Literature and Revolution in England, 1640-1660

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The years of the Civil War and Interregnum have usually been marginalised as a literary period. This wide-ranging and highly original study demonstrates that these central years of the seventeenth century were a turning point, not only in the political, social and religious history of the nation, but also in the use and meaning of language and literature. At a time of crisis and constitutional turmoil, literature itself acquired new functions and played a dynamic part in the fragmentation of religious and political authority. For English people, Smith argues, the upheaval in divine and secular authority provided both motive and opportunity for transformations in the nature and meaning of literary expression. The increase in pamphleteering and journalism brought a new awareness of print; with it existing ideas of authorship and authority collapsed. Through literature, people revised their understanding of themselves and attempted to transform their predicament. Smith examines literary output ranging from the obvious masterworks of the age - Milton's Paradise Lost, Hobbes's Leviathan, Marvell's poetry - to a host of less well-known writings. He examines the contents of manuscripts and newsbooks sold on the streets, published drama, epics and romances, love poetry, praise poetry, psalms and hymns, satire in prose and verse, fishing manuals, histories. He analyses the cant and babble of religious polemic and the language of political controversy, demonstrating how, as literary genres changed and disintegrated, they often acquired vital new life. Ranging further than any other work on this period, and with a narrative rich in allusion, the book explores the impact of politics on the practice of writing and the role of literature in the process of historical change.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300059748
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/1994
  • Pages: 442
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.54 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Dissent Refracted: Text, Genre and Society 1640-60 1
Pt. I Writing, Publishing and Reading in the War 21
Ch. 1 Unstable Parameters 23
Ch. 2 Public Fora 54
Pt. II Rhetoric, Politics and Religion 93
Ch. 3 The Meaning of the Centre 95
Ch. 4 Discourse from Below: The Levellers, the City and the Army 130
Ch. 5 Political Theory as Aesthetics: Hobbes, Harrington, Winstanley 154
Ch. 6 The Free State in Letters: Republicanism Comes Out 177
Pt. III Mythologising Calamity: Genres in Revolution 201
Ch. 7 Heroic Work 203
Ch. 8 The Instrumentality of Lyrics 250
Ch. 9 Satire: Whose Property? 295
Ch. 10 Calamity as Narrative 320
Conclusion 357
Notes 365
Index 403
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