In some works English writers of the Enlightenment rise to realistically truthful disclosure of social contradictions of the bourgeois society (in twenty-five years, from 1722 to 1748, Moll Flanders, Gulliver’s Travels were created), although, it should be noted that the first half of the 18th century was characterized by underdevelopment of economic forms of the bourgeois social order. This paper will discuss paradox played out in British literature from 1700 to the twentieth century, contrasting the society and the Empire.
Great importance of questions posed by life invaded literature. Narrative developed in the literature of the 18th century broke the old aesthetic ideas, which were relatively narrow, often limited to the world of family and domestic scale. Therefore, at the end of 18th and the beginning of 19th century arose the unusually themed plot scale of English literature. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage or Don Juan by Byron, poems by Shelley, and Moore’s works can serve as a convincing proof of that.
English literature, emerging at the turn of the century, is rich in conflicts, as in Byron’s Eastern Tales, which are violent, tragic and irreconcilable. In an effort to capture and convey the terrible and meaningful sense of contradictions of reality in some “inclusive” art forms, the revolutionary romance tends to depict “titanic” images and situations (Manfred and Cain by Byron, Prometheus Unbound by Shelley) (Damrosch et al. 351-514).
While reactionary romanticism took up arms against materialistic and realistic tendencies in the aesthetics of the Enlightenment, it came to a mystical cult of the hidden and “end in itself” word (Coleridge). In an attempt to consolidate the power of imagination that can supposedly “liberate” people from the oppressive shackles of real life (Wordsworth), the revolutionary romantics in their aesthetic quest relied on progressive trends in the aesthetics of the Enlightenment, sought out philosophically meaningful and socially saturated (Shelley), a politically militant (Byron) art. Creative revolutionary romantics (the last period of their works being clear evidence of that) developing in the direction of specific realistic generalizations, set themselves the ideals of clarity, simplicity and accessibility democratic (Damrosch et al. 351-514).
The period of more versatile reaction is reflected in the works “Lake School” poets – Wordsworth, Coleridge. Wordsworth takes up arms against the industrial revolution, which perverted, in his opinion, the “natural” order of things. His idealization of the old, pre-capitalist, peasant England is an expression of reactionary romanticism.
Wordsworth’s hero is a man who returned to the “natural”, pre-bourgeois existence, turning away from reason and public life. An enthusiastic advocate of religious and puritanical way of life and “idiocy of rural existence” Coleridge echoes Wordsworth, having declared personal will and every manifestation of individuality a mortal sin of man, and with Southey they rehash motives of church in medieval literature and deliver political verse in praise of the Holy Alliance with the British reigning house (Damrosch et al. 467-514).
All three are united primarily by distrust of the human mind, idealization of people poor in spirit, chained to the caste and religious stipulations, hatred towards a socially active personality as to socially “destructive”. That is why German idealist philosophy and aesthetics found a fan in the person of Coleridge. Publishing of Lyrical Ballads, With a Few Other Poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge in 1798 can be considered the beginning of the ideological and aesthetic design of the reaction in the Romantic movement.
The theme of the national liberation movement takes a prominent place in another group of romantics (Moore, Burns, Baillie), representing a vague politicization of the liberal opposition against the ruling reactionary oligarchy in England. What unites these writers is fear of revolutionary initiative of the people, hatred of materialism and education, and, in a broad sense, creativity.
The beginning of people’s and personal freedom, tragically torn apart, each exist for Byron as real historical justice. Byron was not able to combine them in a single historical ideal. This was one of the sources of sorrow and pessimism in the works of the poet. Breaking the character with “the ideal of freedom” was one of the major contradictions of Byron’s creativity – a contradiction that he could not resolve to the end. He said (in Don Juan):
“It is not that I adulate the people:
Without me, there are demagogues enough,
And infidels, to pull down every steeple,
And set up in their stead some proper stuff.
Whether they may sow skepticism to reap hell,
As is the Christian dogma rather rough,
I do not know;—I wish men to be free
As much from mobs as kings—from you as me” (Byron).
He defends the individual’s right to an independent existence, free from pressure of any society, being as he says of himself, “outside parties”; as the thirsty people’s victory over oppression and tyranny cannot be reconciled with suffering of people, their social deprivation.
Thinking of creating a “correct” (i. e. those built on the principles of Classicism) English play, Byron dreamed of propaganda, ideologically intense revolutionary drama, appealing to the senses of a civic reader. Byron wanted to create a saturated philosophical monologue as in Manfred and Cain (Manfred, Cain), while Shelley composed hymns in honor of the “intellectual beauty”. In 1820 Byron came to recognition that all of them, including Wordsworth, Moore and others, were heading from reality into a fantasy world. He mocked the flow of superficial and obscure romantic novels, speaking of them as “gibberish written all sizes and in any known language”.
