Study Questions Seminar on Prose Forms of the 17th Century, 2019

Study Question 3

Please choose one of the two questions:

  1. Is it possible to argue that both Oronooko and Love-Letters between a Noble-man and his Sister are reflective of narrative tropes and strategies that Aphra Behn would have been familiar with from the drama of the Restoration period (heroic play and comedy)? In which ways? Research and discuss.
  2. The first text that we read in this seminar was from the early 17th century, before the civil wars, and the last text is from the ‘tail-end’ of the century, from 1684. Regarding our topic of prose fiction, if you were tasked to chart a development of the form in the century, what would it look like? Which aspects would continue to be relevant in the English novels of the early 18th century, and which aspects disappeared or retreated?
  • 600 words
  • Deadline: 29 January 2020

14 comments

  1. To refer to the cultural situation in England in the 17th century, Ingo Berensmeyer uses the expression “Proto-literary” discourse field, in order describe that abstract “dimension” in which middle-class people began for the first time in modern history to form their opinion through the act of reading, which became gradually more than passive consumption: a real and proper tool by which men could give a personal orientation to the world around them.
    With time, the public of readers widened and very soon people were surrounded, disoriented and fascinated by the enormous number of pamphlets, articles, treaties, novellas and, a little bit later, novels, which gave finally voices to different opinions never expressed before among the lower classes.
    This cultural scenario, of huge growth of communicative tools, is not very much different from today’s society of cyber-interactions and mass-media bombings.
    In our contemporaneity, we are constantly overcrowded by messages, emails, commercials, books, news, fake news, status updates, pictures and we have to manage to get through this communicative chaos using only our critical thinking. Reading, and most of all, a careful reading is now become too much important, because we cannot believe whatever we read, and now more than ever, every information must be passed under a detailed critical analysis.
    However, free thinking and free expression both now and then have fought for their life, and sometimes this fight came with a heavy price, because of the many obstacles in their path, whose one of the greatest was Censorship.
    Censorship is a plague still well spread even at our times, typical not only of the 17th century, as one may think. According to “Reporters Sans Frontières”, “the number of countries considered safe, i.e. countries in which journalists can work without risking their life, has been decreasing year after year, whereas authoritarian governments continue to increase their control over media”.
    A very tragically famous censoring Institution in 1600 was the ecclesiastical court “Inquisizione del santo Offizio”, responsible for condemning free thinkers who dared fight the church of Rome and its dogmatic truths. For example, Giordano Bruno was burnt alive on the 17th February 1600 in Campo de’ Fiori in Rome for having postulated the infiniteness of the Universe, while Galileo Galilei was tortured, imprisoned, and forced to retreat his theories. All these thinkers were clashed for having tried to break the traditional beliefs and spoil nature from his veil of esoteric mysteries. Their works carried a fatal strike to what at those time was the paradigm of seeing life, as it happened with the astonishing scientific discoveries of the 20th century and our contemporary ones.
    The new-established cosmological system conveyed also dramatic philosophical, scientific, historical, and social repercussions for the 1600 society which however were not perceived at best by common people, who were too much linked to a magic-occult and religious vision of nature and life, as we can see in the “Black Munday”’s terrible predictions for the solar eclipse of 1652, which was probably more read and well-known among the humble people of the British Isle’s than Kopernigk’s “De rivolutionibus orbium coelestium”. And that is where the different between the present and that past lies, where the crack broadens.
    Our 21th century society has inherited all the critical knowledges to identify and analyse the extent of the past changes but also of the present ones. Therefore, we all are fully capable of understanding how our reality is constantly changing and evolving around us, and it is then our duty to teach the ones who are not so, providing them with the tools our past has gifted us.
    Reading and thinking were and still are the best compass for not getting lost in our kaleidoscopic reality.

