This survey of Restoration and eighteenth-century literature is designed for English majors and interested students from other disciplines who would like to reflect on how literary history is told as a series of narratives about progress and decline, as configured in discussions about education, morality, technological change, and the role of the public in shaping taste. Writers, editors, actors, social reformers, printers, and readers experimented with these forms as they debated the nature of cultural change in the burgeoning print marketplace. Indeed, students may recognize many of these debates about a so-called decline in moral behavior, scholarly attention, or taste due to frivolous consumption of popular culture and new technology. These narratives are told in a variety of forms: satirical poetry, pamphlets and periodicals, dramatic performances, collaborative projects such as the dictionary and the encyclopedia, and the popular novel.
The class will learn about how these forms developed through debate about what work these narratives could perform in responding to—and shaping—social change.
Authors may include Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Eliza Haywood, Samuel Johnson, Olaudah Equiano, and Benjamin Franklin.