realised the fact realism is ultimately impossible, because one

representation leads to another, and that to another, until you are plunged into confusion.

Every narrative must be selective but how ca it be true to life? He realised the fact there are

no rules to novel-writing (when it has to be faithful to reality there are no rules in life).

Novels represent an inherently anarchic genre: you make it up as you go along.

Sterne, with his Tristram Shandy, writes a parody of Richardson’s ‘writing to the moment’:

the time of writing and the time of the ‘written about’ are identical (that’s what he

in Clarissa, on the contrary, one of Tristram’s problems is to keep the time of his

wants us to believe);

writing (the time of the fiction) and the time of the reader (the ‘real’ time) in equilibrium:

Sterne thinks that writing should be a true experience, but the problem is that in real life

there are many facts to be recorded, and characters/people experience the same event in

different ways because each of them has his own psychological time stream (made of free


time stream:

associations). At the same time, the narrator has to keep an eye his readers’

as the result, the more he tries to forge a totality from his life, the more he fails. The paradox

– that’s why he provides

is that he cannot control his narrative the readers with some visual

images of the non-progress of his history. The protagonist has no control over his life, so

he doesn’t even have one over his writing; when he can’t use words since he’s unable to


control the progress of his life (actually, a lack of it), he describes visual images

(doodles, abstract linear sketches).

Sterne somehow ‘deconstructed’ a genre. The main problem of the novelists before Sterne

had been to produce a realistic novel because they wanted writing to be true to experience.

In a sense, the language should not stand between the reader and the reality represented

because the language is itself a medium. So, according to Sterne, Richardson’s ‘writing to

the moment’ and realism is impossible; reality is always fluid and provisional and one

representation leads to another one because life is governed by the principal of free

associations: that’s why the protagonist cannot control his novel – his associations of ideas

are unstoppable and fluid, just like reality. Since in life there are no rules, and since novel

anarchic genre. What Sterne does is to press Richardson’s

writing mirrors reality, it is an

‘writing to the moment’ too far: thus, making a parody of that technique itself. The result is

an improbable novel.

An ‘improbable novel’

The result is a rambling patchwork of anecdotes, comical incoherencies, jests, parodies,

jokes, diagrams, typographical devices. A novel with anomalous features: an anti-novel!

Who knows if the ‘pious Richardson’ (!) would have not been greatly charmed by a novel

out of it…

whose hero is almost castrated by a falling window in the act of urinating

Since everything in the world is bound up with everything else, the narrator cannot say one

thing without saying many others simultaneously. Paradoxically, since his life is closely

linked to the lives of other characters around him, readers end up knowing a lot about these

characters, but very little about him. Moreover, to be faithful to reality the more you write,

the more you will have to write, because the more you will have lived in the meantime.

A story about a cock and a bull!

As the title suggests, the novel (should) tell the life-story of Tristram Shandy, its narrator,

beginning with his conception. However, he has so much to relate about his eccentric family


that he does not manage to get born until the 4 volume. Realising, finally, that his task is

– –

hopeless it wass taking him more time to tell the story than to live his life the novel

ends by concluding that its readers have been taken in by a cock-and-bull story. He keeps

speaking about some idiosyncrasies his father, for example, had: he was obsessed with

clocks. The theme of the idiosyncrasy is quite important in the novel.

In its strangeness, the novel reveals the truth of the novel in general: it unmasks the secret

that the novelist is pretending to be faithful to the real world. Sterne has been the first to use

the ‘associations of ideas’ technique between time sequences that are no longer ruled by

the clock, the objective time, but by each individual consciousness (the ‘inner time’).

According to this idea, each person lives moments and experiences that cannot be

measured in fixed periods of time, since the mind has its own time and space. Thus, what

matters in a novel is no longer a chronological sequence of events or adventures, typical of

the realistic novel, but what the character feels and thinks: so, no facts but emotional

That’s why Sterne used the first-person

implications of facts. narration and based his novel

on an overlapping of memories that the protagonist describes in an apparently illogical

– it’s like this because it follows the

sequence made up of digressions and progressions

logical rules of one’s mind. He focuses on idiosyncrasies and obsessions (which cannot be


– they’re

explained by making references to objective or external facts inexplicable because

they depend on our private lives.

While a hilarious and often bawdy read which delights in parody and satire, repeated images

of disconnection and human isolation give the work a serious underlying theme: the hero

ultimately doubts how much he can know, even about himself. As the first novel about

writing a novel, in which the author frequently breaks into imaginary dialogues with the

reader, it has been lauded as the ancestor of the ‘stream of consciousness’ fiction.

Novel vs. Anti-Novel

He struggles with the difficulty of authorship.

Time of writing vs. time written about.

‘I’ occupying the present tense vs. ‘I’ occupying the past.

Tristram never coincides with himself.

The more he writes, the more he has to write = writing takes time, in order to write your story

you have to stop living.

The novel should be an autobiography, but it takes an ironic form: instead of focusing on the

protagonist, the novel is a satirical decentring of the individual everything is decentred

not a coherent structure (it lacks unity). Richardson convinced us that the

because there’s

narrator is at once subject and object of the novel, but the act of writing separates these two

selves. On the contrary, Sterne reveals this artifice: the very fact of writing contributes to this

splitting so, when Tristram talks about himself, he interprets himself (there is a distance

between the two).

Book, text, life, language

The novel follows characters’ private associations of ideas. Since human life is unique, how

could there be established common and universal conventions and procedures for writing

an account of one? Our lives are different and personal: if I want to tell my own story or

another person’s one, I cannot use the same conventions (the ways of writing need to be

specific for each case). Books are objects in space, they are also processes in time (because

they tell and recount stories involving a process in time, something which develops with

matter of meaning, they’re

the passage of time). Texts (which are made up of words) are a

– their meaning isn’t). Nevertheless, like

not material (the books are body and soul, the two

are distinct but not divorced. So, there are particular relationships between book, text, life

– somehow dependant on each other, they’re not

and language and even though they are

the same thing.


The adventures experienced by Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews in the course of their

travels have echoes of the ‘picaresque novel’; the French novel Gil Blas de Santillana by

Alain-René Lesage was the most successful example of this genre, not only in France but

in England as well, where it was translated by Tobias Smollett. Smollett had served as

surgeon’s mate on a ship which took part in the expedition against the Spaniards in the

Caribbean Sea. The Adventures of Roderick Random, a first-person tale in which the hero

recounts a long series of adventures similar to those encountered by the protagonists of

earlier picaresque novels, but which also contains elements drawn from the author’s own

experience. He also wrote The Adventure of Peregrine Pickle, a novel told by an omniscient

narrator in which the protagonist’s Grand Tour offers Smollett the opportunity to mount a

series of mocking critiques of continental habits and manners; this novel also contains the

erotic reminiscences of Lady Vane (a real person), a quite scandalous chapter. Another of

his works is Humphry Clinker, an epistolary novel dealing with the journey of five

– ‘sentimental journeys’.

correspondents making it become a novel about five different


Parody and Satire: Pope

Alexander Pope was the first English poet to make a living from his literary output. He

claimed to be “above a patron”. Pope had an absolute faith in the value of poetry – in its

educative quality. His poetic genius expressed itself for the most part in the genre of satire.

Pope had not been able to enter university because he was a Catholic and had been the

butt of insults from men of letters because of his physical deformity, caused by tuberculosis.

But once he had acquired a secure position on the English cultural scene, he was free to

launch into a corrosive satire of the literary world. Later generations regarded him as an


antithesis of the true poet because of his sophisticated language and his lack of

His masterpiece is The Rape of the Lock, a mock-heroic poem which tells of the quarrel

between two families caused by the nipping of a love-lock from the head of the beautiful

Belinda. The tragi-comic consequences of this, the descriptions of the salons of the

aristocracy and the life of society, the exaltation of Belinda’s beauty, are all presented to the

reader in the noble tones of the epic. The comic effect arises from the immense gap between

the reality and the rhetorical means by which it is described. High culture itself thus becomes

an object of parody, in the same way as the society of the time is the object of satire. The

satirical tone, however, is not all that harsh.

Parody and Satire: Swift

satire was quite different from Pope’s –

Jonathan Swift’s it was full of bitterness and disgust.

He was Irish, he studied at Trinity College in Dublin and then took the holy orders (he was

appointed Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin). His literary career, just like his life, is

divided into two parts: the ‘Irish Period’, during which he was involved in journalism and

and the ‘English

politics and wrote two satires, A tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books,

Period’, which was a dark one, during which he wrote Gulliver’s

A Modest Proposal and

Travels. These last two satires were the ones full of bitterness. For example, in the first of

this two satires he promotes the rights of the people of Ireland: the ‘proposal’ is to sell the

children of poor people as quality meat to the riches in order to prevent them from being a

burthen to their country. Gulliver’s Travels,

However, his masterpiece and most famous is a formidable satire which

is a parody of mariners’ tales, following the journey of Lemuel Gulliver, a ship’s surgeon and

an honest and sincere fellow. In it, he criticises and satirises life at home, exaggerating the

defects of the real world to the point of absurd. The story is divided into 4 books, each of

of Gulliver’s

one describes a part journey. In Book I Gulliver is shipwrecked on the island of

Lilliput, where he is a giant among beings only six inches tall (they are in war with Belfuscu).

In Book II his travels take him to Brobdingnag, whose inhabitants are twelve time taller than

he is. In Book III Gulliver first ends up in the flying island of Laputa, a kingdom whose

inhabitants are all devoted to abstract speculation and are incapable of performing the

simplest practical activities; he then meets the learned men of another country, Balnibarbi,

whose aim is to discover things of great utility to practical life but whose time is taken up

with utterly bizarre and useless experiments. Finally, he meets the Struldbrugs, a race of

immortals who are all growing steadily more decrepit and miserable because they cannot

die. Book IV is the one in which Gulliver travels to the country of the Houyhnhnms, wise

and rational horses who rule over the Yahoos, a filthy man-like race whose smell he finds

embarrassingly like his own.

Gulliver’s adventures are the occasion for a ferocious satire on English society and politics,

on George I, on his prime minister Walpole, on religious squabbles between Catholics and

Protestants, on the administration of justice. But it is above all a pitiless satire on the greed


and arrogance afflicting humankind. Swift was a moral philosopher who hated false ideals,

who hated hypocrisy and lies and, most of all, hated injustice.

Parody and Satire: Steele, Addison and Gay

Satire and parody are also at the root of the most interesting theatrical production that


appeared on the English stage in the first half of the 18 century. But the most appreciated

‘exemplary’ comedy,

genre of the period was the whose main exponent was Richard

Steele. Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, both Irish playwrights, are famous above all

for the magazines they founded; Steele was founder of The Tatler, while both together

founded The Spectator these magazines where addresses to a public of both men and

(especially) women of the bourgeois class, and they supplied information of literary,

scientific, and general intellectual interest, entertainment, and instruction. Above all, they

encouraged their readers to harbour no sense of inferiority towards the aristocracy and

generally to feel that the new values expressed by the bourgeoisie were superior to those

of the past. Even when writing for the stage Steele was faithful to these principles: his

characters were honest, serious, and good, and the ‘exemplary’ story ended with the triumph

of the goodness. The Beggar’s Opera,

The public of today still appreciates the masterpiece of John Gay,

described as a ‘ballad opera’ (it contained 69 songs, or ‘ballads’) animated by satire and

parody, realised by the technique of inversion: in fact, the ballads are well-known tunes

sung by characters who aren’t heroic

which are ideologically inverted (the heroic ones are

Gay’s satire exhibits an essential mistrust of a social order centred on the

and vice versa).

dominion of the bourgeoisie.