    • Dear Francesco, thank you for your thoughts, which read a bit like a pamphlet for free speech themselves, good job.
      Actually, censorship was lifted in England by the anti-royal parliament in 1641, because they (rightly) thought that would stoke anti-royal anger in the public. On a much much larger scale, maybe the way in which social media have developed into partial hate stoking machine, should also give us thoughts about the way in which we can handle the friction between freedom of expression and a rule-bound social sphere today…

  2. Reading texts from the 17th century is very interesting, as it not only gives us an insight into historical events but also social norms that are reflected in the texts and ways of using the medium of the written text that are sometimes similar, sometimes completely different from what we are used to. First of all, it is important to state that there are some obstacles in reading texts from such a different time period. Not only is the font of original documents sometimes hard to decipher, but the language authors used and the references they make to other texts or events can be confusing to contemporary readers. Therefore, it is unlikely that readers today have a similar response to the texts as readers at the time did.
    In many texts and text forms of the 17th century, we as readers can find familiar structures or approaches. This is because many of what we nowadays consider literary genres were starting to develop during that time. So while there were no novels or short stories in the modern sense, different sorts of texts already contained some of their characteristic features. Despite using extremely eloquent language, Elizabethan novellas for example provided the reader with a seemingly realistic narrative and characters with rich inner lives. Furthermore, there were jest books with humorous short paragraphs that similar to modern short stories had a very condensed plot, although modern short stories tend to also focus on the inner lives of their characters. Consequently, modern readers can often find seemingly modern aspects in 17th century texts, although no “genre” of that time exists in its exact form in contemporary literature.
    Additionally, the concept of separate genres as a system of categorizing different kinds of texts was not as developed as it is today. Therefore, many texts show aspects of what we would today consider very different genres. A good example for that is the text “Black Munday” (1651). The author presents it as a prediction of the future, but the methods that are used are a mix of what today we would call scientific facts, like the time and duration of the solar eclipse in 1652, but also sometimes belong more in the realm of astrology and religion. In the context of the time period, this is not very surprising, as religion still played a bigger role in most people’s lives. If a scientific paper today told readers that a solar eclipse and its socio-political effects were a punishment by god, it would raise a lot of eyebrows. Likewise, astrology was used in the 17th century to predict everything from small, everyday events to big political events like wars or changes in government. I find it hard to judge whether readers at the time took texts like this literally, but the number of pamphlets produced that were similar to it does suggest that it was taken more seriously than it would be today.
    On the other hand, texts that were explicitly fictional were not very common, as they were often considered a form of lies. This can be seen in the way some authors prefaced their fictional texts. Margaret Cavendish for example prefaces The Blazing World (1666) with a two-page explanation as to why she wrote a fictional text, which she concludes by writing, “I have made a world of my own: for which no body, I hope, will blame me, since it is in every one’s power to do the like.” (Cavendish, 124). The fact that she has to justify her writing this way indicates that she was breaking writing conventions at the time. Today, authors do not have to excuse themselves like this for writing fiction and reading Cavendish’s explanation was very surprising to me.

    • Dear Jasmin, thank you very much for your thoughts. I like the idea of reading a paper and finding a prediction like black munday in it 😉
      If you, or anyone in the course for that matter, are interested in the history of astrology, and how it changed from a powerful knowledge system into this trifling, fortune-cookie like “horoscopes” at the back of the newspaper, there is a good short documentation called “astrology explained” on that streaming platform that starts with “N”.

  3. The 17th century was a time, in which astonishingly many things happened. There was a lot going on, politically, in Europe; the English being the first European people to behead their king. A middle class slowly began to emerge, which was educated and literary. In the literary field also many things began to change and to develop. Not only writing concerned, but also the readership received a new importance.
    Many things from then didn’t change to how literature works today, and I think that this is what Berensmeyer was thinking of.
    No author could know how their works were being perceived by the people. In the 17th century people wrote about their opinions of other texts, so they could influence other people with their stances. Some authors actually wrote for a living, so they needed the readers to like and buy what they wrote.
    Berensmeyer also mentioned that interpretation is always dependent on the own point of view, which makes it difficult to analyse work from the 17th century. But no one can read a book and know exactly what the author had in mind while writing it. Besides, nowadays as in the 17th century are so many different political, social, and cultural points of view that one has to do a thorough research on the author’s life to be able to understand the work better. I’m not saying that this wasn’t the case in the other centuries too, only that this didn’t change until now.
    It is clearly seen over the period of the 17th century how different situations influence the literary field, and that still happens nowadays. Rules to specific genres can change, and completely new genres can emerge.
    The style of writing also changed during the 17th century. Authors started to write how things could really happen, and how characters would really perceive situations. Berensmeyer used the term of contingency to describe this phenomenon. It is not something similar to our time, since we’ve practised contingency now for centuries, but it certainly survived all the other literary changes over the time.
    It surprised me pretty much to find so many things from the 17th century which are similar to our time, since I’ve read that this century stands out of all the others, because it would was so different.
    But with having all the background knowledge, things started to make sense to me.
    Of course, people would not want their king anymore, if he’s not treating his people well, so they are dreaming about getting rid of him, are interpreting his soon downfall from celestial events. And of course, they would want to write what they wanted to write about the way they wanted to write it. There were brave people, slowly changing things towards modernity. There were curious people, wanting to learn how to read to be able to know things.
    Aspects about the 17th century might have seemed foreign at first, but while gathering more knowledge it became easier to understand them, and to find them logical in the end. Clearly, things were different back then, but the people were still humans. The only thing which made them act differently than is what had already happened in the past. The 16th century had just ended, and since they had no idea of what other things people would do in the future, they could only act like people of the 17th century. We know there had been three other centuries after that, and we know what had happened then, and these centuries have also changed many ways and societies, but we’re still the exact same as the people from the 17th century. How we live is because of what we know of the past. We can only be people of the 21th century, and of no other.

