Sir Philip Sidney
Sir Walter Raleigh
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Sir Walter Scott
D H Lawrence
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In his own lifetime Geoffrey Chaucer was considered the greatest English poet, and the centuries have not dimmed his reputation. With the single exception of William Shakespeare, no English writer has surpassed Chaucer's achievements. His unfinished masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, ranks as one of the world's finest works of literature. It also provides the best contemporary picture we have of fourteenth century England.
Although the exact date of Geoffrey Chaucer's birth is unknown, official records furnish many of the details of his active life as a public servant. His father was a well-to-do wine merchant in London,. a man with sufficient influence to get young Geoffrey a position as a page in a household connected to that of King Edward III. As a page Chaucer's duties were humble, but the job provided him an opportunity to observe the ruling aristocracy, thus broadening his knowledge of the various classes of society. In 1359, while serving in the English army in France, he was captured and held prisoner. The king paid a £16 ransom for his release. In 1366 Chaucer married a lady-in-waiting to the queen.
Throughout his life Chaucer served in key government positions. He was a controller of customs, a justice of the peace, and a one-term member of Parliament. He spent time in France and Italy on diplomatic missions, served as a supervisor of construction and repairs at Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, and, late in life, acted as a subforester of the king's forest.
It might seem as if Chaucer would have had little time for writing, but in fact he wrote a great deal. He began producing poetry in his twenties and continued to do so for the rest of his life. Moreover, as he grew older, his literary works showed increasing depth and sophistication. In Troilus and Criseyde, a long poem dealing with themes from classical antiquity, he displays the dramatic flair and penetrating insight into human character that are his hallmarks. The Canterbury Tales, of which only 24 of the projected 124 tales were completed, shows Chaucer's absolute mastery of the storyteller's art.
Chaucer was the first person to be buried in what is now the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Sir Philip Sidney wrote the first great sonnet sequence in English, Astrophel and Stella. Before Sidney, Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey had written excellent sonnets, but Sidney was the first to write a series of sonnets linked by subject matter and theme. In addition, his Defence of Poesy marks the beginning of English literary criticism.
Sidney was born at Penshurst, the country home of his aristocratic family. After studying at Oxford and Cambridge he traveled extensively in Europe. Back in England he became a favorite at court, where his charm, intelligence, and good judgment were recognized and admired. In 1575 he made the acquaintance of Penelope Devereux, the daughter of Lord Essex. She was then thirteen. They became engaged, but the engagement was later broken off and Penelope became the wife of Lord Rich. She is the Stella of Astrophel and Stella.
In 1580 he fell out of favor with the court for writing a letter to Queen Elizabeth urging her not to marry the Duke of Anjou. He then retired to his sister's home, where he wrote part of Arcadia, a pastoral romance. Eventually he regained his status with the queen and was knighted in 1583. In 1586 during a military engagement against the Spanish Catholics in Holland, Sidney was wounded. As he lay on the ground, he refused the water offered him, insisting that it be given to another wounded soldier. Twenty-six days later Sidney died, to the great grief of his country.
During his life Sir Philip Sidney was widely revered as a courtier, soldier, scholar, and poet-a model gentleman of the English Renaissance. Today he is acknowledged as the first important literary critic in English. He is also recognized as the poet who inspired the sonnet sequences of later Renaissance poets and as the author of a number of eloquent sonnets that stand with the best poetry of this period.
Most people remember Sir Walter Raleigh as the courtier who supposedly covered a puddle with his cloak so that Queen Elizabeth I would not get her feet wet. Raleigh was much more than a dashing gallant, however. He is renowned as the founder of the colony of Virginia and the man who introduced tobacco to Europe. In his own time he was honored as a soldier, an explorer, and a poet. Today his actions often receive more attention than his words, but Raleigh's poems, few of which have survived, are rich and complex, reflecting the vicissitudes of his own life.
Raleigh, born into a well-to-do family in Devonshire, served as a soldier for the Huguenots in France, attended Oxford briefly, and then, with others, outfitted a fleet purportedly for exploration but in fact to attack Spanish shipping. Returning to England in 1581, he gained an introduction to court and, making the most of his proud, handsome bearing and forceful personality, quickly became a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. She showered him with honors, bestowed upon him vast estates in Ireland, and put him in charge of expeditions to colonize America, including the one that ended with the "Lost Colony" at Roanoke, Virginia.
Trouble began for Raleigh when the queen learned of his secret marriage to one of her maids of honor. His brief imprisonment at that time foreshadowed a much longer imprisonment under King James I. Accused by James of treason and convicted in an unfair trial, Raleigh spent many of the last years of his life in the Tower of London. There, surrounded by family and servants, he wrote his History of the World, a work intended to show God's judgment on the wicked. Released when he was past sixty, he made one final voyage to South America in search of gold. The expedition failed, and upon his return the Spanish ambassador accused him of burning a Spanish settlement. The old charge of treason was revived. Raleigh was convicted, and after calmly composing his own epitaph on October 28, 1618, he went to his execution the next day.
Raleigh's reputation as a writer is difficult to assess because so little of his work has survived. What does survive suggests a mature poetic talent. His lyrics convey realism, humor, and largeness of spirit, with occasional flashes of bitterness that his cruel fate would seem to have warranted.
Though not the first English poet to write in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), Christopher Marlowe's brilliant use of it in his plays established blank verse as the preeminent meter for verse drama and ultimately for epic poetry in English. Marlowe is the author of one of the world's immortal tragedies, Dr. Faustus, as well as several other notable plays and poems.
Born in Canterbury, Marlowe was the son of a shoemaker. He went to Cambridge University on a scholarship usually awarded to students studying for the ministry. However, he spent much of his time writing plays and serving as a government agent. He never took holy orders. He is, indeed, reputed to have been an atheist, or at least to have held highly unorthodox religious views.
