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The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century 1660–1785 INTRODUCTION TO THE PERIOD The complicated religious and political history of the years 1660 to 1785 poses a stumbling block, but the literature embraces the details of religion, politics, philosophy, and cultural events as it does for no other era, and so it is necessary to have at least a cursory understanding of them. The Public Sphere and Civil Society Representations of politeness, sociability, urban growth and development, gender relations in public spaces, domestic tourism and travel, theatre, coffeehouses, libraries, and salon respond to demographic changes in the shift to urban centers like London or spa cities like Bath and Bristol, the beginnings of a shift away from dominant rural life, as well as a rapid population growth. They also take up discussion of philosophical questions about human nature and proper behavior in civil society. The public sphere of coffeehouses and theatres provided the space for a community to share information and develop codes of politeness to govern their interactions. Men and women shared these spaces and negotiated various terms of power and pleasure within them. Authorship and Literacy: New Readers, New Writers, New Forms With the tremendous rise in literacy that occurred in the seventeenth century, more readers began to demand more material to read. The burgeoning book industry filled the need, and new writers became gainfully employed in the marketplace of ideas. New writers such as women, middle- and laboring-class writers, and non-white authors take up the pen and participate in the republic of letters. New literary forms such as the periodical essay, literary criticism, satire and the novel emerge. Explorations in Science and Nature Dramatic developments in science spurred by Bacon, Boyle, Newton, and others set the background for a culture of curiosity and intense observation of the natural world. Not surprisingly, such findings lead to questions about the role of human beings in nature and the universe, which of course intersected with the heated religious controversies of the seventeenth century. Enlightenment thinkers placed humankind at the center of their investigation but debated the significance of “man” and his rational capacities. Cartesian dualism provided the philosophical grounding for a mind-body split that authorized the rational and spiritual subordination of the passions. However, it was Locke’s empirical views of human understanding and the role of the senses that came to dominate in the eighteenth century. The literature of the period nonetheless attests to the fervor surrounding the investigation of fundamental ideas of cognition, sense, understanding, and the world at large. Politics of the Individual The political upheavals of the seventeenth century led to the establishment of partisan politics that divided along fairly clear lines by the early decades of the eighteenth century. Tories were associated with landed wealth, Anglicanism, and the monarchy, and Whigs were associated with trade, commerce, low-church dissenters, and progressive reform. The question of proper authority was key to both. Locke’s contract theory of government assumed that all men were born free and exchanged their liberty for a safe, civil society headed by a legitimate authority. It soon became clear that only certain men, namely white, property-owning men of education, were free and that women, children, laborers, and slaves did not have the ability to make contracts. Thus literature of the period investigates the troubled emergence of the individual in discourses on slavery and marriage. The political discourses also inspired new expressions of autonomy, as seen in the emergence of evangelicalism - which authorizes individual experiences of religious salvation - as well as new forms such as biography, which narrates the development of an identity. Other works, such as those focusing on the noble savage or primitive literatures, recall an idealized state of nature and grace antecedent to civilization.
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