    • Dear Onisha, thank you for your thoughts. I think “contingency” is referring to another concept here – it correlates more with the German idea of “zufällig”, so that in the 17th century people realised more strongly than previously that social order was not god-given, and that circumstances – your own one’s as the ones of the country – could change rapidly. Do you really think that “people are the same” through centuries and cultures? Doesn’t our culture, the ways we live and the systems in which we are embedded, make us who we are as human beings? Are there things within us that are universal, unconnected to culture, and if yes, how much do they mean in our personal lives?

  4. It is very important for us, as students of literature, to know about which forms of literature there were in the past, in order to better understand its evolution and the final result that corresponds to our era.
    In the 17th century the first newspapers arrived to England. As you may imagine, this supposed a huge impact in the society, as the people were informed about what it happened around them, not only in their own country, but also abroad. In this way, people were able to start thinking about those facts, and form a consistent opinion about them. Human beings need external stimuli to start reflecting, and in that time they began to do it in a more open-minded way, because they could start to know about other countries, which may have provoked them to make themselves many questions.
    However, with the information comes the censorship, and this new phenomenon was an opportunity for the upper class to have the people under control and manipulate what they wanted them to know. This aspect from the early modern writing is better explained in Randy Robertson’s book: Censorship and Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England.
    This consequence of the expansion of information has a lot to do with our current society, especially because we are boomed by information all the time, not already only for the news, but for much more. Social media have had such an influence in the society that nowadays they even offer a job, a very different type one from what we had known until now. Moreover, the access to information is immediate: all of us have a mobile phone in our hands, no matter where we are, we can be aware of what is going on in the world nearly live. Unfortunately, censorship has not gone forever and the more we know, the more critical sense we have to apply to that knowledge.
    On the other hand, there is an aspect which can be both, similar or different comparing the 17th century reader society to ours. Firstly, the similar question is an undeniable fact. Every reader has a personal interpretation from the text, no matter its nature, genre or structure, since we start from the knowledge that we have (which is different in everyone) related to the information we are reading. Nevertheless, this previous knowledge is what differences us from the 17th century society. In that time, people were just starting to read and to reach some kind of cultural value, therefore, it was more difficult to get what the author wanted to transmit, as he would probably be in a higher educative level. Although in that time the middle class began to educate themselves in a more popular way, we cannot compare it with what we are now. Nowadays, thanks to the education that we receive since we are a child, we do have a lot of more cultural references in our minds that can help us to arrive to the conclusion that the writer wanted to.
    Finally, another aspect that took my attention and seemed foreign to me was the structure of the text, specifically the one from Black Munday. Although it pretends to be a text of scientific nature it is written like a novel. The different elements of the natural event are not classified or separated like it would be today in a scientific article, and it looks more like a fantasy short story. However, we cannot ignore the religious elements that are really present along the text, which are very related to the way in which they perceived life and the events that surrounded them. Definitively, each period of our history contributes and defines what we are in the 21st century.