While at Cambridge Marlowe wrote Tamburlaine, the play that made the public aware of his dazzling abilities. It dramatizes the exploits of a fourteenth-century Scythian shepherd who conquered much of the known world. As Marlowe portrays him, Tamburlaine personifies energy and ambition and is thus a character eminently suited for the dramatist's powerful blank verse. In the remaining six years of his life, Marlowe wrote five more plays, including Dr. Faustus and a sequel to Tamburlaine. On May 30, 1593, he was killed by a dagger thrust in a tavern. His death may have been the result of a fight over the bill, or it may have been a political assassination.
Marlowe's fame rests primarily on his plays, especially on his "mighty line," as Ben Jonson described his dramatic blank verse. Dr. Faustus has been a classic of dramatic literature for four hundred years. However, Marlowe's nondramatic poetry alone would be enough to secure him a permanent place in English literature. His Hero and Leander is one of the finest narrative poems ever written in English, and "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" is one of the best-known and most popular lyrics of the English Renaissance.
1564–1616, English dramatist and poet, b. Stratford-on-Avon. He is considered the greatest playwright who ever lived. While little is known of Shakespeare's boyhood, he probably attended the grammar school in Stratford, where he would have been educated in the classics, particularly Latin grammar and literature. In 1582 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior and pregnant at the time of the marriage. They had three children. In 1594 Shakespeare became an actor and playwright for the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the company that later became the King's Men under James I. Until the end of his London career Shakespeare remained with the company; it is thought that as an actor he played old men's roles. In 1599 he became a partner in the ownership of the Globe theatre, and in 1608 he was part owner of the Blackfriars theatre. Shakespeare retired and returned to Stratford c.1613.
After his early plays, and before his great tragedies, Shakespeare wrote Richard II, A Midsummer Night's Dream, King John, The Merchant of Venice, Parts I and II of Henry IV, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. The comedies of this period partake less of farce and more of idyllic romance, while the history plays successfully integrate political elements with individual characterization. The period of Shakespeare's great tragedies and the "problem plays" begins in 1600 with Hamlet. Following this are The Merry Wives of Windsor (written to meet Queen Elizabeth's request for another play including Falstaff, it is not thematically typical of the period), Troilus and Cressida, All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens.
The strength of Shakespeare's plays lies in the absorbing stories they tell, in their wealth of complex characters, and in the eloquent speech—vivid, forceful, and at the same time lyric—that the playwright puts on his characters' lips. Shakespeare had a tremendous vocabulary and a corresponding sensitivity to nuance, as well as a singular aptitude for coining neologisms and punning.
Shakespeare's first published works were two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). Shakespeare's sonnets are by far his most important nondramatic poetry. They were first published in 1609, although many of them had certainly been circulated privately before this, and it is generally agreed that the poems were written sometime in the 1590s. Scholars have long debated the order of the poems and the degree of autobiographical content. The first 126 of the 154 sonnets are addressed to a young man whose identity has long intrigued scholars. The publisher, Thomas Thorpe, wrote a dedication to the first edition in which he claimed that a person with the initials W. H. had inspired the sonnets. Some have thought these letters to be the transposed initials of Henry Wriothesley, 3d earl of Southampton, to whom Shakespeare dedicated Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece; or they are possibly the initials of William Herbert, 3d earl of Pembroke, whose connection with Shakespeare is more tenuous. The identity of the dark lady addressed in sonnets 127–152 has also been the object of much conjecture but no proof. The sonnets are marked by the recurring themes of beauty, youthful beauty ravaged by time, and the ability of love and art to transcend time and even death.
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was born in London, the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Although he made no discoveries in natural science and proposed no new scheme of philosophy, he gave to the seventeenth century something that it lacked, a "science of science" and a "philosophy of philosophy." Bacon's Essays, fifty-eight in all, appeared between 1597 and 1625. Full of practical wisdom and noted for their style, they reflect the experiences of Bacon's own life.
Edmund Spenser, the "poet's poet," is one of the very greatest poets of the English Renaissance. An imaginative experimenter in verse forms, he invented the Spenserian stanza and the Spenserian sonnet, which exerted a powerful influence on the poets who followed him.
Unlike many poets of the time, Edmund Spenser was born into a working-class family. His father was a clothmaker, and Edmund attended the Merchant Taylors' School on a scholarship for a poor man's son. He went on to Cambridge University as a "sizar," a student who was required to work his way through school. During Spenser's first year at Cambridge, his earliest poems were published.
Graduating with an M.A. degree in 1576, Spenser served in a variety of positions with wealthy noblemen, including that of secretary to the Earl of Leicester, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. While in Leicester's service, he became friends with Sir Philip Sidney, and the two of them formed the core of a select literary group. In 1580 Spenser took a position as secretary to the Lord Deputy of Ireland. Thereafter he spent most of his life in Ireland, acquiring Kilcolman Castle, an Irish estate, where he did much of his writing. Sir Walter Raleigh visited him at Kilcolman Castle and was so impressed by Spenser's unfinished The Faerie Queene that he persuaded Spenser to take the first three books to London for publication.
The Faerie Queene established Spenser's reputation as the leading poet of his day. This great work, intentionally written in an archaic style, combines two literary forms, the romance and the epic, into an allegory about "the twelve moral virtues." Dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I, The Faerie Queene brought Spenser a small pension but no position at court.
In 1594 Spenser married Elizabeth Boyle, whom his sonnet sequence Amoretti commemorates. Amoretti, which means "little cupids" or "little love poems," is unique in the English Renaissance for being addressed to the poet's wife.
Irish rebels destroyed Spenser's castle during an uprising, and Spenser returned to London. He died on January 13, 1599, and is buried in what is now the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.
From bricklayer to literary dictator, Ben Jonson's life story is the perfect tale of rags to riches. Not only does his life suggest myth, his physique does too. He was a large man with boundless energy and enormous courage. Friend of Shakespeare and Donne, Jonson was their chief rival in drama and lyric. In addition, Jonson was a classical scholar. an astute critic, a superb prose stylist, a skillful translator, and the chief arbiter of taste for an entire generation of writers.