Even far from the political struggle of Romanticism, Keats is remarkably characterized by a desire to fight the titans theme (Hyperion). However, Keats holds a special place in the ranks of English Romantic poets. Personal sympathies pushed him aside from bourgeois reformist writers and his perception of “pure art” is close to the one of the poets’ of the “Lake School”. Rejecting, like them, the ideological legacy of the Enlightenment, Keats, however, emphasized sensual, spontaneous materialistic view of nature, while the reactionary romanticism developed a passively-contemplative mystical views on a man and society (Coleridge).
The arrival of revolutionary romanticism in literature marked an extraordinary acuteness of social contradictions in England, made writers face the need for a clear ideological identity. Keats’ works could serve as a confirmation of this. Keats aimed to keep cheerful clear view of nature and a man, but it was complicated by a desire to remain glaringly contradicted. He feels some aesthetic impact of conservative romanticism, advancing the theory of “pure”, “eternal” art, but at the same time, all his creativity protested against dirty and ugly prose of bourgeois society. He opposed the puritanical, sanctimonious denial of carnal pleasures (Wordsworth) and conditional picturesque exoticism, distorting the truth about a man (Moore). His protested against the anti-aesthetic ideas of that time (Hyperion), and this approached Keats to Shelley and Byron. In contradiction to the motives and apolitical aestheticism Keats’ works sound with notes of social criticism (Isabella, the second version of the Hyperion, the lyrics).
Byron well expressed the crisis, the unsettled nature of Keats’ the poetry saying about him in Don Juan:
“John Keats, who was kill’d off by one critique,
Just as he really promised something great,
If not intelligible, without Greek
Contrived to talk about the gods of late,
Much as they might have been supposed to speak.
Poor fellow! His was an untoward fate;
'T is strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuff'd out by an article” (Byron).
Giving a general assessment of contemporary English literature, Byron wrote:
“Sir Walter reign'd before me; (Moore and Campbell)
Before and after; but now grown more holy,
The Muses upon Sion's hill must ramble
With poets almost clergymen, or wholly;
And Pegasus hath a psalmodic amble
Beneath the very Reverend Rowley Powley,
Who shoes the glorious animal with stilts,
A modern Ancient Pistol-by the hilts?” (Byron).
Byron, Shelley, and Keats are clearly separated from the group of hypocrites and literary clergy. However, Byron said about the ancient lifestyle lead by Keats’ character that: “he promised to create a great, even incomprehensible”. The ancient ideal that inspired Keats was cut off from that time reality; it was not associated with progressive social beliefs, which formed the Enlightenment. Keats’ art could be great, but, in the sense described above, remained “incomprehensible”. On the contrary, Shelley and Byron have developed advanced aesthetic traditions of the Enlightenment, connecting them with their cutting-edge social ideas; they came up with a combination of “great” art that was “understandable” to the ordinary people (Damrosch et al. 351-514).
In the first third of the 19th century, the first stage of the struggle against the nobility and the industrial bourgeoisie was completed, who were rapidly becoming masters of the situation. There was a struggle against the Corn Laws, and a working class movement named Chartism began, allowing worker to radically declare their requirements, overshadowing the feudal and patriarchal Romantic dreamy poetry. The city with its practical interests, increasing number of bourgeoisie, social struggle between bourgeoisie and working class were the main content of English literature and realism as its predominant form.
Many British literary critics, drawing a picture of literature development in Victorian period, tried to smooth out the deep contradictions that were manifested in literary life as well as in all areas of English society, putting on a par Victorian classics Carlyle and Tennyson, Mill and Barrett Browning, Darwin, etc. This artificial scheme does not correspond to reality. English literature in the middle of the 19th century was not developed in the same way. The so-called Victorian era was not only a period of universal harmony, but was also characterized by a sharp demarcation and struggle, during which the classical English realist literature of the 19th was formed. The English people, who were the rightful heirs of the treasures of national art, were able to appreciate the creativity of outstanding writers of that period, who reflected the essential aspects of life, expressed their views, interests and aspirations in the stormy period of Chartism. Social novel, which was a leading genre in English literature of the time and its highest artistic achievement, is an integral part of democratic culture in England. Thoughts and feelings, embodied in its images, still remain valid, as they are deeply rooted in the people’s life.
Leading British press in recent years, more and more regularly publishes articles that ensure the interest of the mass readership to the classic works English novelists. Gloss over the bourgeois criticism of the literary heritage was studied by progressive English writers during Chartists and played a role in ideological and political struggle of the English workers.
Finally, the paradox shown in this paper played out in British literature from 1700 to the twentieth century, contrasting the society and the Empire. Associating theoretical and aesthetic issues with the development of a new creative method, realism advanced the literature of England. In the works of the great English classical progressive writers, England perceived not only the “concrete expression of the national past”, but also “a noble and inspiring expression of the aspirations and struggle of humanity”. Creative use of classical heritage of national representatives of realism in English literature guarantees the existence of culture, which forms the future of the country.