  5. The New Atlantis (1627) and The Blazing World (1666) are two very important utopian novels that share many elements, but the most obvious and important one is the genre of the text itself: utopia. By definition, a utopia is “an imaginary place or state in which everything is perfect”. This concept of perfection is present in both works. In the first text, we can notice that the interest in helping the sailors is not economic because the hosts refuse more than once the money that they have been offered with. In the second text, the Empress is in charge to avoid violence and all the bad things that corrupts a society.
    First of all, the two stories begin in a similar way. There is a ship in the middle of the sea and the wind pushes it until it arrives to land. This land, which is not easy to arrive to, conform a completely different new world in which everybody is happy. Nevertheless, the inhabitants who receive the ship’s crew in Bacon’s novel are human beings as well as them, meanwhile in Cavendish’s novel the residents are anthropomorphic animals, something never seen on Earth, from where the main character comes.
    Furthermore, in each of these societies technology is really present, as they are always experimenting new forms to improve their everyday live. In The New Atlantis, some members of the island which belong to the House of Salomon go abroad to see the foreign technological advances and try to incorporate them to their lives remote from the rest of the world. However, in The Blazing World this task corresponds to all the society based on various guilds.
    Moreover, both societies are divided into several professions which contribute to the perfect operation in these worlds. It seems that through the care of nature everything is in harmony. These worlds are organized by someone. In Cavendish’s novel there is a clear figure of authority in the society, which is the Emperor although he does not repress his citizens. Nevertheless, in Bacon’s novel the “power” seems to be more distributed, and we find different authorities during the text like the lord who talks with the sailors, the old king Solamona, the religious figure…
    Although it should not make a difference, the authorship of these two texts makes it so taking into account the time in which they were written and published. In the 17th century, women would normally publish under pseudonyms so that their works would not be discriminated and have the same opportunity that a man to be heard and recognized. Margaret Cavendish was the first woman to sign a literary work in Europe, apart from being considered a pioneer in the proto science-fiction novel and the feminist literature. Maybe her aristocratic condition of Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne helped her to be someone in the literary world. On the other hand, we may think that the figure of the Empress, which becomes the ruler of that perfect world, is a metaphor for the feminine power that she wanted for all women.
    The previous years to the Civil War were very hard for the British population as their life conditions were miserable: famine, illnesses, poorness… We may think that The New Atlantis was a desired illusion from Bacon, as the actual world in where he lived was just the opposite. Finally, concerning the Restoration of the monarchy and the privilege of Cavendish’s aristocratic position, we may think that the figure of the Emperor could represent the king Charles II as a way for the author to express her sympathy with monarchy.

  6. Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis and Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World are both fictional prose texts that explore the concept of utopian societies. Published only a few decades apart, they share some similarities in their understanding of the world as well as in plot. At the same time, though, there are some fundamental differences between the two texts. In the following, I will discuss some of these differences and attempt to relate them to the historical background of the time they were written in.
    The first striking similarity between The New Atlantis and The Blazing World is the beginning of the plot. In both instances, the yet to be named main character is transported by boat against their will (in The New Atlantis because of bad weather and in The Blazing World because she was abducted). Both characters are in life-threatening situations, until they are unexpectedly rescued by the people of a new land or world they happen upon. The people of those places take them in and help them recover. What follows is an exploration of these worlds through conversations between the main character (and, in The New Atlantis, his shipmates) and people native to the worlds.
    These worlds, although very different in their design, are presented as utopian to the reader. They are peaceful, prosperous and scientifically and or medically advanced and the focal characters are in awe of them. They engage in long conversations with the different people of those worlds in long, descriptive passages, which, although they don’t necessarily drive the plot forward, give interesting insights into what people thought about science and its future accomplishments at the time the texts were written (though these texts are, of course, fictional and therefore likely not completely representative of scientific views at the time).
    Though the initial setting is relatively similar, both the worlds and the main characters’ place within them differ in important ways. For example, the main character in The New Atlantis is, along with his shipmates, a guest in Bensalem and therefore only an outside observer of the culture and politics. The Empress, on the other hand, actively changes the Blazing World. Shortly after her arrival, she is given a lot of power which she mainly uses to found societies and later build a temple. In her position as Empress, she has much more agency than the main character in The New Atlantis.
    The two fictional worlds themselves are also different in some ways. Most obviously, the people of the Blazing World are either animal-human hybrids or humans with strange skin colours such as azure, deep purple or scarlet. This, and the fact that the Blazing World is described as being geographically somehow separate from the rest of the world, establish it clearly as a non-realistic setting. Bensalem, however, is more incorporated into the real world. It is located on an island in a part of the ocean that isn’t frequented by ships and in their descriptions of the land’s history, it is incorporated into a fictionalized, though not as overtly fantastical, history of the world. It is also explained that the people of Bensalem are secretly in contact with the rest of the world and it therefore isn’t as separate from it as the Blazing World, where people aren’t even aware the “real world” exists until the Empress arrives.
    Both texts were written during a time of social upheaval. Cavendish had returned to Britain from France after the monarchy was restored, and this reflects in some parts of her text. Most notably, the utopia she describes has a monarchical structure. She clearly argues in favour for it, by writing that just like a body has one head, a country should have one ruler.
    When Bacon was writing his text, Charles I was in power and he was not a very popular king. He, in fact, went on to be executed. Because there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the political system at the time, it left room for new ideas about how society should be structured. In Bacon’s Bensalem, society is, at least covertly, run by scientists who study nature, invent new things and decide which of them to share with the government and the general population.