Adopted when an infant by a bricklayer, Jonson worked for his stepfather a number of years while attending the equivalent of high school under one of the leading teachers of the age. Too poor to pursue his education further, Jonson enlisted in the army and fought in the wars for Dutch independence from Spain. At one point as a soldier, he fought in single combat the champion of the enemy before the massed armies of Holland and Spain. Jonson won. On returning to England, Jonson went on the stage as an actor. His early years in the theater were stormy ones: He was jailed one time for taking part in a "seditious and slanderous" play; another time he was almost hanged for killing a fellow actor in a duel; and still later he was 'Suspected of having a part in a plot on the life of King James I. Despite the turbulence of his life, however, Jonson learned his stagecraft well and became a major dramatist in his own right. His first play had William Shakespeare in a major role, and his later plays were performed by the chief acting companies of the day, including Shakespeare's.
Jonson was so successful he was granted a handsome pension by King James I and treated as if he were poet laureate of England. Over many years he had written masques, elaborate entertainments, for the royal court, where he was a favorite writer. During these years he was enormously influential, functioning as virtual dictator over the literary efforts of the day.
A number of the brightest and best of the young courtly writers flocked about Jonson and called themselves the "Sons" or "Tribe of Ben." Among the outstanding Sons of Ben can be counted Robert Herrick and John Suckling. Although not himself one of the "Sons," Richard Lovelace was also much influenced by Jonson. Indeed, Jonson's direct influence extended beyond these poets to the end of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth. It is still felt today. What Jonson said of Shakespeare can be said of him as well: "He was not of an age, but for all time."
John Donne's reputation has changed over time. He was very popular during his own lifetime, but his writings went out of favor soon after his death. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, interest in his works revived. Now Donne occupies a major position in literature. Modern critics place him with William Shakespeare and John Milton at the very pinnacle of English poetry. Donne was raised by his widowed mother, who was a devout Catholic and a member of the family of St. Thomas More. At the time, being Catholic was difficult, for Roman Catholics were severely discriminated against in Queen Elizabeth's England. Indeed, Donne later recanted his Catholicism and joined the Anglican Church. Scholars are divided as to his motives. They wonder whether he experienced a genuine conversion or made a shrewd move to try to gain advancement in courtly society.
Donne's life is generally described as falling into two parts. The first is often thought of as the "wild youth of Jack Donne, ambitious man about town." Bright, clever, and charming, Donne was welcomed into the most exclusive courtly circles and served as private secretary to one of the Queen's highest-ranking officials. He was so charming that he wooed and won the hand in marriage of Anne More, his employer's niece.
As with his religious conversion, some scholars have questioned Donne's motives. Cynics thought that through this marriage Donne had made a shrewd move to advance his career. However, the marriage did not work out that way. Because of the opposition of Anne's father, Donne's marriage ruined his chances for advancement. As a consequence, the devoted couple and their many children experienced seventeen years of poverty, illness, and despair. During these years Donne eked out a.living as a writer of religious tracts and as the temporary secretary of several aristocrats. He also became during this difficult period one of the most widely read and influential poets of the age.
Later Donne was ordained and made dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. He now entered the second part of his life, which has been described as the "sacred calling of Dr. John Donne, Dean of St. Paul's." From this time until his death, Donne was the most popular preacher in England; his meditations and sermons were published during his life and went through several editions. We should not, however, emphasize too much the differences between the younger and older Donne. All of his writings, whether on love or faith, were written with the same intensity and wit.
Ranked with William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer as one of the greatest poets of the English language, John Milton actually produced comparatively few poems. The major part of his life he spent either studying literature or writing political tracts. Yet Paradise Lost by itself would have been enough to earn him a place among the immortals of English literature.
Born in London to a middle-class family, Milton grew up in a highly cultured environment. His father was a composer and musician of considerable ability as well as a professional scribe or notary. Milton's father was also deeply religious and devoted to the Protestant cause. Educated first at home by tutors, Milton started his formal education in the equivalent of high school when he was about thirteen. While a student at this school he mastered Greek, Latin, and Hebrew as well as several modern European languages. Then he went on to college.
It was while at Cambridge University that Milton decided to prepare himself for a career as a great poet ("God's poet," was how he described it). From this point onward until the English Civil War broke out, Milton devoted himself to a life of study. After earning his degrees .from Cambridge, he withdrew to his father's house at Horton for five years, where he is reputed to have read everything that was written in the ancient and modern languages that he knew. It was during this long period of study that Milton wrote "L'Allegro," "II Penseroso," and "Lycidas," which by themselves would have earned him a lasting position as a major poet. Following his stay at Horton, he went on the Grand European Tour for two years. While Milton was in Europe, Parliament rebelled against King Charles I; learning of the revolt, Milton cut short his trip and rushed back to England. There, he immediately took up the cudgels in defense of the Parliamentary and Puritan cause. It was in this role that he took part in the pamphlet war of the time and became a leading exponent of republican principles. As a result of his brilliant writings, Oliver Cromwell made Milton Latin Secretary of the Commonwealth. It was in this job that he went blind. Upon restoration of the monarchy, he was at first imprisoned and then released. Andrew Marvell, his former assistant and now Member of Parliament, may have argued in his behalf.
After Milton's release and the loss of most of his property, he withdrew into his blindness and poverty to write Paradise Lost, the greatest epic of the English language.
John Dryden dominated the literary scene in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. The most accomplished poet of the period, he also ranks high in English letters as a dramatist, essayist, satirist, and critic. His versatility and professionalism helped to establish writing as a legitimate career in England. The poet T. S. Eliot has maintained that Dryden "is the ancestor of nearly all that is best in the poetry of the eighteenth century," while the poet Matthew Arnold observed, "Here at last we have the true English prose, a prose such as we would all gladly use if only we knew how."