A political and social background


The second half of the 18 century saw a turning point in the life of the country. New social,

political, and economic events contributed to the slow decline of the classical values and to

the awakening of the romantic ideals.

1) The French revolution (1789)

2) The American revolution (1780-1783)

3) The Industrial revolution

Obviously, the first two events were the main political ones; the economic one was the

Industrial revolution. The French revolution had a quite important role in the development of

man’s rights. The Industrial revolution definitively transformed England from an agricultural

to an industrial country. Greater attention was paid to the problems caused by the Industrial

revolution: in fact, the poor and the dispossessed were regarded with more tolerance and

sympathy. Consequently, the interest shifted from town to the countryside. This new interest

led to a new approach to nature.

The Age of Transition

this age as ‘The Age of Transition’, we mean that values slowly change.

When we define th

The second half of the 18 century was a complex period in which new trends rose and

developed side by side with the classical ones until the latter finally declined. The literary

production of the period was obviously influenced by the social and political setting of the

age. New times began to appear side by side with the old ones. This part has often been

described as a turning away from the neoclassical or Augustan verse mode, especially

public satire towards the lyric with its emphasis on individual feelings. So, themes just like

melancholy and solitude, wild natural landscapes which would become so significant to the

Romantic Era and Romantic poets, found early expression in the so-called graveyard poetry.

So, realism and rationalism were slowly replaced by sentimentalism and imagination.


A complex period of transition

Like all other periods of transition, the one under review is disturbed and confused. Realism

and Rationalism, which had dominated the beginning of the century were gradually

replaced by Symbolism and Imagination, while Satire made room for Sentimentalism. Of

course, the evolution from one stage to the other was slow and took about 50 years but by

the end of the century the substitution was complete. The literary movement of sensibility,

calling attention to personal feelings and, with its emphasis on death, nostalgia, and the


isolation of the individual, became prominent toward the final decade of the 18 century. Of

course, the evolution from one stage to the other was slow, and the twilight of the Augustan

gods began more or less by 1770, when the great masters of the English novel were all

dead. It is virtually impossible to compress literary movements within precise dates.

Nevertheless, the so-called Age of Transition is usually divided into 2 periods slightly

different from each other: Twilight of Classism and Early Romanticism.

Overall, the age still maintained its main features. There’s still emphasis on order, harmony,

and clarity: for example, poets still used a literary language that is the poetic diction but, at

the same time, they introduced new tendencies in contrast to classism. As a result, poetry

became more intimate and the rural middle-classes and humble people were revaluated. A

consciousness of the vanity of life appeared along with the meditation on death: we can say

that these are the two main themes that pervaded poetry. In fact, the elegy (a poem

lamenting someone’s death or meditating on death in general) became one of the privileged

forms of poems. In contrast to neoclassical writers, who were interested in man as a social

being rather than as an individual with its own soul, now poets rediscover the pleasure of

meditation they appreciate and recognise the true value of the humble life of country

people. Sensibility is the key term used to pinpoint a decisive aspect of English culture in


the second half of the 18 century, but in reality thing do not work in distinct blocks:

transformations, revolutions even, have roots and can manifest themselves to the alert eye

well before their full flowering.

Towards the early Romantic Age

The Age of Reason The Age of Transition

- Realism and rationalism - Imagination and symbolism

- Reason - Feelings

- Satire - Sentimentalism

- Common sense - Pathos

- Imitation - Creativity and originality

- Interest in Ancient Rome - Interest in folk traditions

Nature ordered by man’s intellect

- - Nature as source of inspiration to be

described as it is

- Interest in town - Interest in the countryside

From the age of reason to the age of sensibility The interest in country life

The country became the privileged setting, the rural middle-class was described as morally

wholesome and endowed with dignity of their own. The countryside was the ideal setting of

poets, who, while idealising the beauty and Virgilian peacefulness of some rural scenes,

took the opportunity to lament the sad destiny of country people and villages.

From the age of reason to the age of sensibility The interest in nature

No longer seen as a machine engineered by God or ordered by man’s intellect, nature was

now granted an existence of its own and began to be observed and described as it really

was. It became a source of inspiration for poets.


From the age of reason to the age of sensibility Sensibility and Melancholy

The gently melancholy slowly turned into a more sombre mood which led to an interest in

ruins, desert places, night scenes and tombs. –

From the age of reason to the age of sensibility Graveyard poetry

A new poetry started, called graveyard poetry because it expressed the transitoriness of

life, because of its descriptions of churchyard settings, its dwelling on the macabre and

in a word, everything that reminded man that he was bound

the loneliness of the grave…

to die.

Poetry celebrates “the pure pleasures of the rural life”,

James Thomson in his poem The Seasons

placing the “natural” landscape of the countryside and the activity of peasant labour at the

heart of his poetic invention. The work of his friend William Collins will reinforce this view

of poetry. In poetry, sensibility expressed itself in a sombre view of the place of man in the


Thomas Gray produced the best example of graveyard poetry. His Elegy written in a

Country Churchyard has always been considered classic in his form and early romantic


in the content, and probably the masterpiece of the 18 -century melancholic sensibility. The

Elegy, written in quatrains rhymed abab and basically traditional in form, is a meditation on

death; the death in question is that of the rural poor buried in miserable graves. Their death

leads to a general reflection on death and concludes with an Epitaph whose underlying

reference is to the destiny of the poem himself. Another central idea of pre-Romantic poetry

is the one which assigns aesthetic value to the grandeur and violence of nature and to its

savage aspects, seen as able to arouse the deepest emotions, from religious awe to

aghast terror. Edmund Burke, in his Philosophical Enquiry, puts the accent on terror as a

source of aesthetic pleasure. The concept of sublime derived from the celebration of the

could easily be found in North Europe’s landscapes:

primitive and the spontaneous, which

that’s why ancient legends from German culture became the new model of Romantic

authors. This led to the rediscovery of Middle Ages. James Macpherson, a Scottish author,

said he had translated an ancient manuscript regarding the story of Ossian, a German hero.

Ossianism (Ossian) has to do with Macpherson, whose collection of poems became one of


the publishing sensations of the 18 century. Macpherson said that he had translated an

ancient collection of manuscripts. Actually, he never managed to show the original

manuscript: that’s why people thought he was the author of the book. He gave life to a kind

of poetry marked by a revival of primitive legends and folklore. The ancient poems translated

by Thomas Chatterton were equally spurious (he committed suicide at the age of 18 and

– he was remembered as “the purest

his death had a powerful effect on the Romantic poets

writer in the English language”). What’s important here is the putting forward of a completely

new model of poetry, no more inspired by classics. In opposition to the controlled language,

rigorous metre, propriety of subject matter we find a type of poetry that presented itself as

spontaneous, primitive, bearer of emotions.

Between Pre-romanticism and Romanticism

“Poets measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a

comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit. They are the unacknowledged legislators of the

world” (Keats, A Defence of Poetry, 1821)

Early Romanticism

In the third quarter of the XVIII century, neoclassicism definitively crumbled under the

pressure of ideas and techniques introduced by some writers later known as ‘Early


Romantics’ or ‘Preromantics’. Both the ‘Preromantics’ and the ‘Romantics’ would not have

used the terms themselves: the labels were applied retrospectively, from around the middle

of the XIV century. Apart from any attempt at a definition, what is certain is that, at the end

of the XVIII century a new approach to literature began to appear in the isolated

manifestations of individual writers who shared a common distaste for the artificiality and

the intellectual elegance of the Augustan Age.

The term ‘Pre-romanticism’ is usually used to define some literary developments of the late


18 century. These literary developments are thought to have prepared the ground for

Romanticism in its full sense. Generally speaking, they must be considered as part of the

framework of neoclassicism. Early Romanticism can hardly be defined as a real literary

movement it lacked precise rules or a precise program. In fact, some critics consider Pre-

romanticism simply as a trend, whose rules can be traced back to the Elizabethan Age.

Indeed, both Pre-romanticism and Romanticism were marked by a fresh enthusiasm for

Shakespeare. Their new approach towards literature was characterised by a strong belief in

– –

the use of imagination: imagination against realism reason materialism. They believed,

for example, in pathos against wit, and they also had a distaste for the conventional formality

of neoclassicism and neoclassical modes of expression. These new attitudes conveyed by

Early Romanticism was the result of a new aesthetic, but also of new social theories used,

above others, by Jean-Jacque Rousseau. The French philosopher can be considered as

the ‘real man’ of the time, and his writings have traditionally been regarded as fundamental

Rousseau’s rejection of the Enlightenment and its

for Romanticism and Pre-romanticism.

rationalism is at the very core of Romanticism.

Features of Preromanticism

The most important constituents of Pre-romanticism are:

- The melancholy of English graveyard poetry.

- The primitivism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and of Ossianism.

- The taste for the sublime (the term conveys the feelings people experienced when

they saw ‘dramatic landscapes’ or when they found themselves in extreme situations,

which elicited or provoked both fear and admiration; ‘sublime’ was theorised by Burke

in his essay ‘into the origin of the sublime and beautiful’) and the picturesque in


The ‘Sturm und Drang’ (which stands for ‘Storm and Stress’ –

- this movement

produced a kind of literature that, with no doubt, can be defined as dramatic) phase

of German literature.

- The cult of sensibility in the sentimental novel.

- The sensationalism of the early Gothic novels.

These developments have given a new importance to subjective and spontaneous individual

feeling. In ‘The Social Contract’ Rousseau wrote that the man was born free. The Romantic

poets were strongly inspired by this idea, and by the desire for liberty. The poets denounced

the exploitation of poor people they also stressed the importance of the individual, and

their conviction that people should follow their ideals rather than imposed rules. They

marked the importance of expressing authentic personal feelings. They also felt a strong

sense of responsibility towards the society in which they lived they wanted to change their

society. For example, Blake in his poems spoke about social issues the same was done

That’s also why Romantic poetry is a democratic kind of poetry.

by Wordsworth.