  7. Francis Bacon’s “The new Atlantis” and Margaret Cavendish’s “The Blazing world” configure their narrative in the domain of the Utopic writing.
    However, both authors decided to play with rules and conventions of this genre, leading therefore to a very personal narrative, which in Bacon’s is embedded with technocratic ideas and elements from the “philosophia naturalis”, while in Cavendish’s we find a cornucopia of other genres, whose all borders are merged and interwoven with the utopic and philosophical framework.
    Talking about the similar aspects of these literary works, the most two evident ones are probably: the way these authors presented their utopic worlds and how the narrating voices have reached them.
    To present the mysteries of these unknown lands, both writers adopted a scheme which is likely to derive from an adaptation of the “Platonic dialogue”, a literary technique very frequently used by classical writers and philosophers, by which philosophical themes and theories were explained through the dialogue of two or more characters. This narrative method enabled indeed the writer to present his matter to his readers in a more achievable and comprehensible way than what the traditional schemes of philosophical treaties could do.
    This mechanism is very well mirrored in the dialogues the Spanish sailor and the Empress have with the natives of the countries they are visiting. The two main characters, as well as the reader, discover the astonishing beauties, innovations and oddities of these worlds through the voice and words of their inhabitants, offering mostly intelligible images rather showing factual ones.
    The other clear similarity is the theme of voyage which works as a “scenic design” behind the story. The sailor reaches the Island of Bensalem after a shipwreck on his way to Peru, while the Empress arrives in Paradise after being kidnapped, then shipwrecked on the icy seas and finally found by a passing ship.
    So, it is clear, as Pohl states, that “Utopia is inseparable from the imaginary voyage”. Utopian writing flourished between the 16th and 17th century, a great period of geography exploration, whose discoveries of other territories and cultures undoubtedly stimulated the imagination of poets and writers, who could play with the image of not-yet discovered civilizations.
    However, considering the aspect of travelling, Cavendish’s text goes a little bit further than Bacon’s, with the extracorporeal journey the Empress and the Duchess have, and this is probably one the main differences between these works.
    By inserting marked fictional elements in “The Blazing world”, as the soul travels or the Empress’ battles, Cavendish’s text obtains sharper and more vivid tones than Bacon’s for what concerns action, even though we do not know what Bacon really had in mind, since the text it is not finished.
    Another great difference arouses in the political and social system these texts present, and this is probably due to the historical contexts in which they are written. Bacon’s Bensalem is largely governed and controlled by the Salomon’s House, a scientific organization whose main aim is to study the “secret motions of things”: this new system could be indeed the counterpart of the real philosophic and political questions which in the 17th century argued if Monarchy was for real the best political form of governance and whether it could be improved or changed.
    Cavendish’s “one God, one Emperor” world mirrors instead the political situation after the Restoration, where the democratic experiments in England had drastically crashed. However, the introduction in this world of a second ruler, the Empress, who works along with the former one, indicates perhaps that two powers could coexist and balance each other, as the Parliament and Crown have done in England since the emission of the “Bill of Rights” in 1689.