Born at the vicarage of Aldwinkle All Saints, Northamptonshire, where his father was a country gentleman, young Dryden studied at Westminster School. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1654, and five years later published his first important poem, Heroic Stanzas. The poem commemorates the death of Oliver Cromwell, under whose protectorate Dryden seems to have held a minor political post. A year later, in Astraea Redux, he did a political about-face and hailed the return to the throne of King Charles II. While in his fifties, Dryden, who had once been a Puritan and then an Anglican, became a convert to Roman Catholicism.
Dryden first came to prominence as a playwright, producing blank-verse tragedies and comedies. He was appointed poet laureate in 1668, a position that was supposed to pay an annual salary of two hundred pounds, but because of problems in the Royal Treasury, he received only half. His best play, All for Love (1677), is a rewriting of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra in a clear, simple style. He displays his ful power in Absalom and Achitophel, a political poem published in 1681. This poem was followed a year later by the equally impressive The Meda, also on politics.
After the Revolution of 1688 in England, which brought the Protestants William and Mary to the throne, Dryden lost his laureateship. He was replaced by Thomas Shadwell, whom Dryden had satirized a few years earlier in the poem MacFlecknoe. To compensate for his lost income, Dryden increased his literary output, translating classical writers and writing prologues and miscellaneous pieces. The last of these efforts, his Fables, Ancient and Modern-translations from Chaucer, Boccaccio, and Ovid -appeared the year he died.
As a writer, Dryden was uniquely a man of his era. He expressed himself on virtually every important issue of the day. His friend William Congreve, a fellow playwright, pays tribute to Dryden's talents, saying that "no man hath written in our language so much. . . and in so various manners so well. . . ."
The life of Jonathan Swift is a tale of thwarted ambition coupled with brilliant literary achievement In the Church of England and in British politics, he sometimes seemed on the verge of great success, only to have an unkind fate baffle his expectations. In literature, on the other hand, he achieved an almost unparalleled triumph with Gulliver's Travels, a book that can be read-and has been read since its publication-as a children's story, a fantasy, a parody of travel books, and a sophisticated satire on English politics.
Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland, to English parents. His father died before he was born, and young Jonathan, through the assistance of relatives, attended Kilkenny Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin. Later he joined the household of Sir William Temple, a retired diplomat, who lived at Moor Park, Surrey, England. Swift read, studied, and wrote for the next few years. Receiving none of the hoped-for political support from Sir William, he decided on a career in the church.
After Temple's death in 1699, Swift was given a small parish near London. The satirical writing he had done while in the Temple household was somewhat out of character for a clergyman, but its brilliance was widely acknowledged when it appeared as two separate books in 1704. Published anonymously, A Tale of a Tub satirizes excesses in religion and learning, while The Battle of the Books describes a comic encounter between ancient and modern literature.
Although A Tale of a Tub dashed his hopes for advancement to the rank of bishop in the Church of England, Swift remained a defender of the Anglican faith. In 1710, he changed his political allegiance from the conservative Whig party to the Tory party favored by Queen Anne. He benefited immediately from this switch. As the leading party writer for the government, he wrote many pamphlets and wielded considerable political influence. The glory was short-lived, however. Anne died in 1714; the Whigs regained power; and Swift, embittered, returned to Ireland as dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, a position he held for more than thirty years. Back in Ireland, he continued to write satires, including Drapier Letters (1724) and A Modest Proposal (1729), which championed the Irish cause. With the publication of Gulliver's Travels (1726), he reached the height of his literary power. In his later years, he suffered what was probably Meniere's disease, marked by a serious loss of memory and balance. His death in 1745 deprived the world of one of its great writers-a generous and learned man who despised the fanaticism, selfishness, and pride of people in general but admired individual human beings.
Although Daniel Defoe produced an impressive number of pamphlets, essays, and poems throughout his life, he was nearly sixty years old before he began writing the novels that established him as a writer of genius. Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, a book that recounts the mostly imaginary adventures of a real person, marked the beginning of the modern English novel. Defoe's realistic, almost documentary narrative of a man marooned on a desert island was something new in English literature. It established a genre.
Defoe's life was an odd mixture of business, politics, religion, and journalism. Born to a middle-class family named Foe (he added the "De" later), Defoe attended a school run by the Dissenters, a loosely knit group that refused to accept the principles set down by the Church of England. He considered entering the Presbyterian ministry but instead turned his attention to commerce. He invested heavily and not always well in a variety of ventures-a ship, diving bells, wines, civet cats. The scope of his activities is shown by the size of his debt. When he declared bankruptcy in 1692, he owed his creditors 17,000 pounds.
At that point, he turned to writing (and to patrons for his writing) to try to improve his fortunes. His pen, however, also got him into trouble. After enjoying brief success with The True-Born Englishman (1701), a defense of King William III against his detractors, he wrote an ill-advised satire, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (1702), that langed him in jail and in the pillory. Published anonymously, this pamphlet condemned the very religious group Defoe favored. Its irony amused neither the Dissenters nor members of the Church of England, but Defoe had enough popularity to attract cheering supporters rather than rock throwers at his pillory appearance.
Late in life Defoe turned to writing books that purported to be memoirs, among them Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). As published, these books were not novels in the strict sense, since they were sold as nonfiction. Although Defoe has been accused "of forging a story, and imposing it on the world for truth," these books are generally regarded as novels today-and as outstanding novels at that.
Defoe's journalistic talents served him well in writing A Journal of the Plague Year (1722). He studied official documents, interviewed survivors of the plague, and may have drawn upon his own memories as a young child. The vivid historical re-creation of the plague is a triumph of Defoe's energetic, detailed style in a genre that set English fiction upon a new path.
