John Dryden, major English author of the Restoration and early 18th century, and family.

Literature of the English Enlightenment: Courage to Use Your Own Reason

Our newest Timeline and Reading List features literature from the English Enlightenment. Lasting from 1660 to the late 1700s, the era often referred to as “The Long Century”  is an incredibly rich period, not only for innovations in literature, but also for developments in philosophy, science, mathematics, and political thought. Historians and students of culture find a common quest over these years to apply human reason to ultimate questions.

This “long 18th century” has been given many names: The Age of Reason, The Age of Enlightenment, The Age of Individualism, and The Age of Empiricism.
In much of the literature of the era, writers did not just document their own times, but sought for general truths that applied to people at all times, everywhere.

What made people tick, and especially, how can we formulate those truisms?

Much literature focused on moral questions: what values are right, true, good, and everlasting? Who on the public scene, especially writers and politicians, are following them and who is breaking them, and what are the consequences?  Based on these values that are good for people and good for society as a whole, how do we judge our politicians, writers, and dramatists in light of these truths?

Join us for a look at some background information on the literature of this era that can help readers understand and enjoy it. For an overview of the culture, authors, themes, and major works of this prolific and seminal era, click the “Continue Reading” link under the London river view painting. To skip the overview and go directly to the Restoration and 18th Century Timeline, or to any specific section of it, use the links just above “Continue Reading.”

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “This painting combines the two genres: the imaginary foreground is inspired by antiquity, while in the background is a view of the north bank of the Thames with St. Paul’s cathedral, the Tower of London, and Old London Bridge.” Painted in late 1740s.

Links:

The blue links will skip the rest of this background article and go directly to the Timeline.

To read more of this background post, click “Continue Reading” button just below them.

English Literature of the Eighteenth Century

Restoration Literature: 1660-1700

Augustan Age: 1700-1750

Age of Johnson and Sensibility: 1750-1789

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