  8. With the discovery of America people in Europe had started to ask themselves, if there might be even more worlds to discover.
    It had inspired many writers, although centuries after the discovery of America, to write about other new worlds. About these utopian texts not only the discovery had been interesting, but creating a perfect world in the opinion of the author.
    The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon and The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish are both such books. Although their idea is the same one, there aren’t many similarities between those two.
    Both texts are full of dialogue, since that’s the easiest way to explain another world or society. It’s the fastest way to tell a foreign person everything they need to know about the new world.
    In both texts the author writes about his own philosophical musings and thoughts.
    Both new worlds have a religion which seems similar to Christianity. In The New Atlantis it even is Christianity, in The Blazing World the religion is simply similar to Christianity, but has no name. It is mentioned that the Blazing World is Paradise, which is another reference to Christianity, and could be seen as proof that their religion is, indeed, Christianity. The religion also seems to be a central point in the lives of the inhabitants of the other world.
    In both worlds science is also very important, as there are groups of people who research the wonders and secrets of nature. Both those groups have special positions in society.
    What differentiates the both utopias is, firstly, what kind of worlds they are. In The New Atlantis the new world Bensalem is merely an island in the pacific ocean, existing on our planet. The Blazing World, on the other hand, is a whole world, and seems to exist parallel to ours.
    Secondly, the discovery of Bensalem in The New Atlantis is rather unspectacular. A ship full of men, on a journey to find new things. Whereas the discovery of the Blazing World did firstly not happen at the beginning of the book, and secondly, it was also discovered by one person only, which was a woman.
    The inhabitants of Bensalem in The New Atlantis know of every other country and current events in the rest of our world. The Blazing World is different to that, since its inhabitants don’t know of our world. They don’t know what kind of person the Lady is, since she doesn’t look like them, so they couldn’t have known of our world.
    Another difference is the political system. In The Blazing World the monarchy is clearly the favourable system, and the Emperor is shown as a wise and just ruler. Bensalem in The New Atlantis does not have such a political system, and has a sort of council of many wise men.
    The time when these books were written might be one reason to that, as well as the political opinions of their writers. The New Atlantis was written before the Civil War in England, and before the Parliamentarians took over the government. The Catholics hadn’t been oppressed by the Puritans yet. Since Francis Bacon had sympathised with the Puritans he might have not chosen the monarchy as the political system of his “perfect world”.
    Margaret Cavendish, on the other hand, had lost a lot of family members, as well as her home, in the Civil War. Her family had all been Royalists, so she naturally had not sympathised with Parliamentarians. Since The Blazing World also had been published after Charles II had been crowned, choosing a different political system than the monarchy for an invented “perfect world” would be a treasonous thought, but we can also clearly assume that Cavendish actually favoured the monarchy.

  9. Study Question 2.
    Many formal aspects of the fictional prose texts we read changed over the course of the 17th century.
    One of the few things that can, in some form, be found in all four texts is a need for realism. In The Blazing World (TBW), which is arguably the most fantastical of the works, Cavendish addresses the reader in the prologue and the epilogue and names her reasons for creating a fictional world. The New Atlantis (TNA) does not address it this directly, but this may be due to the fact that it was published posthumously and the story itself is not finished. But even then, it is written like a travel novel and the history of Bensalem is embedded into a fictionalized history of the real world. In Oroonoko, the narrator claims to either have witnessed everything she talks about or to have heard it from credible sources. Love-letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister (Love-letters) is based on a real scandal and in the prologue (or ‘The Argument’), the narrator claims that the letters are real except for the names, which have been changed. This rooting of fictional narratives in reality was important throughout the 17th century.
    One of the most striking differences between the texts, however, is the level of interiority of the characters. In TBW, very few of the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters are known to the reader. What we learn about characters like the Empress or the Duchess, we learn through their actions and conversations. This is similar in TNA. The main character, from whose perspective the story is told, is mainly characterized as being part of his crew and is not shown as an individual.
    This starts to change in Oroonoko. Important characters like Oroonoko, Imoinda and the female narrator are individuals with their own personality. There is also more character development in this text. For example, Oroonoko is a very honest and honour-bound character and he starts off trusting other people because of that. When the captain, who abducts him and his friends, says he will free them to stop them from starving themselves, Oroonoko believes him. But after being betrayed more than once, Oroonoko stops believing his captors’ promises of freeing him and instead tries to flee. In Love-letters, this progression towards more interiority becomes even more apparent. Most of the story consists of a written dialogue between the two main characters, in which they exchange their personal thoughts and feelings. Though their letters mostly revolve only around their love (and sometimes Philander’s plans to kill the king and Sylvia’s family’s reactions to their affair), the characters seem more three-dimensional than the characters in the other texts, simply because they have more room to speak (or write) openly to each other.
    This tendency to dive deeper into the inner worlds of the characters stands in opposite relation to the extent to which the fictional world is explored. In TBW and TNA, this exploration is the main focus of the story, with long paragraphs describing what the world looks like and how the society is structured. To some extent, this is also true in Oroonoko, when the narrator describes Surinam and its native people. In TBW and TNA, the beauty of the worlds and the perfection of their societies is hardly questioned, making them seem like utopias.
    While this utopian idea is ultimately broken through the cruel behaviour of the plantation owners in Oronooko, it does not even appear in Love-letters. In fact, the only physical place that is described in any detail is the grove near the meadow where Sylvia and Philander have their second meeting and the society they live in is also far from utopian, with the lovers facing dire consequences for pursuing their love. This darker tone in the two later works could be related to the disillusionment in Britain after the political unrest and the civil wars.