From the age of eight or nine, Alexander Pope knew that he wanted to become not just a poet but a great poet. Before he was twenty-one, his Essay on Criticism had brought him to the attention of the leading literary figures of England. His satiric The Rape of the Lock, probably the best mock-epic poem in English, followed when he was twenty-four. Despite a crippling childhood disease and persistent ill health, Pope triumphantly achieved his boyhood ambition. A brilliant satirist in verse, he gave his name (the Age of Pope and Swift) to the literary era in which he lived and wrote.
Born into the Roman Catholic family of a London linen merchant, Pope had to struggle for position. After the expulsion of King James II, English Catholics could not legally vote, hold office, attend a university, or live within ten miles of London. To comply with the rule of residency, his family moved to Binfield, near Windsor Forest, a rural setting where Pope spent his formative years writing poetry, studying the classics, and becoming broadly self-educated. Pope's physical problems were as severe as his religious ones. Deformed by tuberculosis of the spine.. Pope stood only about four and a half feet tall-"the little Alexander whom the women laugh at," he said-and he suffered from nervousness and excruciating headaches throughout his life. In 1718 Pope moved to a five-acre estate at Twickenham where he lived until his death.
Although Pope, "the Wasp of Twickenham," is more often remembered for his quarrels than for his cordiality, he became friends, and remained so for life, with members of a Tory group that included Jonathan Swift, John Gay, and Lord Bolingbroke. Pope instigated the formation of the Scriblerus Club, the purpose of which was to ridicule what its members regarded as "false tastes in learning." The satiric emphasis of the club probably gave some impetus to the writing of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Gay's Beggar's Opera, and Pope's The Dunciad-a "burlesque heroick" attack on Pope's literary enemies (most of whom are now forgotten). In the 1730's Pope's writing turned increasingly philosophical. He embarked on a massive work concerning morality and government, but completed only An Essay on Man and Moral Essays. Nevertheless, the entire body of his work is sufficient for critics today to accord him exceptionally high praise. The twentieth-century poet Edith Sitwell calls Pope "perhaps the most flawless artist our race has yet produced."
Many readers know Samuel Johnson only through the biography written by his contemporary and ardent admirer, James Boswell. That is unfortunate, because the Samuel Johnson who is revealed through his own writings is a man with much to say on a variety of subjects-a man who, despite the excellence of Boswell's portrait, is best read firsthand. During his own lifetime, Johnson was widely recognized as the most influential literary figure of his day as well as a brilliant and witty conversationalist. Indeed, the second half of the eighteenth century is often called the Age of Johnson.
Johnson's success was hard-won. The son of a bookseller in Lichfield, a small town north of Birmingham, he grew up in poverty. He described himself as a "poor diseased infant." A series of childhood illnesses left him physically weak and facially disfigured. A brilliant child who read Hamlet at the age of eight, Johnson feared that insanity would deprive him of his single advantage, his intellect. He entered Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1728, but was forced to leave after fourteen months because of a lack of funds. For six years thereafter, until deciding to pursue a literary career in earnest, he was a Lichfield bookseller and schoolmaster, reading widely and occasionally'working on translations. At the age of twenty-six he married a widow much older than he, to whom he remained devoted until her death.
In 1737 he moved to London. Despite critical praise for his early writing, he failed to gain a large audieAce. It was Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, that earned him a permanent place in English letters. For the next two years, he wrote The Idler, a series of articles for a weekly newspaper, in addition to completing one of his best-loved works, Rasselas, a moral romance.
Johnson was awarded an annual pension of three hundred pounds in 1762, which made him something of a man of leisure. The next year he and twenty-three-year-old James Boswell met for the first time in the back parlor of Tom Davis's bookshop. It was a fateful meeting, one that led, after many further meetings, to Boswell's Life of Johnson, a book generally regarded as the finest biography in English.
In 1765 Johnson published an acclaimed edition of Shakespeare. His last important work, The Lives of the Poets, appeared in ten volumes between 1779 and 1781. It is a group of fifty-two critical biographies that cover about two hundred years of English literary history. Late in life Johnson received honorary degrees from Oxford and from Trinity College, Dublin-thus the "Dr." that often precedes his name. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
When William Blake was four years old, he screamed because he saw God at his window. At age eight, while walking in the fields, he saw a tree filled with angels. To outside observers, Blake's "spells" might have seemed a cause for grave concern. In the home of his parents themselves followers of the mystical teachings of Emanuel Sweden borg-the boy's "gift of vision" was something to be revered and nurtured. At least partly as a result of the family's way of life, the century and the world received a painter and a poet whose contributions are as rare as they are brilliant.
Blake was born in London, where his father ran a hosiery shop. He was never sent to school but instead, after expressing a desire to become a painter, was apprenticed to an engraver. Ultimately self-taught, he found his way into art and literature.
Between the ages of twelve and twenty, Blake wrote a series of poems, Poetical Sketches, that followed the tradition of English lyric poetry, while bringing a new innocence to his subject matter. When he was thirty-two, he published his Songs of Innocence, which he had composed when he was younger, and which explored his favorite subject-the destiny of the human spirit. Instead of printing the collection, he developed a unique process whereby the words and illustrations were etched on metal plates with varnish, then painted in by hand. Because the process was time-consuming, few books could be produced, and so to support himself, Blake hired himself out to other authors as an illustrator and sold what he could of his own works for one pound apiece. He also continued to write and in 1794 brought out a companion to Songs of Innocence titled Songs of Experience.
In Songs of Innocence Blake had suggested that by recapturing the imagination and wonderment of childhood, we could achieve the goal of self-awareness. The poems thus present views of the world as filtered through the eyes and mind of a child. In Songs of Experience he now insisted that a return to innocence was not, at least by itself, sufficient for us to attain an awareness of our true identity-that we must also recognize and attempt to understand the evils around us. Thus Blake's credo was that there must be a union of opposites, a fusion of innocence and experience. Unrecognized by his peers and living only slightly above poverty level, Blake spent his seventy years in constant creative activity. Only later, many years after his death, was the system behind his work understood. His poetry operates on two levels, one of them symbolic, the other literal. Both of them address a single purpose-the renewal of the human spirit.