Rousseau’s theories

– ‘child’ is seen as a symbol of innocence provided with happiness and

- Childhood



– he said that man is naturally good (he’s made evil by –

- The noble savage society

Rousseau advocates a return to nature in which man, as a primitive savage, could

live innocent and happy, and he could be at peace with nature) and introduced a new

dualism between the evil society and the innocence of nature

- Democracy it refers to the fact that humble people are preferred to upper classes

- Imagination it opposes the ideal to the real, thus making people (and the poets in

particular) escape from society and the industrialised world

– a dialogue between the man (the

- Nature a refuge from society, but since there’s

poet) and nature, visible landscapes are turned into ‘landscapes states of mind’;

nature becomes the exterior manifestation of the individual’s mood

- Intimacy (happiness derives from the interplay between personal emotions and

imagination but, sometimes, the relationship between the two is marked by

disproportion, leading to depression ->) and melancholy

- Interest in the Middle Ages it has to do with the emphasis on primitivism and the

vogue for literary discovery: poets and intellectuals looked back to the past, at an age

in which man was not corrupted by society (in other words, the past is better than the


Rousseau’s theories coincide with most part of the themes of Romanticism.

The Gothic Novel

Horace Walpole, son of the dictatorial Prime Minister, had founded the printing press that

published Gray’s Odes. He also published his novel, The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story,

thus creating the genre of the ‘Gothic novel’, characterised by its taste for the picturesque

and the sublime, mystery and irrationality. The protagonist of the Gothic novel is often a

young woman who is pursued by villains and who in her flight faces every sort of real or

imaginary danger. Here we find ourselves on a terrain utterly opposed to that of

neoclassicism, a ‘new sensibility’ which englobed the taste for ‘grave poetry’ and its

meditation on death. The vogue for the Gothic novel reached its apogee towards the end of


the 18 century. The main authors of the genre are William Beckford with its Vathek (the

protagonist makes a pact with the devil, just like Faustus a journey into the forbidden),

Ann Radcliffe, who invented the most extravagant and horrifying stories of the age (some

set in Scotland, most in Italy, in convents or cellars of sinister castles), Matthew Gregory

Lewis and its Monk making significant changes to the basic rules of the Gothic genre (where

a very devoted monk becomes the villain who pursues a young woman and kills her the

devil will tell him that his virtue was only due to his vanity).

Dr Jonson

This period could be called both the Age of Sensibility, but also the Age of Jonson.

The Gentleman’s Magazine,

Samuel Jonson worked for and spent his career writing

poems, essays and biographies. He is the author of the Dictionary of the English Language,

with the aim of ‘fixing’ the English pronunciation. He also founded The Rambler, conceived

“to consider the moral discipline of the mind”, thus becoming the foremost moralist of the

periodical also expressed the need of ‘discrimination’ –

period. The many articles of the the

act of distinguishing truth from falsehood. His ambition extended to constructing a canon of

English literature, what he called the Lives of the English Poets.

Goldsmith and Sheridan

Sentimental comedy fitted well with the philosophy and values which the bourgeois public

believed in. Unfortunately, there was no room in this sort of comedy for laughter, an essential

element of comedy of any kind. It was this anomaly that Oliver Goldsmith addressed: in

his play She Stoops to Conquer he gave a practical demonstration of how it was possible to


combine sensibility and laughter. The play rotates around a series of misunderstandings:

Marlow, the protagonist, goes out to the provinces to meet the woman his father wants him

to marry but he thinks she lives in an inn: the woman, grasping how he was saucy with

servants but shy with ladies, pretends to be a wench. When it becomes clear that it’s not an

inn at all, she introduces herself to him, liberating him from his neurotic embarrassment.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan was a Member of Parliament with very modern ideas, and a

formidable parliamentary orator. He was an author and impresario, and he ended his career

with his adaptation of a German drama, Pizarro, denouncing the massacres of the Spanish

colonists. Two of his earlier plays have remained classics of the English theatrical repertory:

The Rivals, a play of youthful gaiety and light-hearted comic tone dealing with the themes

authority and children’s freedom of choice

of romantic love, money, parental (the character

of Mrs Malaprop has an habit of confusing and misapplying learned, difficult or long words

and mangling quotations has become proverbial under the name of malapropism), and The

School for Scandal, characterised by the wittiest lines belonging to the negative characters

(intellectual and linguistic brilliance are put at the service of scandal and slander).

The Romantic Period: The Three Revolutions


During the second half of the 18 century there took place a massive process of

transformation of the economy, which went from being an agrarian and handicraft economy

to being an industrial one based on machine manufacture. Thousands of peasants left the

countryside and swarmed into the cities, villages were deserted, while the cities expanded

enormously. The American Revolution and the loss of the American colonies did not halt or

even seriously affect this process of transformation. But its enormous political as well as

economic significance could not be ignored. The whole population of Britain had to come to

terms with the implications of the French Revolution, which offered to many of the

disinherited victims of the Industrial Revolution a hope of salvation. But before long, setting

aside the sentimental reaction to the fate of Marie Antoinette, Britain went to war with France.

Paine, in the essay The Rights of the Man, put forward a progressive political programme

which proposed popular education, pensions for the aged, and public work for the

unemployed to be financed by a progressive income tax.

The young poets of the Romantic movement came to maturity in this climate of

unprecedented upheaval, enthusiasm, fear, hope and delusion. For the poets of the first

Romantic generation this was the formative background of their experience as men and as


Romantic poets

When reference is made to Romantic poetry, the poets who are generally recognised as

Romantic Poets are William Blake (1757-1827), William Wordsworth (1770-1850),


Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), George Gordon, 6 Lord Byron (1788-1824),

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and John Keats (1795-1821). st

Romantic poets are conventionally divided into two groups, usually defined as 1


generation (Wordsworth and Coleridge) and 2 generation (Byron, Shelley, Keats).

Chronologically speaking, the two generations overlap (it’s not a chronological division): they

are distinguished by features of their own.

We can say that Romanticism was a movement: the Romantic literary movement. It was a

new school of poetry (the privileged genre) whose theoretical manifesto Wordsworth’s

Preface to Lyrical Ballads. It was in poetry that the new interest in imagination and emotions

found its best vehicle. There’s no doubt that the true protagonist of Romantic poetry is the

individual (the poet analysing Blake, we said that the poet was not a normal man: Blake

had the ability to grasp what common men couldn’t understand, he was a prophet). As never


before in literature, the poet spoke of himself his joys, his fears, his emotions (whatever

he felt). If the individual is the protagonist of Romantic poetry there’s no doubt that Romantic

poets also turned to nature and devoted themselves to a recovery of its beauty. Far from

the conventions of the Augustan Age, Romantic poetry conveys a new sense of communion

between nature and men because both are seen as two different but inseparable parts of

the same universe: in fact, nature was considered as something alive. They strongly believe

on its own: Romantic poets didn’t see nature as something fixed or

that nature had a life

dead, so they embraced the philosophy of Pantheism (according to which nature was

governed by a living spirit, an immanent God, speaking to all those who are able to enter in

with nature). Romantic poets also embraced Shelling’s philosophy –

close relation he, too,

considered nature as something alive governed by an animating spirit. Shelling’s conception

of art had a deep impact on the development of the Romantic ideals: in fact, he thought art

– –

is the supreme moment when men through unconscious intuition can grasp the truth

lying beyond reality. Neo-Platonism also had an influence on Romantic poetry, and it

considered “this” world (reality) as an image of an ideal, metaphysical, perfect world.

William Blake (1757-1827)

Poet, artist, engraver and visionary. Blake is one of the most astonishing personalities in

the history of English Literature. Born in London, he received very little schooling.

Apprenticed to an engraver he spent long months in Westminster Abbey copying its

monuments for his master: he discovered the beauty of allegorical decorations and was

fascinated by the religious symbolism of the Gothic style.

There are almost no outward events in Blake’s life. He married the daughter of a very poor

men, and she was so uneducated that he had to teach her even how to read and write.

Visions were not unusual in his life. As a child, he had often seen God, the Virgin, the

angels and other mystical creatures. And, far from being hallucinations, these visions were

the visualization of his thoughts, a sort of inner light from which he drew inspiration for his

He’s usually referred as ‘the Prophet of imagination’, because

works (his own imagination). th

he was a visionary poet in opposition to the prevailing beliefs of the 18 century (the

rationalism and the materialism of Locke and Newton). William Blake was against the

realistic art, and against the idea of art as imitation. Since he hated materialism, he

created a philosophy of his own, and this philosophy was an exaltation of the spirit over the

body, over the impressions that come from the physical senses. He tried to discover the true

reality beyond the physical world thanks to the use of imagination. God, to him, was

– and spiritual power. Blake’s conceptional imagination and his use

imagination a creative

of symbolism, his contemplation of nature, his interest in medieval and gothic, all these ideas

are Romantic in substance. In fact he gave the ‘final blow’ to the Age of Reason, thus

In his opinion, through imagination it’s possible to see the eternal and

showing the way.

infinite beyond the material appearances. He stressed his ideas into different kinds of

poems: the first poems are usually short, and he made use of an uncomplicated language,

symbolism (Songs of Innocence and Experience belong to this group); the poems from the

second group are more complex and obscure: they deal with both the realities of the

– Blake’s exaltation

contemporary world and the potentiality of the spiritual world of art and

his belief that art is a creative vision (through the process of creating art, the poet has visions

which disclose new truths to him). He thought that the poet was a visionary he was a seer,

not a common man. Thanks to this, Blake’s –

poetry is original and unique it mixes to

important masters of vision: Shakespeare and the Bible even though Chaucer was also

important to him. Songs of Innocence and Experience are two groups of poems dealing with

the two contrary states of the human soul: in particular, the Songs of Innocence are of (and

not about) childhood. For Blake, childhood is not an age, but a state of the soul Songs of

Innocence symbolise the ideal condition of men, but Experience is a stage in the cycle of


life. Innocence and experience are states of the soul through which men have to pass and

they’re always closely linked and connected in a cyclic relation because – according to him

– without contraries there is no progression.

Imagination of Romantic poets celebrated ‘the shaping spirit of imagination’. They

The first generation

all emphasised the grandeur of the poet’s imaginative vision. The imagination came to mean

the highest and noblest gift of the poet who, through it, as to god-like faculty, was able to

modify or even re-create the world around him. Moreover, while the Augustans had tried to

adhere faithfully to their classical models, the Romantic revised the past through their own

imagination. Romanticism offered a new way of looking at the world, prioritising imagination

reason. The belief on imagination as a part of the poet is the distinguishing feature of the

Romantic poets. The importance accorded to imagination as a faculty of the individual

contributes to the centrality of the individual in Romantic poetry. Individualism and egotism


are two important features of the movement and, among the Romantic poets,

and his poetry in particular has been accused to be marked by egotism too much. It has

been said, in fact, that Wordsworth sees all things in himself, and that he is his own subject.

William Wordsworth

Born and raised in the Lake District, where he spent his childhood in close contact with

nature. He lost his mother when he was eight and his father when he was thirteen. He had

three brothers and a sister to whom he was closer than ever he would be to anyone else.

His ‘family romance’ was primarily with the natural world, surpassingly beautiful in the Lake

Country. The turning point in his life was his meeting, in 1795, with Samuel Coleridge, with

whom he developed a long and very productive friendship. They shared the same love for

nature and enjoyed taking long walks. During one of these they planned the structure of the

future Lyrical Ballads (1800).