  10. Study Question 2
    The 17th century was a period characterised by great and dramatic socio-political as well as cultural changes, which inevitably contributed to prepare the ground for modern England’s society as we now perceive it. If one is then asked to chart the development of literary prose forms at those times, this analysis must walk side by side with the historical and social context, which was constantly shifting around writers and their works. A great red line through this chaos could be then, for example, the fact that to ages of political and social disorders in this century seem to correspond freer literary forms both in matter and types. If I indeed look back at the first texts read in this course, “Aulicus” and “Black Munday”, the first striking elements perceived are indeed those of a not-so-concealed political criticism, deeply embedded with fictional elements, such as the fancy of a possible return of Charles I to London or a solar eclipse with catastrophes involved. Furthermore, it can be noticed that these texts show a quite wide sort of freedom of expression, as if the blurry and chaotic scenery of the civil war loosened the chain of political censorship for what concerned satire and criticism, while at the same time gave writers the possibility to experiment mixing different genres and archetypes, as proved by the difficult task of defining to which genre “Aulicus” should belong to. This aspect is probably taken to the extreme with Anna Trapnel’s Report and Plea, in which what is narrated as a factual report of a trial actually presents many elements from the bible and drama.
    This blurry perspective of literary-genres borders can be also found in and Margaret Cavendish’s “The Blazing World”, a vivid and bright cornucopia of genres, which draw from romance, philosophy, travel reports, allegorical plays and utopic fiction.
    However, with the ending of the century, romantic and fictional elements, which had for sometimes lived together with the factual one, started to be abandoned, or rather, cleverly disguised, as it can be seen looking at Behn’s “Oroonoko” (1688). Behn’s text is considered to be a proto-novel, anticipating many characteristics of the 18th century novel, and it is configured as report of the misfortunes and tragedies really happened to an African Prince turned into a slave, as the author/narrator states in the very first paragraphs. However, despite the author’s claims, “Oroonoko” hides anyway elements coming from the romantic world, such as the idealised life of colonists in South American, a predominant perspective of orientalism towards the African Kingdom and also the attributes Behn gave to Oroonoko, resembling those of a classical epic hero.
    To sum up, fiction and reality had openly co-existed in a shifting period, though in different forms and quantities; however, at the end of the century, this was not possible anymore: literature started to be a matter of consumption, with writers who could finally live of their works, without protection and sustenance of noblemen, as long as they came to terms with their public. Then, this withdraw from the world of romance after the English Revolutions was probably due to the affirmation of a new literary field, at this point too far from the idealistic and noble world of courts, where art had long lived, since it was now dominated by the merchant middle class. The bourgeois constituted indeed the main literary consumers and asked therefore for a literature in which they could identify their life. Stories and features of literary works were now bounded to the new dominant class, which was keener on realistic stories of ordinary people rather than heroic gests, forcing therefor fictional and fantastic elements to be either cleverly disguised or abandoned for a long time.

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