William Wordsworth is among the small group of writers and poets who truly deserve the title "pioneer." His name is almost synonymous with the movement known as Romanticism. Wordsworth demonstrated that poetry was a free-a living-form of artistic expression, a view that contrasted sharply with that held by the generation writing before him. Whereas the Neoclassicists, as these earlier poets were called, insisted that poetry address a narrow range of topics and be rigidly structured, Wordsworth's poems were written for the common people-and in a common language. Born in the beautiful Lake District of England, Wordsworth loved to roam the hills and sit and meditate by the streams. He was well-suited to country living and in later years found nature to be the source of his poetic inspiration and internal peace. Though his parents died when he was young-his mother when he was eight, his father when he was thirteen-Wordsworth's education was seen to, and in 1787 he entered Cambridge. After graduation he traveled through Europe, spending considerable time in France. Here he became caught up in the popular side of the French Revolution, with its emphasis on the rights of the individual. He also found time to fall in 'love with a young woman named Annette Vallon.
Wordsworth's involvement in the Revolution and his affair with Annette ended abruptly, however, when England declared war on. France in 1793 and he was forced to return to his homeland. A year later, the Revolution was halted altogether with the execution of its leader, Robespierre. Wordsworth, seeing his ideals dashed, lapsed into a deep depression. Two people who came to his spiritual rescue were his sister Dorothy and his good friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
With Coleridge, Wordsworth composed Lyrical Ballads (1798), a collection of poems that reflected his "revolutionary" approach to poetry. In the preface to the collection, Wordsworth put forth his view that poetry should deal with common people and ordinary experiences-that its style and form should reflect "a spontaneous overflow of emotion." Though the book was not received favorably at first, it eventually gained recognition as a major poetic work and is seen today as one of the most influential works on poetic theory ever written in the English language.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge is the classic case of the gifted writer whose genius was hampered by lifelong problems, among them self-doubt and poor health. Coleridge was born in Ottery St. Mary on the Devon coast of England, the last of fourteen children, only four of whom survived. Spoiled by his father, Coleridge withdrew into a world of books and fantasy. At age nine, after his father died, Coleridge was sent to school in London. There the boy excelled and began developing an ability to speak on such matters as philosophy in a way that left his fellow students spellbound.
In 1791 Coleridge entered Cambridge University on a scholarship, but left before he graduated. He discussed plans with several other thinkers of the age to start up a colony in America whose members would live on a high intellectual plane. It was agreed that each member would have a wife. Though the plans for the community fell through, Coleridge's marriage plans did not, and in 1795 he married Sara Fricker.
With his wife, Coleridge moved in 1797 to Somerset, where he developed a close friendship with William Wordsworth, an important poet of the period. In 1798 the two turned out Lyrical Ballads, a joint collection of their work. The four poems that make up Coleridge's contribution to the volume deal with matters of the spiritual world and include his masterpiece, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Though at first public response to this collection of poems was lukewarm, the book slowly gained critical attention, ultimately causing a revolution in poetic style and thought and firmly establishing the movement known as Romanticism.
As Coleridge's fame grew, his marriage, his health, and his friendship with Wordsworth all gradually failed. He suffered increasingly from asthma and rheumatism, and he began to rely heavily on painkillers, which dulled his creative powers. Still, Coleridge managed to turn out a good deal of work in the years left him, and in a variety of areas. He worked variously as a journalist, as a lecturer on Shakespeare and Milton, as an essayist, and as a playwright, earning a tidy sum of money in 1812 with his tragedy Remorse. And all the time, despite his personal hardships, Coleridge continued to make himself available to visitors, which ultimately proved to have a great impact on the young crop of Romanticists writing at that time. Perhaps Coleridge's greatest legacy was the insight he affords his reader on the role of imagination in literature. His belief that literature is a magical blend of thought and emotion is at the very heart of his greatest works, in which the unreal is often made to seem real.
In his life as well as in his work, George Gordon, Lord Byron, typified the Romanticist's zest for life. As much a public figure as a literary genius, Byron lived life "in the fast lane"-a point that was looked on with disapproval by his contemporaries.
Whether distasteful behavior is purely a matter of example is open to debate. Nevertheless, it is significant to note that Byron was born in London to a father whose good looks-which his son inherited-made him irresistible to women. The father, John Byron, died when his son was three. When the young Byron was ten, the death of a great-uncle brought him the title of Baron, along with an estate at Newstead. Here the boy and his mother went to live until, at seventeen, Byron left home to attend Trinity College at Cambridge. At college, Byron made many friends, played many sports, and spent much money. He also published his first book of poems, Hours of Idleness (1807), which received harsh criticism from the Edinburgh Review. He was hurt but not crushed by this attack on his work, and two years later he came out with English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, a poem poking fun at the magazine.
That same year, Byron journeyed to the Near East, and spent the next two years traveling. When he returned home, he brought with him two sections of a book-length poem titled Childe Harold, which depicted a young hero not unlike himself-moody, reckless, sensitive, and adventuresome. The work was received with great enthusiasm, and Byron became a very popular figure in important English circles. So great was his popularity, in fact, that his next published work, The Corsair, sold 10,000 copies in one day. During this period Byron saw a great many women. In 1815 he married Ann Isabella Milbanke, with whom he had a daughter. The couple seemed mismatched from the start and, after about a year, separated. Hurt by nasty gossip, Byron left England, never to return. It was in Italy that he began work on his most ambitious opus, Don Juan, a mock epic of the Romantic hero. It was also at this point that tragedy struck, and then struck again-first with the death of his daughter, later with that of his friend, the poet Shelley. In 1823 Byron joined a group of revolutionaries seeking to free Greece from Turkish rule. Before the revolt got underway, however, Byron died of rheumatic fever, at the age of thirty-six.