The volume of the Lyrical Ballads is a collection of poems; it has a long Preface by

Wordsworth, which is considered the manifesto of the Romantic movement in English

literature. Wordsworth’s declared aim was to reconcile realism and poetry, because realism

was usually confined to prose. He wants to give the charm of novelty to everyday things

what’s new is the way they’re represented, which is poetry. To do this, he has to draw

inspiration from everyday life and to write as near as possible to actual Spoken English, far

from the artificiality of the poetic diction. What he also does is to work out a theory of poetry

of his own, which he expanded in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, where he said that it is

that it’s possible to represent

through imagination and its modifying colours reality in a

new and interesting way. According to him, good poetry is the result of powerful feelings and

this can happen only when poets have a deep sensibility and poets have thought long and

deeply before writing. That’s because the best emotions are those recollected in

tranquillity. They are past feelings contemplated and reorganised. When these emotions

recover through memory and are contemplated at a distance, they are true. The seeing that

has produced these emotions is recreated in the lines of the poet and it becomes new,

stronger and sweeter, and the power of imagination can penetrate into the life of things. In

other words, thanks to his imagination the poet is able to perceive and see things which the

ordinary mind is usually blind to. The eyes of the soul see deeper and further than the

ordinary mind. The poet possesses the higher degree of sensibility and imaginative power.

As for the things of nature, for Wordsworth it was not a decorative background or simply the

mirror of a particular mood, but it is endowed by a spirit of its own and it is a friend and

comforter to man. Nature is also a great feature because, by penetrating into its divine

essence, man could learn virtue and wisdom.


Samuel Coleridge

Son of a learned clergyman, Coleridge was born in Devonshire and proved to be a

precocious and brilliant talker. While at Cambridge University, because of increasing

rheumatic pains he began to use opium, a drug frequently prescribed by doctors at the time.

In 1798-99 Coleridge and Wordsworth visited Germany. Here he made his first acquaintance

with the work of Kant and studied German idealism which was to have a deep influence on

his aesthetic theories. Back from Germany, he increased his opium doses and became an

opium addict. He spent the last years of his life in a relatively quiet and happy way.

If in the Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth had to draw inspiration from everyday life, Coleridge

had to deal with the supernatural that is about incredible events but in such a way as to

make them credible and procure a temporarily suspension of this belief which constitutes

He wants the reader to believe in what he’s reading, even if for a couple of

poetic faith.

moments. Coleridge is more properly and fully Romantic than Wordsworth, since he sums

up all those elements which constitute the spirit of Romanticism. Some of these elements

are the ballad structure and themes. In fact, the title of the book (Lyrical Ballads) is more

due to Coleridge’s contribution than to Wordsworth’s – it was the first one who adopted the

dramatic atmosphere of Medieval ballads. Another aspect is, of course, nature but, unlike

Wordsworth, Coleridge doesn’t find happiness and consolation in it. Mystery and

supernatural are other themes; some of his works are unfinished and this increases the

sense of mystery in them. Coleridge also makes use of special sounds internal rhyme,

alliteration, onomatopoeia in order to create the unreal atmosphere of his poems. As for

the role of imagination, like Wordsworth, Coleridge too worked out a theory of his own, but

different Wordsworth’s one. According to Coleridge, imagination is divided into two types:

primary (the faculty by which we perceive the world around us it works through our senses

and it’s common to all human beings) and secondary imagination (which has the power of

– in other words, it’s the poetic vision and it works during the state

dissolving and recreating

of ecstasy: during these particular states, images appear associated according to laws of

their own that the individual cannot control). The imagination enables the poet to associate

metaphors and poetical devices. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge despise primary

imagination (that Coleridge defines fancy) and they exalt secondary imagination (that

Coleridge defines simple imagination). But for Wordsworth imagination transforms reality

and its objects (so it ‘half-creates’); for Coleridge, on the contrary, it creates in the true sense

of the word.


Lord George Gordon Byron studied at Cambridge, where he became better known for his

radicalism and loose living than for his scholarly attainments. His first lyrics were

unremarkable, but the fierce criticism he received suggested to him the idea for English

Bards and Scotch Reviewers, a satirical poem in imitation of Pope which revealed his talent

as a versifier and which contains his sarcastic dismissal of the Romantic poets of the first

generation, whom he ridicules for having so conveniently ditched their youthful ideals and

for losing their creative impulse. He also started, together with Shelley, the periodical The

– after Shelley’s death he decided that fighting for liberty was the only thing that gave

Liberal he set out for Greece, where he formed a ‘Byron However,

his life any sense, and Brigade’.

he never managed to take part in any real military action (he died).

Immediately afterwards Byron set out on his Grand Tour and began to work on the poem

Pilgrimage: Harold, the first Byronic hero, is “the

that made him famous, Childe Harold’s

man without a friend”, melancholic, cynical and contemptuous; but he is also the accuser of

the despotic European powers and champion of the freedom of the Greek people oppressed

by Turkish rule. At this point the poet speaks directly to the reader, becoming a living


Romantic hero, a poet who emerges as a synthesis of German Romanticism and English

taste for the Gothic.

Byron’s masterpiece, however, is Don Juan, an unfinished comic epic, characterised by a

witty and comic indictment of hypocrisy in all its forms (political, religious, moral, poetical),

but also a celebration of vitality, energy, sexuality and courage. The poem recounts the

adventures of “our ancient friend Don Juan”, sent abroad at the age of 16 after his seduction

of Donna Julia; his ship is wrecked and he is saved (and loved) by the daughter of a pirate.

He is sold as a slave, and the fourth wife of a Sultan falls in love with him he however flees

from her by joining the Russian army. When sent off with the dispatch, he becomes a

favourite of Empress Catherine. As we can imagine, the poem is characterised by a strong

presence of sexual themes; Byron is constantly surprising the reader with his changes of

to contemporary figures and events… Byron has a

tone, sudden references or allusions

particular skill in containing the colloquial language in the ‘cage’ of ottava rima.


Percy Bysshe Shelley studied at Eton, where he was noted for his radical ideas and

rebellious attitudes, and then went up to University College, Oxford, but was expelled after

only a year for having written the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism. The same year he

got married, but after a while he fled to Switzerland with another woman.

Of all his lyrics, the finest and perhaps the most beautiful is the Ode to the West Wind,

written in terza rima, the metre of Dante, which is not at all an easy form to use in English.

Here nature is seen as a ruthless and impassive force which pursues its own superior

designs. The impetuous west wind sweeps towards winter the dead leaves, and the poet

asks to be himself a dead leaf carried by the wind, to be able to ‘share the impulse’ of its

strength. The meaning of the poem is contained within the desire of the poet to be raised

into the sky and to spread his words among mankind, and it’s more indeterminate but above

all more universal. It’s a radical prophecy of rebirth. Shelley’s Prometheus is a heroic figure

Shelley also wrote the drama Prometheus Unbound.

“impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and nobles ends”: he is the

benefactor of mankind who has defied a tyrannical god. He refuses, in spite of his suffering,

any compromise with Jupiter to obtain his release. At the end, Jupiter is overthrown by his

son. The defeat of the tyrant, the victory of good against evil, marks the dawn of a new era,

a new order, in which all are “equal, unclassed, tribeless and nationless”. The ideals of the

French Revolution are here given expression with the power of myth in a work whose most

radiant images are a celebration of love.

Shelley’s last great poem is Adonais, an elegy for John Keats. In the course of lamenting

his departed friend he launches into a pierce attack on the British critics, whose hostile

his young friend’s death. In the same year Shelley wrote his

reviews had hastened Defence

of Poetry, proclaiming the supremacy of the imagination over col reason.


John Keats was of modest origins. During his life, he fell in love with Fanny Brawne, who

never reciprocated his passion but the poet remained in love with her for the rest of his

life. His lyrical poems are not fragments of a spiritual autobiography, like the lyrics of Shelley

and Byron. The pronoun ‘I’ stands for a universal human being. The common Romantic

tendency to identify scenes and landscapes with subjective moods and emotions is rarely

present in his poetry. He said: “Scenery is fine but human nature is finer.”

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,

His first masterpiece, the sonnet conveys to the

reader the intensity of his literary emotion. Keats, however, had wanted to establish himself

as a poet by writing in the form that regarded as the highest and noblest genre of poetry,


that is to say the epic. So, he started working at the Hyperion, but he never managed to

finish it.

His poetic ‘inspiration’ led him to writing another volume of his Odes, which contained the

ballad La Belle Dame sans Merci, a composition with esoteric meaning and a Gothic tone

regarded as the germ from which the poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites would later spring.

In the narrative poem The Eve of St Agnes he made use of the legend according to which

on St Agnes’ Eve in their sleep “young virgins might have visions of delight / And soft

adorings from their loves receive” – he tells a story set in medieval time which is above all

striking for the way it contrasts dream and reality. The poem ends with the victory of love.

The most lyrical and the most delicate of these odes is the Ode to a Nightingale, in which

the poet, fascinated by the song of a nightingale, imagines flying away with it and following

into the wood, far from the suffering of the human condition. The poet reflects on the

fleetingness of life, and contrasts it with the immortality of the nightingale’s song.

In the Ode to a Grecian Urn, immortality is offered by art. The various pastoral scenes that

appear on the urn will never lose their beauty; the bold lover will never be able to kiss the

pretty girl, and though he is so close to reaching her he should not grieve, for their youth,

love and beauty will remain for ever.

can interpreted as an acceptance of death. But it’s also an acceptance of the

To Autumn

present, of its beauty.


“The novel, oh dear, tells a story”. novels definitely told

Walter Scott’s stories, and in

particular they told romantic stories which enthused generations of readers and which the

cinema has successfully adapted until very recent times. Stories which were Romantic by

virtue of their background setting, the homage they paid to a noble past, the discovery of its

far-off roots, the taste for natural and wild landscapes, and the attention paid to humble and

simple folk. The most famous is Ivanhoe, set during the reign of Richard I, thoroughly

inaccurate from a historical point of view but splendid in its capacity to create a fantastic

vision of the medieval world. Scott’s imaginary Middle Ages and his descriptions of wild

landscapes and ruins particularly in his Scottish novels were at the same time an important

factor in his success with the reading public and a fruitful example not only for Alessandro

Scott’s novels were ‘realistic’ in so

Manzoni but for the European Romanticism in general.

far as their source was history, a history which had really happened. The novelist’s

imagination took flight from a basis in reality and combined realism and romantic topoi:

gallant deeds, spirited damsels, and brave rebels fighting for a Cause. His heroes, however,

often are quite mediocre characters.