Although Byron openly spurned the works of other Romantics, including Wordsworth and Coleridge, his independence was a hallmark of the Romantic movement.
When he died in a boating accident at age thirty, Percy Bysshe Shelley was eulogized by his friend Byron as "without exception the best and least selfish man I ever knew." This seems strange praise indeed, considering it was directed at a man whose disenchantment with the world was at least as great as his appreciation of its beauties. At once modest and intense, Shelley was a poet of rare gift. He was also a self-appointed reformer who believed that humankind was capable of attaining a more perfect society.
Shelley was born in Sussex and raised on a fine country estate where he spent a quiet childhood. He was sent to excellent schools-first Eton, a prestigious boarding school, and later Oxford -but was never able to settle into the routine of a student. Instead he preferred to wander over the countryside or perform private scientific experiments. At Oxford Shelley became friends with a young man named Thomas Jefferson Hogg, whose political views were as strong as his own. The friendship further fueled Shelley's rebellious nature, and when with Hogg's support he wrote a pamphlet titled The Necessity of Atheism; both were expelled.
The incident led to trouble between Shelley and his father, and instead of going home Shelley headed for London. There he met sixteen-year-old Harriet Westbrook, who played on his sympathy for the underdog by describing her miserable situation at home and at school. The two married and went to Ireland, where Shelley tried unsuccessfully to "deliver the Irish people from tyranny." In 1813 he completed his first important poem, "Queen Mab," a philosophical work that explored some of the ideas he had read about in Godwin's Political Justice. The view that Shelley put forth-that government and institutions should be reshaped to better conform to the will of the people-was evident in much of his poetry, even in his nature poems.
Shelley's marriage, meanwhile, was in trouble. Harriet felt she could not keep up with her husband, whose political ideals, in any case, she had come to question. Shelley was unhappy too, and after divorcing Harriet in 1814 he married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.
Shelley spent the last four years of his life in Italy, where he became close friends with Byron. Here Shelley wrote some of his best poetry, including "Ode to the West Wind" and Prometheus Unbound, the second of these a long poem predicting that someday humanity would be free of tyranny.
Shelley has been called the perfect poet of the Romantic era. One need only consider his emotional response to life and his belief in personal freedom to appreciate how fitting that title is.
Despite his early death and the fact that the most important of his works were composed in the space of two years, John Keats remains one of the major influences on English poetry. Known as a pure artist, Keats saw the appreciation of beauty as an end in itself and made the pursuit of beauty the goal of his poetry. As Keats himself so eloquently put it, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty."
Born in London of working-class parents, Keats was unusually handsome and active as a child. He developed a reputation for fighting, not so much out of rowdiness as from a readiness to take sides in a worthy cause. It was not until he became a close friend of his schoolmaster's son, Charles Cowden Clarke, that Keats developed an interest in poetry and became an avid reader.
In 1815 Keats began the study of medicine at a London hospital. By this time he had already begun writing poetry, and though his studies earned him a pharmacist's license, he ultimately abandoned medicine for a career as a poet. His first major effort, Endymion, published in the spring of 1818, was severely attacked by the journals of the day. Part of the reason for the harsh criticism was Keats's association with Leigh Hunt, a radical poet, but much of it had to do with the verse itself. Far from being crushed by the assault, Keats began the second of his long poems, Hyperion, which was never completed.
The end of the year found Keats mourning the loss of his brother Tom to tuberculosis. It also found the poet deliriously happy over his engagement to Fanny Brawne, a lively 18-year-old who was a light in Keats's life. The following year, 1819, was when Keats turned out his finest work, including "The Eve of St. Agnes," "The Eve of St. Mark," and his famous odes. This might have been only the beginning, but Keats's health took a turn for the worse. He moved to Italy, which promised a warmer climate, but to no avail. After a long battle with tuberculosis, the disease that had claimed his brother, he died at 25.
Though Keats and Shelley knew each other, their visions of what the poet should be could not have been more different. Keats did not share Shelley's rebellious spirit, not did he feel that poetry was the proper vehicle for political statements. Rather Keats sought to refine his idea of beauty, and in so doing, refined ours. His extraordinary sensitivity enabled him to see beauty in the most ordinary of circumstances, while his mastery of verse enabled him to unveil that beauty to the world.
If nothing else, the iife and work of Jane Austen explode the myth that it is impossible to produce a great novel without having first sampled a broad range of life experiences. Her social comedies are considered by critics today to be masterpieces of character portrayal and dialogue.
Born at Steventon in southwestern England to loving parents of modest means, Austen was the seventh of eight children. From an early age she enjoyed writing, and entertained her family with parodies, or humorous sendups, of the syrupy, sentimental fiction and drama that were fashionable at the time. When she was in her late teens she began her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, which is the story of two sisters. Prior to it's completion, however, she put it aside to concentrate on another novel, First Impressions. Written as a series of letters, the work that would eventually be reshaped into her highly acclaimed Pride and Prejudice rapidly became the family favorite. So certain, in fact, was her father of its merits that he offered the work to a book publisher, who rejected it. Not easily discouraged, Austen plunged into a third novel, Northanger Abbey, a mock horror tale, which she finished in 1797.
In j 801 the family relocated to Bath, near the sea, where Austen for the first time in her life experienced unhappiness. In letters she described herself as an "exile" from the rural surroundings that she loved so much. When her father died in 1806, the family, or what remained of it-by now all the male children had married-left Bath for a cottage on an estate outside London. On the death of his wife, Austen's brother Edward and his eleven children came to live on the estate, and once again Austen found herself surrounded by relatives in a bustling household. The writer's block that had plagued her during her period of sadness vanished, and she eagerly returned to work, revising her early novels and completing three new ones.
Sense and Sensibility, the first to be published, appeared in 1811. It was followed two years later by Pride and Prejudice, and a year after that by Mansfield Park. In 1816 Austen became ill but continued to write, completing two more novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, before her death. Her brother Henry saw to the publication of both works, including a biographical sketch of his sister, who during her life had insisted on anonymity.