Jane Austen was utterly extraneous to the Romantic sensibility and indeed ridiculed its

most bizarre version, the Gothic novel, in Northanger Abbey, her first novel. She was the

daughter of a clergyman who was also her tutor. Her sister Cassandra was her lifelong

companion. Her family was of modest means but had several connections with the wealthier

landed gentry, a social class whose values she shared and promoted in her novels. She

also promoted the traditional values of a class whose ‘rural’ way of life was fest as the

expression of English society. Austen’s novels are delightful and

embodiment of the highest

perceptive comedies of manners. From the 18th-century novelists she learnt the insight

into the psychology of the characters, the subtleties of the ordinary events of life (balls,

walks, tea-parties and visits), the omniscient narrator, the technique of dialogue, the use of

verbal and situational irony. Her values were the ones of property, decorum, money and

marriage. The England she described was based on the possession of land, parks and

country houses, and marriage was result of the growing social mobility. Marriage, actually,


is at the centre of all her novels: love must first of all make its peace with reality: romantic

impulses can be deceptive, and esteem for the future husband is equally indispensable for

just like economic security. Austen demonstrates she’s acutely

the success of a marriage,

aware of the condition of women in society. The marriage market takes place in London,

Bath and some seaside resorts, where gossip, flirtations, seductions, and adulteries took

place. The marriage market also produces a range of villains: unscrupulous relatives,

seducers and social climbers. In Austen’s novels, there’s no place for great passion. Austen

was animated by a deep moral belief, sense of duty, including the need to face up

fearlessly to one’s conscience. Her moral belief is expressed in the behaviour and self-

reflection of her characters. are the two novels in which Austen’s ‘lessons’

Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice

are most apparent and in which the precepts for arriving at a happy marriage are set out

most openly. The former demonstrates how unreliable romantic sensibility is as a guide to

conduct and how important it is to examine one’s own feelings in the light of reason. Pride

and Prejudice explains how people cannot be judged by their own appearances, how

emotions and feelings such as pride and prejudice can lead into error.

Mansfield Park is a remarkable novel; its heroine, Fanny Price, reflects at length on the need

to preserve the traditional manners of the social class she clings to as well as on her own

status as a poor relation and on her feelings of love and friendship. Meanwhile the heroine

of Emma, guilty of an excess of fantasy, spends her time trying to organise the sentimental

lives of others while knowing nothing of their actual feelings. It is only at the end of a long

process of self-examination that she reaches a serene maturity and capacity of judgement.

In both these novels, Austen’s heroines go through a successful process of development of

their personalities, thanks to the analysis of their feelings. The feelings are principally

those that have to do with love; the aspirations have to do with marriage.

Modern readers, knowing nothing of the gentry or of the manners and values of British


society at the turn of the 19 century, can nevertheless find in the reflections of Emma or

Fanny, or Elizabeth, or Anna, and in their thoughts about their love and the mistakes they

made something that still speaks to their own experience.


G. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue, lines 118-162: The Prioress

Ther was also a Nonne, a There was also a nun, a PRIORESS,

PRIORESSE, Who, in her smiling, modest was and coy;

That of hir smylyng was ful symple and 120 Her greatest oath was but "By Saint

coy; Eloy!"

120 Hir gretteste ooth was but by Seinte Loy; And she was called Madam Eglantine.

And she was cleped Madame Eglentyne. Very well she sang the service divine,

Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne, Intoning through her nose, becomingly;

Entuned in hir nose ful semely, And she spoke French fairly and fluently,

And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, 125 After the school of Stratford-at-the-Bow,

125 After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe, For French of Paris style she didn't know.

For Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe. At table her manners were well taught

At mete wel ytaught was she with alle: withall,

She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle, And never let morsels from her lips fall,

Ne wette hir fyngres in hir sauce depe; Nor dipped her fingers deep in sauce, but

130 Wel koude she carie a morsel, and ate

wel kepe 130 With so much care the food upon her

That no drope ne fille upon hir brist. plate

In curteisie was set ful muche hir list. That no drop could fall upon her breast.

Hire over-lippe wyped she so clene In courtesy she had delight and zest.

That in hir coppe ther was Her upper lip was always wiped so clean

no ferthyng sene That on her cup no speck or spot was

135 Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir seen

draughte. 135 Of grease, when she had drunk her

Ful semely after hir mete she raughte. draught of wine.

And sikerly, she was of greet desport, Graciously she reached for food to dine.

And ful plesaunt, and amyable of port, And certainly delighting in good sport,

And peyned hir to countrefete cheere She was very pleasant, amiable - in short.

140 Of court, and been estatlich of manere, She was in pains to imitate the cheer

And to ben holden digne of reverence. 140 Of courtliness, and stately manners here,

But, for to speken of hir conscience, And would be held worthy of reverence.

She was so charitable and so pitous But, to speak about her moral sense,

She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a She was so charitable and solicitous

mous That she would weep if she but saw a

145 Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or mouse

bledde. 145 Caught in a trap, whether it were dead or

Of smale houndes hadde she, that she bled.

fedde She had some little dogs, that she fed

With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel- On roasted flesh, or milk and fine white

breed. bread.

But soore weep she But sorely she wept if one of them were

if oon of hem were deed, dead,

Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte; Or if men smote it with a stick to smart:

150 And al was conscience, and tendre herte. 150 Then pity ruled her, and her tender heart.

Ful semyly hir wympul pynched was, Very seemly her pleated wimple was;

Hire nose tretys, hir eyen greye as glas, Her nose was fine; her eyes were grey as

Hir mouth ful smal, and therto softe glass;

and reed; Her mouth was small and therewith soft

But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed; and red;

155 It was almoost a spanne brood, I trowe; But certainly her forehead was fairly

For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe. spread;


Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war; 155 It was almost a full span broad, I own,

Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar To tell the truth, she was not undergrown.

A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene, Her cloak, as I was well aware, had a

160 An theron heng a brooch of gold graceful charm

ful sheene, She wore a small coral trinket on her arm

On which ther was first write a crowned A, A string of beads and gauded all with

And after Amor vincit omnia. green;

160 And therefrom hung a brooch of golden


Whereon there was engraved a crowned


And under, Amor vincit omnia.


W. Shakespeare, Hamlet (1603)

Act III, sc. I

E ,


Enter Hamlet

H To be, or not to be- that is the question:


Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

5. And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish'd. To die- to sleep.

10. To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub!

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There's the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

15. For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,

The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,

20. When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death-

The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn

25. No traveller returns- puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

30. Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry 1780

And lose the name of action.- Soft you now!

The fair Ophelia!- Nymph, in thy orisons

35. Be all my sins rememb'red.

O Good my lord,


How does your honour for this many a day?

40. H I humbly thank you; well, well, well.


O My lord, I have remembrances of yours


That I have longed long to re-deliver.

I pray you, now receive them.

H No, not I!


I never gave you aught.


O My honour'd lord, you know right well you did,


And with them words of so sweet breath compos'd

As made the things more rich. Their perfume lost,

45. Take these again; for to the noble mind

Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.

There, my lord.

H Ha, ha! Are you honest?


Ophelia My lord?

Hamlet Are you fair?

50. Ophelia What means your lordship?

H That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no


discourse to your beauty.

O Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?


55. H Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform


honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can

translate beauty into his likeness. This was sometime a paradox,

but now the time gives it proof. I did love you once.

O Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.


60. H You should not have believ'd me; for virtue cannot so


inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you


O I was the more deceived.


H Get thee to a nunnery! Why wouldst thou be a breeder of


sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse

65. me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.

I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my

beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give

them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I

do, crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves all;

70. believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery. Where's your


O At home, my lord.


H Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool


nowhere but in's own house. Farewell.

O O, help him, you sweet heavens!


75. H If thou dost marry, I'll give thee this plague for thy dowry:


be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape

calumny. Get thee to a nunnery. Go, farewell. Or if thou wilt

needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what 1830

monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go; and quickly too.


80. O O heavenly powers, restore him!


H . I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath


given you one face, and you make yourselves another. You jig, you 1835

amble, and you lisp; you nickname God's creatures and make your

wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I'll no more on't! it hath made

85. me mad. I say, we will have no moe marriages. Those that are

married already- all but one- shall live; the rest shall keep as

they are. To a nunnery, go. Exit.

O O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!


The courtier's, scholar's, soldier's, eye, tongue, sword,


90. Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state,

The glass of fashion and the mould of form,

Th' observ'd of all observers- quite, quite down! 1845

And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,

That suck'd the honey of his music vows,

95. Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,

Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;

That unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth 1850

Blasted with ecstasy. O, woe is me

T' have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

Hamlet’s monologue

About the text: sums up the conflict that apparently seems to be

tearing Hamlet apart. These words are ambiguous because they are open to various

interpretations: they can be interpreted as whether be a man or not, whether to continue

living or to die, whether to act and kill or to give up. Yet, Hamlet’s words do not refer to any

particular event or circumstance because these words assume a general, even universal

meaning. We can say that these words stand for all conflicts, not just for Hamlet’s one, and

– –

also for natural shock. The first line with all its philosophical implications is repeated

throughout the monologue. We can say that the meaning of the entire monologue refers to

human conflicts. It seems that the exemplification of these problems leads to a logical

question: why not to commit suicide the impossibility to find a solution seems to invite

Hamlet and the reader to the idea of suicide. But the idea of suicide involves fear fear and

death (but also the theme of fear of death) are closely connected and linked in the

monologue. Hamlet tries to soften his fears by comparing his fear to sleep (lines 8, 9). In

he uses metaphors such as ‘this mortal coil’ (line 12), ‘weary life’

order to describe his fears,

(line 22), ‘the dread of something after death’ (line 23) – all these words are symbols of his

conflict. Hamlet looks for suicide as an escape: on the one hand, he seems to refuse death,

but on the other hand he seems to become an ambassador of death. Even stronger than

his refusal to death is his refusal to love: apparently, he seems to refuse it even though we

her he doesn’t). Indeed, when –

know that he loved Ophelia (although he tells after the

– Ophelia appears, Hamlet pretends to be mad: Ophelia is shocked by Hamlet’s


– she doesn’t understand the truth behind his words. Line 47: Hamlet tells Ophelia


‘are you honest?’ – he doesn’t understand whether Ophelia is honest or not, and then attacks

women in general. Hamlet’s words against Ophelia have been interpreted by some critics

(according to psychoanalysis) as related to Oedipus’ complex: Hamlet considers sex as a

his mother’s incest, and this is why he can’t live his own love for

dirty thing because of –

Ophelia. Line 22 (?): he considers women as prostitutes who make up their faces this is

why he invites Ophelia to go to a convent. Hamlet’s words and his way of speaking are

illogical or, at least, apparently illogical, made up of contradictions, double meanings,

unpredictable questions. This is due to the fact that he plays the fool, he pretends to be mad.


Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st;

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

About the text: The theme of the sonnet Shall I Compare Thee is the power of poetry, which

gives immortality because it is capable of going beyond time. The first quatrain revolves

around the comparison between his beloved young friend and a summer’s day – indeed, in

the first lines Shakespeare asks himself whether he can compare him to a summer’s day,

but he immediately realises that his patron is more lovely and more temperate (= constant,

making reference to a person who is not overwhelmed by passions) than a summer’s day

is. In fact, a summer’s day can be shaken by rough winds (line 3) or sudden –

storms it can

be moody. Moreover, summer leads to an all too short a day on the contrary, the

sweetness of his friend lasts longer than a summer’s day. Darling buds of May (line 3) =

undeveloped flowers. friend to a summer’s day, and this time the poet

In the second quatrain he still compares his

realises that his temper is not burnt by a temperature too high. Sometime too hot the eye of

(line 5) = the sun. But the beautiful face of his friend doesn’t lack in brightness

heaven shines

– and it doesn’t decline: on the contrary, a summer’s day (or, broadly speaking, the beauty

of summer) quickly declines into autumn. Moreover, every beautiful thing in nature is

destined to die, to disappear by chance or by the changing course of nature but thy eternal

(line 9): his friend’s summer, his friend’s brightness and beauty shall

summer shall not fade

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade

never die. (line 12): poetry will make him

be immortal. We can also say that the comparison between the human and natural beauty

– the new thing is that he makes his friend’s life longer and more lasting

is a classical theme

than the course of the seasons: he wants to save his friends from the shadow of death, and

he can do this thanks to the power and the light of his lines. It is interesting to notice that

there is more literary convention than true emotions Shakespeare has a strong control

over his lines (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG).


C. Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1588-89)

The clock stikes eleven.

Faustus. Ah, Faustus.

Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,

And then thou must be damn'd perpetually!

Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,

5. That time may cease, and midnight never come;

Fair Nature's eye, rise, rise again, and make

Perpetual day; or let this hour be but

A year, a month, a week, a natural day,

That Faustus may repent and save his soul!

10. O lente, lente currite, noctis equi!

The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,

The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn'd.

O, I'll leap up to my God!--Who pulls me down?--

See, see, where Christ's blood streams in the firmament!

15. One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah, my Christ!--

Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ!

Yet will I call on him: O, spare me, Lucifer!--

Where is it now? tis gone: and see, where God

Stretcheth out his arm, and bends his ireful brows!

20. Mountains and hills, come, come, and fall on me,

And hide me from the heavy wrath of God!

No, no!

Then will I headlong run into the earth:

Earth, gape! O, no, it will not harbour me!

25. You stars that reign'd at my nativity,

Whose influence hath alotted death and hell,

Now draw up Faustus, like a foggy mist,

Into the entrails of yon labouring clouds,

That, when you vomit forth into the air,

30. My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths,

So that my soul may but ascend to heaven!

[The clock strikes the half-hour.]

Ah, half the hour is past! 'twill all be past anon.

O God,

If thou wilt not have mercy on my soul,

35. Yet for Christ's sake, whose blood hath ransom'd me,

Impose some end to my incessant pain;

Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years,

A hundred thousand, and at last be sav'd!

O, no end is limited to damned souls!


40. Why wert thou not a creature wanting soul?

Or why is this immortal that thou hast?

Ah, Pythagoras' metempsychosis, were that true,

This soul should fly from me, and I be chang'd

Unto some brutish beast! all beasts are happy,

45. For, when they die,

Their souls are soon dissolv'd in elements;

But mine must live still to be plagu'd in hell.

Curs'd be the parents that engender'd me!

No, Faustus, curse thyself, curse Lucifer

50. That hath depriv'd thee of the joys of heaven.

[The clock strikes twelve.]

O, it strikes, it strikes! Now, body, turn to air,

Or Lucifer will bear thee quick to hell!

[Thunder and lightning.]

O soul, be chang'd into little water-drops,

And fall into the ocean, ne'er be found!

[Enter Devils.]

55. My God, my God, look not so fierce on me!

Adders and serpents, let me breathe a while!

Ugly hell, gape not! come not, Lucifer!

I'll burn my books! Ah! Mephistophilis!

Exeunt with him. place during Faustus’ last hour. It’s the most

About the monologue: This monologue takes

dramatic episode of the play taken from the last act of the tragedy. Faustus realises that

the period of his unlimited knowledge has come to an end. Now he has to pay the price of

That’s why –

his contract with the devil. he is obsessed with the passing time he fears the

eternal damnation. The monologue begins when the clock strikes the eleven Faustus has

only an hour before his eternal punishment begins: he wishes that time would stand still so

that midnight would never come, or the sun would rise again and make the day everlasting

(line 6). He wants to stop time because he knows that if time doesn’t stop he would die – or,

better, he would be dead forever. “Stand spheres of heaven” (line 4):

still, you ever-moving

he wants the planets to stop. He comes from wanting to stop time to wanting his last hour

to be stretched out (line 8) so that he may save his soul. Faustus explores various strategies

to avoid damnation. He tries to command the universe’s motion to stand still. From the very

first lines we are aware of the inexorable passing of time, and we are emotionally involved

in Faustus’ frantic attempt to stop time.

Faustus decides to leap up to God because he asks for salvation (?) and, if God doesn’t

help him, he expects the Earth to gape so that Faustus can hide deep inside it. But now

it’s too late for him to be saved. Faustus has rebelled against God. Faustus tries to command


the stars to throw him up like foggy mist he also begs God to set a limit on his pain and

sufferings. He even hopes to become an animal, because being an animal means being

without a soul. He commands his body to turn to air, thus dissolving. Finally, he offers to

burn his books of magic. –

The language used in this monologue is marked by strong irony (?) in fact, Faustus uses

such as “stand still”, “rise again”, “come and fall on me”, “gape”, “throw

lots of imperatives,

up”. The problem is that he’s not even able to command his body.

Faustus struggles to find an escape and he uses the imagery of his time in order to prevent

midnight to come. Faustus even thinks that he can leap up to God: but, of course, God

doesn’t accept his demands. At this point, Faustus’ desperation increases: that’s why he

uses images of dissolution he understands his end is getting nearer.

In lines 34-38 Faustus asks God to forgive him. From line 40 to 47 he wonders whether

Pythagoras’ theory is right – and so that his soul can be turned into an animal. From line 48

to 54 he wishes his body could be turned into air: this way his soul could be transformed into

drops of water that can fall into the ocean. From line 55 to 58 he is ready to burn the books

of black magic that had given him power in life but that now are giving to him just eternal

damnation. In other words, what Faustus does during his last hour is thinking how to escape

his eternal damnation, so that his last moments of life are spent in vain hopes.


J. Milton, Paradise Lost (1667) Book I, II, 50-75/242-270 (modernized spelling)

Nine times the Space that measures Day and Night

To mortal men, he with his horrid crew

Lay vanquisht, rowling in the fiery Gulfe

Confounded though immortal: But his doom

5. Reserv'd him to more wrath; for now the thought

Both of lost happiness and lasting pain

Torments him; round he throws his baleful eyes

That witness'd huge affliction and dismay

Mixt with obdurate pride and stedfast hate:

10. At once as far as Angels kenn he views

The dismal Situation waste and wilde,

A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round

As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames

No light, but rather darkness visible

15. Serv'd onely to discover sights of woe,

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can never dwell, hope never comes

That comes to all; but torture without end

Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed

20. With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum'd:

Such place Eternal Justice had prepar'd

For those rebellious, here thir Prison ordain'd

In utter darkness, and thir portion set

As far remov'd from God and light of Heav'n

25. As from the Center thrice to th' utmost Pole.

O how unlike the place from whence they fell!


”Is this the Region, this the Soil, the Clime,

Said then the lost Arch-Angel, this the seat

That we must change for Heav'n, this mournful gloom

30. For that celestial light? Be it so, since he

Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid

What shall be right: fardest from him is best

Whom reason hath equald, force hath made supream

Above his equals. Farewel happy Fields

35. Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail

Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell

Receive thy new Possessor: One who bring

A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time.

The mind is its own place, and in it self

40. Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

What matter where, if I be still the same,

And what I should be, all but less then he

Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least


We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built

45. Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:

Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce

To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:

Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.

About the text: After fighting against God for two days, the rebellious angels are defeated.

Heaven’s doors and they’re launched in space. After nine days,

As a result, God opens the

they fall through space in Hell, and they lie for nine days there, near a lake. Satan then

wakes up and revives them: his words are strong, and they mirror his strength (they

famous sentence “it is better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven” –

culminate in the line

Satan is a fallen angel, but he’s like an hero: he’s the prototype of a proud rebel. He’s


defeated, but he never submits. What Milton does is, at first, to describe Hell, so that this

dimension is described through the angel’s feelings. For example, from line 6 there are

– which describe the angels’ feelings –

words of pain, dismay, affliction but they also prepare

the reader for the successive and more detailed description of the place (line 22-23). Milton

gives the concrete image of Hell, but using words that involve our senses. It is as if we smell

Hell’s stench (?). The vision of Hell is well-organised even though Milton’s cosmological

conception differs from Dante’s. Satan – –

is the king of this place and of course his voice

masters the elements. From line 27, for example, explains that even though Satan and

escape: Satan’s words are,

the other archangels are not happy to be there, they cannot

then, full of pride. Even if Satan remains the true hero of Hell, he represents the champion

of individualism (but in a negative way). Even though individualism has to do with the Puritan

spirit, he can’t be defined as a Puritan hero. Milton gives him some Puritan characteristics,

but we still can’t define him as a positive hero.


Alexander Pope The rape of the lock

And now, unveil'd, the Toilet stands display'd,

Each Silver Vase in mystic Order laid.

First, rob'd in White, the Nymph intent adores

With Head uncover'd, the cosmetic Pow'rs.

A heav'nly Image in the Glass appears,

To that she bends, to that her Eyes she rears;

Th' inferior Priestess, at her Altar's side,

Trembling, begins the sacred Rites of Pride.

Unnumber'd Treasures ope at once, and here

The various Off'rings of the World appear;

From each she nicely culls with curious Toil,

And decks the Goddess with the glitt'ring Spoil.

This Casket India's glowing Gems unlocks,

And all Arabia breathes from yonder Box.

The Tortoise here and Elephant unite,

Transform'd to Combs, the speckled and the white.

Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,

Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.

Now awful Beauty puts on all its Arms;

The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,

Repairs her Smiles, awakens ev'ry Grace,

And calls forth all the Wonders of her Face;

Sees by Degrees a purer Blush arise,

And keener Lightnings quicken in her Eyes.

The busy Sylphs surround their darling Care;

These set the Head, and those divide the Hair,

Some fold the Sleeve, while others plait the Gown;

And Betty's prais'd for Labours not her own.

About the text

The tone is ironic, because the toilet is described as a religious ritual. The passage can be

divided into three different parts:

- The first one, from line 1 to 12, refers to the preparation for the ritual.

- The second one, from line 13 to 18, refers to the description of the objects that are

on the dressing table. make-up.

- The third one, from line 19 to the end, describes Belinda’s

The toilet is full of objects in particular, silver vases: each vase is laid in mystic order, and

like a nymph, is dressed in white and she’s sitting at her dressing table, which


resembles to an altar. She adores her one image in the glass: this fact has a strong symbolic

meaning, because it refers to the narcissistic attitude of women who belonged to aristocracy

during the Augustan Age. This means that they gave more importance to the appearance

rather than to substance. Belinda’s image is described as a heavenly one. With her there is

her maid, represented as an inferior princess: she helps Belinda in her ritual, and she

trembles (line 7-8 we find here a strong ironic connotation: she recognises the importance

of Belinda’s make-up, which Pope has turned into a matter of pride). All the treasures of the

world are ready for Belinda to be used, so that the goddess (Belinda) begins to be decked

these treasures she nicely chooses the ‘curious toil’ (he

with glittering spoil. From each of

describes hers as a hard work). Words such as ‘India’, ‘Arabia’, ‘Elephant’ and ‘Tortoise’

give to the poem an exotic flavour: ‘Elephant’ and ‘Tortoise’ are a metonymy – the

association refers to the object and the substance. Among these objects there is one which


is out of place: The Bible. Line 18: alliteration. On one hand, we have the material part of

we have the spiritual one. Belinda’s preparation is mockingly

life; on the other hand,

compared to the one of the hero. The Sylphs come directly from the mythological world. In

– Belinda’s – is not Betty’s own.

the last part, Pope says that the result beauty


D. Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)

– ‘Wrecked on a Desert Island’

Chapter 3

I was now landed, and safe on Shore, and began to look up and thank God that my Life was

sav’d in a Case wherein there was some Minutes before scarce any room to hope. I believe

it is impossible to express to the Life what the Extasies and Transports of the Soul are, when

it is so sav’d, as I may say, out of the very Grave; and I do not wonder now at that Custom,

viz. That when a Malefactor who has the Halter about his Neck, is tyed up, and just going to

be turned off and has a Reprieve brought to him: I say, I do not wonder that they bring a

Surgeon with it, to let him Blood that very Moment they tell him of it, that the Surprise may

not drive the Animal Spirits from the Heart, and overwhelm him:

For sudden Joys, like the Griefs, confound at first

I walk’d about on the Shore, lifting up my Hands, and my whole Being, as I may say, wrapt

up in the Contemplation of my Deliverance, making a Thousand Gestures and Motions

which I cannot describe, reflecting upon all my Comerades that were drown’d, and that there

should not be one Soul sav’d but my self; for, as for them, I never saw them afterwards, or

any Sign of them, except three of their Hats, one Cap, and two Shoes that were not Fellows.

I cast my Eyes to the stranded Vessel, when the Breach and Froth of the Sea being so big,

I could hardly see it, it lay so far off, and considered, Lord! how was it possible I could get

on Shore?

After I had solac’d my Mind with the comfortable Part of my Condition, I began to look round

me to see what kind of Place I was in, and what was next to be done, and I soon found my

Comforts abate, and that in a word I had a dreadful Deliverance: For I was wet, had no

Clothes to shift me, nor any thing either to eat or drink to comfort me, neither did I see any

Prospect before me, but that of perishing with Hunger, or being devour’d by wild Beasts;

and that which was particularly afflicting to me, was, that I had no Weapon either to hunt|

and kill any Creature for my Sustenance, or to defend my self against any other Creature

that might desire to kill me for theirs: In a Word, I had nothing about me but a Knife, a

Tobacco-pipe, and a little Tobacco in a Box, this was all my Provision, and this threw me

into terrible Agonies of Mind, that for a while I run about like a Mad-man; Night coming upon

me, I began with a heavy Heart to consider what would be my Lot if there were any ravenous

Beasts in that Country, seeing at Night they always come abroad for their Prey.

All the Remedy that offer’d to my Thoughts at that Time, was, to get up into a thick bushy

Tree like a Firr, but thorny, which grew near me, and where I resolv’d to set all Night, and

dye, for as yet I saw no Prospect of Life; I walk’d

consider the next Day what Death I should

about a Furlong from the Shore, to see if I could find any fresh Water to drink, which I did,

to my great Joy; and having drank and put a little Tobacco in my Mouth to prevent Hunger,

and getting up into it, endeavour’d to place my self so, as that if I should

I went to the Tree,

sleep I might not fall; and having cut me a short Stick, like a Truncheon, for my Defence, I

took up my Lodging, and having been excessively fatigu’d, I fell fast asleep, and slept as

comfortably as, I believe, few could have done in my condition, and found my self the most

refresh’d with it, that I think I ever was on such an occasion.

When I wak’d it was broad day, the weather clear, and the storm abated, so that the sea did

rage and swell as before: But that which surpris’d me most, was, that the ship was lifted



off in the Night from the Sand where she lay by the Swelling of the Tyde, and was driven up

almost as far as the Rock which I first mention’d where I had been so bruis’d by the dashing

me against it; this being within about a mile from the shore where I was, and the Ship

seeming to stand upright still, I wish’d my self on board, that, at least, I might save some

necessary things for my use. in the tree, I look’d about me again, and the first

When I came down from my appartment

thing I found was the Boat, which lay as the Wind and the Sea had toss’d her up upon the

Land, about two Miles on my right hand. I walk’d as far as I could upon the shore to have

got to her, but found a neck or Inlet of water between me and the Boat, which was about

half a mile broad, so I came back for the present, being more intent upon getting at the ship,

where I hop’d to find something for my present subsistence.

Sea very calm, and the Tyde ebb’d so far out, that I could come

A little after noon I found the

within a quarter of a mile of the ship; and here I found a fresh renewing of my grief, for I saw

evidently, that if we had kept on board, we had been all safe, that is to say, we had all got

safe on shore, and I had not been so miserable as to be left entirely destitute of all Comfort

and Company, as I now was; this forc’d Tears from my Eyes again, but as there was little

Relief in that, I resolv’d, if possible, to get to the Ship, so I pull’d off my Clothes, for the

Weather was hot to Extremity, and took the Water, but when I came to the Ship, my Difficulty

was still greater to know how to get on board, for as she lay a ground, and high out of the

Water, there was nothing within my Reach to lay hold of; I swam round her twice, and the

second Time I spy’d a small Piece of a Rope, which I wonder’d I did not see at first, hang

down by the Fore-Chains so low, as that with great Difficulty I got hold of it, and by the help

the Forecastle of the Ship; here I found that the Ship was bulg’ed

of that Rope, got up into

and had a great deal of Water in her Hold, but that she lay so on the Side of a Bank of hard

Sand, or rather Earth, that her Stern lay lifted up upon the Bank, and her Head low almost

to the Water; by this Means all her Quarter was free, and all that was in that Part was dry;

for you may be sure my first Work was to search and to see what was spoil’d and what was

free; and first I found that all the Ship’s Provisions were dry and untouch’d by the Water, and

being very well dispos’d to eat, I went to the Bread-room and fill’d my Pockets with Bisket,

and eat it as I went about other things, for I had no time to lose; I also found some Rum in

the great Cabbin, of which I took a large Dram, and which I had indeed need enough of to

spirit me for what was before me: Now I wanted nothing but a Boat to furnish my self with

many things which I forsaw would be very necessary to me. Extremity rouz’d my

It was in vain to sit still and wish for what was not to be had, and this

Application; we had several spare Yards, and two or three large sparrs of Wood, and a spare

or two in the Ship; I resolv’d to fall to work with these, and I flung as many of them


over board as I could manage for their Weight, tying every one with a Rope that they might

not drive away; when this was done I went down the Ship’s Side, and pulling them to me, I

ty’d four of them fast together at both Ends as well as I could, in the Form of a Raft, and

laying two or three short Pieces of Plank upon them cross-ways, I found I could walk upon

it very well, but that it was not able to bear any great Weight, the Pieces being too light; so

I went to work, and with the Carpenters Saw I cut a spare Top-mast into three Lengths, and

added them to my Raft, with a great deal of Labour and Pains, but hope of furnishing my

self with Necessaries, encourag’d me to go beyond what I should have been able to have

done upon another Occasion.


My Raft was now strong enough to bear any reasonable Weight; my next Care was what to

load it with, and how to preserve what I laid upon it from the Surf of the Sea; But I was not

long considering this, I first laid all the Plank or Boards upon it that I could get, and having

consider’d well what I most wanted, I first got three of the Seamens Chests, which I had

broken open and empty’d, and lower’d them down upon my Raft; the first of these I fill’d with

Bread, Rice, three Dutch Cheeses, five Pieces of dry’d Goat’s Flesh, which

Provision, viz.

we liv’d much upon, and a little Remainder of European Corn which had been laid by for

some Fowls which we brought to Sea with us, but the Fowls were kill’d; there had been

some Barly and Wheat together, but, to my great Disappointment, I found afterwards that

or spoil’d it all; as for Liquors, I found several Cases of Bottles belonging

the Rats had eaten

to our Skipper, in which were some Cordial Waters, and in all about five or six Gallons of

Rack, these I stow’d by themselves, there being no need to put them into the Chest, nor no

room for them. While I was doing this, I found the Tyde began to flow, tho’ very calm, and I

had the Mortification to see my Coat, Shirt and Wast-coat which I had left on Shore upon

open knee’d, I swam

the Sand, swim away; as for my Breeches which were only Linnen and

on board in them and my Stockings: However this put me upon rummaging for Clothes, of

which I found enough, but took no more than I wanted for present use, for I had other things

which my Eye was more upon, as first Tools to work with on Shore, and it was after long

searching that I found out the Carpenter’s Chest, which was indeed a very useful Prize to

me, and much more valuable than a Ship Loading of Gold would have been at that time; I

got it down to my Raft, even whole as it was, without losing time to look into it, for I knew in

general what it contain’d.

text: what it’s about

About the

In this extract, Robinson Crusoe is presented immediately after his shipwreck. He is a

survivor. As readers, we can observe Crusoe’s immediate reactions, thoughts and actions.

He doesn’t lose his hope and, above all, from the very beginning of his landing on the island,

he’s not passive. On the contrary, he embodies the –

homo faber par excellence the one

who creates, who does things. He is full of initiative, but also of invention. And, of course,

of skills. He’s able to master his surroundings, and he’s able to overcome the obstacles. So,

on the island he rebuilds the kind of society of his country (the European society from a

colonial point of view). There’s no doubt that he’s the symbol of the conqueror – who

a farmer, a tailor: he’s the prototype of the British colonialist. And if,

becomes a carpenter,

on the one hand, this might be a positive thing, on the other hand he exploits the island. But

the novel can also be understood as a spiritual pseudo-autobiography. There is no conflict

at all between the economical motivation and the spiritual salvation.

About the text: line by line

Robinson begins to express his gratitude to God. He’s aware that his life has been saved.

He’s aware that he’s a survivor, and he knows this so well that he recognises that it’s

impossible to express his feelings, so he expresses this as if he was a condemned man who

has been pardoned at the very last moment before his execution. Crusoe both feels

desperate and full of joy: his joy at having survived confounds him because this sudden joy

has overwhelmed him (for sudden Joys, like the Griefs, confound at first). He understands

he’s been lucky and, for that he thanks God. He’s still incredulous at his own fate. All these

expressions are hints of Crusoe’s puritanism. He focuses his mind on the positive parts of

his condition he focuses his mind on what he should do now. He is alone and he has

nothing with him, but thanks to his skills he’s able to overcome everything. Crusoe’s able to


transform his negative situation into a positive one. Robinson describes everything frankly

– he speaks openly and intimately. From this moment on, readers can see Robinson Crusoe

as the homo faber at work. From now on, Robinson inscribes his life story on the island

he masters it, and he transforms the island according to his own needs. The island becomes

a resource to be exploited for him. At first, he felt lonely, but then he understood that there

The Carpenter’s Chest is some sort of prize –

was no time for sentimentalism. for him and

it’s also the symbol of his own role of It’s in his interest to create a space that

homo faber. – –

can be inhabited by himself. He is immediately an explorer a dynamic one capable of

surviving in foreign land; he transforms the island according to the knowledge that English

society has transmitted to him.


“The Death of Clarissa”

S. Richardson, Clarissa Harlowe, 1747-48:

Letter CXX Mr. Beldford to R. Lovelace Thurdsay Night

I may as well try to write; since, were I to go to bed, I shall not sleep. I never had such a

weight of grief upon my mind in my life, as upon the demise of this admirable woman; whose

soul is now rejoicing in the regions of light.

You may be glad to know the particulars of her happy exit. I will try to proceed; for all is hush

and still; the family retired; but not one of them, and least of all her poor cousin, I dare say,

to rest.

At four o'clock, as I mentioned in my last, I was sent for down; and as thou usedst to like my

descriptions, I will give thee the woeful scene that presented itself to me, as I approached

the bed.

The colonel was the first that took my attention, kneeling on the side of the bed, the lady's

right hand in both his, which his face covered, bathing it with his tears; although she had

been comforting him, as the women since told him, in elevated strains but broken accents.

On the other side of the bed sat the good widow; her face overwhelmed with tears, leaning

her head against the bed's head in a most disconsolate manner; and turning her face to me,

as soon as she saw me; Oh Mr Belford, cried she, with folded hands--the dear lady--a heavy

sob not permitting her to say more.

Mrs Smith, with clasped fingers and uplifted eyes, as if imploring help from the only Power

which could give it, was kneeling down at the bed's feet, tears in large drops trickling down

her cheeks.

Her nurse was kneeling between the widow and Mrs Smith, her arms extended. In one hand

she held an ineffectual cordial, which she had just been offering to her dying mistress; her

face was swollen with weeping (though used to such scenes as this) and she turned her

eyes towards me, as if she called upon me by them to join in the helpless sorrow; a fresh

stream bursting from them as I approached the bed.

The maid of the house, with her face upon her folded arms as she stood leaning against the

wainscot, more audibly expressed her grief than any of the others.

The lady had been silent a few minutes, and speechless as they thought, moving her lips

without uttering a word; one hand, as I said, in her cousin's. But when Ms Lovick on my

approach pronounced my name, Oh! Mr Belford, said she in broken periods; and with a faint

inward voice, but very distinct nevertheless--Now!--Now!--(I bless God for His mercies to his

poor creature) will all soon be over--A few--a very few moments--will end this strife--and I

shall be happy!

Comfort here, sir--turning her head to the colonel--Comfort my cousin--see!--the blamable

kindness--He would not wish me to be happy--so soon!

Here, she stopped, for two or three minutes, earnestly looking upon him: then resuming, My

dearest cousin, said she, be comforted--What is dying but the common lot?--The mortal

frame may seem to labour--but that is all!--It is not so hard to die, as I believed it to be!--The

preparation is the difficulty--I bless God, I have had time for that--the rest is worse to

beholders than to me!--I am all blessed hope--hope itself.

She looked what she said, a sweet smile beaming over her countenance.

After a short silence, Once more, my dear cousin, said she, but still in broken accents,

commend me most dutifully to my father and mother--there she stopped. And then

proceeding--to my sister, to my brother, to my uncles--and tell them I bless them with my

parting breath--Most happy has been to me my punishment here!--happy indeed!

She was silent for a few moments, lifting up her eyes and the hand her cousin held not

between his. Then, Oh death! said she, where is thy sting! (The words I remember to have

heard in the Burial Service read over my uncle and poor Belton.) And after a pause--It is

good for me that I was afflicted!--Words of Scripture, I suppose.


Then turning towards us who were lost in speechless sorrow--Oh dear, dear gentlemen,

said she, you know not what foretastes--what assurances--And there she again stopped,

and looked up, as if in a thankful rapture, sweetly smiling.

Then turning her heads towards me--Do you, sir, tell your friend that I forgive him! And I pray

to God to forgive him!--Again pausing, and lifting up her eyes as if praying that He would--

Let him know how happily I die--And that such as my own, I wish to be his last hour.

She was again silent for a few moments: and then resuming--My sight fails me!--Your voices

only--(for we both applauded her Christian, her divine frame, though in accents as broken

as her own); and the voice of grief is alike in all. Is not this Mr Morden's hand? pressing one

of his with that he had just let go. Which is Mr Belford's? holding out the other. I gave her

mine. God Almighty bless you both, said she, and make you both--in your last hour--for

you must come to this--happy as I am.

She paused again, her breath growing shorter; and, after a few minutes: And now, my

dearest cousin, give me your hand--nearer--still nearer--drawing it towards her; and she

pressed it with her dying lips--God protect you, dear, dear sir--and once more, receive my

best and most grateful thanks--and tell my dear Miss Howe--and vouchsafe to see, and to

tell my worthy Mrs Norton--she will be one day, I fear not, though now lowly in her fortunes,

a saint in heaven--Tell them both, that I remember them with thankful blessings in my last

moments!--And pray God to give them happiness here for many, many years, for the sake

of their friends and lovers; and an heavenly crown hereafter; and such assurances of it as I

have, through the all-satisfying merits of my blessed Redeemer.

Her sweet voice and broken periods methinks still fill my ears, and never will be out of my


After a short silence, in a more broken and faint accent--And you, Mr Belford, pressing my

hand, may God preserve you and make you sensible of all your errors--You see, in me, how

all ends--may you be--And down sunk her head upon her pillow, she fainting away, and

drawing from us her hands.

We thought she was then gone; and each gave way to a violent burst of grief.

But soon showing signs of returning life, our attention was again engaged; and I besought

her, when a little recovered, to complete in my favour her half-pronounced blessing. She

waved her hand to us both, and bowed her head six several times, as we have since

recollected, as if distinguishing every person present; not forgetting the nurse and the maid-

servant; the latter having approached the bed, weeping, as if crowding in for the divine lady's

last blessing; and she spoke faltering and inwardly: Bless--bless--bless--you all--and now--

and now (holding up her almost lifeless hands for the last time)--come--Oh come--blessed


And with these words, the last but half-pronounced, expired: such a smile, such a charming

serenity over-spreading her sweet face at the last instant as seemed to manifest her eternal

happiness already begun.

Oh Lovelace!--but I can write no more!

The extract we’re going to analyse displays some of the typical features of

About the text:

Richardson’s writing. It starts with Clarissa’s complex emotional situation, her passion and

sufferings, but the feelings of other characters are represented too. The setting is confined

to interiors and domestic environments, and to the private lives of middle-class characters.

The realistic writing is evident in the treatment of both characters and situations, but also in

the detailed recording of mental processes and feelings. The psychological analysis always

leads to a moralising purpose, and subjectivism is present throughout the novel. Richardson

makes a contrast between the honest bourgeoisie; the aristocracy always remains the final

goal to social improvement. This improvement is particularly evident in Pamela, where her

virtue becomes a means of practical utility what Richardson really does is to defend the


status quo, and punish all those who break precise codes of behaviour. In the case of

for example, Richardson’s final message is a warning directed to women to respect


the established moral laws.

The passage refers to Clarissa’s death and it offers one of the best examples of

Richardson’s melodramatic style and also a very good example of Richardson’s moralizing

purpose. Richardson’s aim is always didactic. This passage offers the final triumph of

Clarissa, who has been humiliated and defeated in life but finds her final and perpetual

liberation in death. This means that death represents for her the only way out of a difficult

world. A world whose code of behaviour considers chastity as a purely physical condition.

Fielding accused Richardson, saying that his novels were full of hypocrisy because chastity

became just the mean of a practical utility, just a detail referring to physical condition.

There is no place in this world for Clarissa because she has failed to combine virtue and


prudence. Virtue and prudence are the two most important features of 18 -century women.

The value of a woman, according to the code of behaviour of this time, was related to

‘making the right marriage’. So, there’s a strong paradox/contrast. Of course, her lost

innocence is the example of what happens to girls (or young ladies) when they do not

respect their parents’ rules. Throughout his novel, Richardson represents a complete and

detailed behavioural report of Clarissa’s way of acting and thinking. As for the narrative

strategies employed by Richardson, we have an example of the first-person narrative: letters

are marked by first-person narrative. Characters express themselves not by speaking but

by writing letters.

Line 1 belongs to Mr. Belford: ‘I may as well try to write’ – He is one of Lovelace’s close

friends. Here, we can find many examples of simultaneous processes of thinking and writing,

acting and writing. In this line, in fact, we can see his strong need to write.

‘I never had such a weight to grief upon my mind’ – Richardson’s style is very

Lines 1-2:

dramatic, since we immediately understand the tone of the words.

Line 2: ‘The denise’ – the death. ‘This admirable woman’ – Clarissa is described as one who

Clarissa’s presented as an exemplary character,

deserves admiration. Throughout the text,

because she is a symbol of feminine virtue. She is proposed as an example to her sex, and

she’s also an exemplification of a moral lesson.

Line 3: ‘Whose soul is now rejoicing in the regions of light’ – Her soul is on an higher

transcendent level and in this way, by making Belford say these words, Richardson

immediately gives the reader the idea of Clarissa’s redemption.

Line 4: ‘You may be glad to know the particulars of her happy exit’ – Richardson is going to

write a very detailed description of Clarissa’s death. ‘Happy exit’ refers to the fact that to

Clarissa, her death represents the end of her sufferings/torments.

Line 5: ‘And now everything is hush and still’ – ‘Calm and quiet’

Line 7: ‘At four o’clock’ – Every detail of Clarissa’s death is described minutely.

‘I will give thee the woeful scene that presented itself to me, as I approached the

Lines 8-9:

bed’ – We have an example of authenticity because what the author is going to write is

exactly what he has seen. So, the reader has to trust the author because he was there.

Clarissa is alone because she chose to be alone in order to control her life: remember that

she rebelled against her parents’ rules and, even in the moment of her death, she planned


every detail of it. Of course, as modern readers, we can find it paradoxical, but in the 18 -

century this kind of writing was considered very realistic. And it’s also paradoxical the fact

that, even though she’s going to die, Clarissa gives consolation to others.

Clarissa dies like a martyr, looking forward to the future. She’s sure that she will find

consolation and redemption after death.

Richardson devotes pages and pages to this event and its description, recording every

single tear and sob: in his mind, the event (which is moralizing) deserves pages and pages

of the novel. Of course, the negative aspects of this are repetitions and prolixity. But


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Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea in scienze della mediazione linguistica (RAGUSA)
Università: Catania - Unict
A.A.: 2017-2018

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher chiara.venuto15 di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Cultura e letteratura inglese e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Catania - Unict o del prof Polopoli Valeria.

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