Because in her writing Austen places intellect above emotion, she is seen by some as more neoclassical than Romantic. What all critics seem to be in agreement on, however, is her ranking as one of the greatest English novelists writing in any period.
Scott was born on August 15, 1771, in Edinburgh as the son of a solicitor Walter Scott and Anne, a daughter of professor of medicine. An early illness left him lame in the right leg, but he grew up to be a man over six feet and great physical endurance. Scott's interest in the old Border tales and ballads had early been awakened, and he devoted much of his leisure to the exploration of the Border country. He attended Edinburgh High School and studied at Edinburgh University arts and law. Scott was apprenticed to his father in 1786 and in 1792 he was called to the bar. In 1799 he was appointed sheriff depute of the county of Selkirk. In 1797 Scott married Margaret Charlotte Charpenter. They had five children.
In 1802-03 Scott's first major work, Minstrelsy Of The Scottish Border appeared. As a poet Scott rose into fame with the publication of The Lay Of The Last Minstrel (1805) about an old border country legend. It became a huge success and made him the most popular author of the day. It was followed by Marmion (1808), a historical romance in tetrameter. The Lady In The Lake appeared in 1810 and Rokeby in 1813. Scott's last major poem, The Lord Of The Isles, was published in 1815.
In 1806 Scott became clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. To increase his income he started a printing and publishing business with his friend James Ballantyne. The enterprise crashed and Scott accepted all debts and tried to pay them off with his writings.
In the 1810s Scott published several novels. From this period date such works as Waverly (1814), dealing with the rebellion of 1745, which attempted to restore a Scottish family to the British throne. Scott continued with Guy Mannering (1815) and Tales Of My Landlord (1816). Rob Roy (1817) a portrait of one of Scotland's greatest heroes, sold out its edition of 10 000 copies in two weeks. The Heart of Midlothianappeared in 1818 followed by The Bride Of Lammermoor (1819) and A Legend Of Montrose (1819). Ivanhoe (1819) set in the reign of Richard I is perhaps the best known of Scott's novels today. In the 1820s appeared Kenilworth (1821), The Fortunes Of Nigel (1822), Peveril Of The Peak (1823), Quentin Durward (1823), The Talisman (1825), Woodstock (1826), The Surgeon's Daughter (1827), and Anne Of Geierstein (1829).
In 1820 Scott was created a baronet. A few years later he founded the Bannatyne Club, which published old Scottish documents. Scott visited France in 1826 to collect material for his Life Of Napoleon, which was published in 9 volumes in 1827. His wife, Lady Scott, died in 1826, and the author himself had a stroke in 1830. Next year Scott sailed to Italy. After his return to England in 1832, he died on September 21. Scott was buried beside his ancestors in Dryburgh Abbey.
Charlotte Bronte, older sister of Emily Bronte (see page 910), produced in her brief lifetime four novels of which the best known is Jane Eyre. Ch.arlotte was one of six children born to Patrick Bronte, a clergyman, and Maria Branwell. After the death of her mother to cancer and of her two older sisters to tuberculosis, Charlotte and the three remaining Bronte children were placed in the care of an aunt. To combat the loneliness and drudgery of their isolated life on the Yorkshire moors, the children created the fantasy worlds of Angria and Gondal on paper.
At the age of nineteen, Charlotte accepted the post of governess for two separate families, rounding out an already hectic schedule as a schoolteacher. She traveled to Belgium to study foreign languages and further refine her teaching skills, but all the while she was secretly writing poetry. When it was revealed that her sisters were also dabbling in verse, the three jointly published a book of their poems under the pen name "Bell."
After this each sister began independent work on a novel. Although Emily's book, Wuthering Heights, and Anne's Agnes Grey were accepted readily for publication, Charlotte was unable to generate interest in The Professor, a novel about the growth of an orphaned young man who goes to teach at a Belgian school. Her next effort, the fictionalized autobiography of an orphan girl, was immediately accepted by a publisher in 1847 and became an overnight sensation among readers of the popular Victorian novel. This was her masterpiece, Jane Eyre.
It was shortly after she had started her third novel, Shirley, that Bronte's life was shattered, first by the death of her brother, and then, within the space of a year, by the passing of her two sisters. As a means of coping with her grief and loneliness, she continued to work on the book and edited the writings her sisters had left behind. In 1854, the year after Bronte completed her fourth and, as it was to be, final novel, she married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's curate. She died a year later, of complications connected with pregnancy.
Despite her limited literary output, Bronte influenced the development of the novel with her close examination of women's inner battles and their frustrations with restricted lives. Her presentation of the individual's feelings under confining circumstances is powerful and realistic, anticipating later psychological character studies.
The daughter of an Irish clergyman, Emily Bronte, whose efforts gave the world Wuthering Heights in 1847, was one of three novel-writing sisters. Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre and Anne wrote Agnes Grey.
Born in the Yorkshire town of Hartshead-cum-Clifton, Bronte was raised, along with her brother and four sisters, by an aunt, following the early death of their mother. As children, the Brontes were often left to themselves. For recreation they walked the bleak moors near Haworth, where the family had moved from Hartshead, and invented imaginary "histories" for toy soldiers, a pastime they continued to pursue up through their teen years. In 1842 Emily went to Brussels with her sister Charlotte, to study at the Pensionnat Heger, in the hopes of starting their own school. The death of their aunt, however, brought the sisters prematurely back to Yorkshire.
In 1845 Charlotte accidentally discovered some poems that Emily had composed. The discovery led in turn to the revelation that Charlotte and Anne had secretly been writing poetry as well, and in 1846 the three talented Brontes published at their own expense a book of verses by "Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell," the pen names that kept the sisters' initials but hid their real names. The book sold only two copies, but the venture had stoked the sisters' creative fires and each began work on a novel.
For her project, Emily chose to write about the Yorkshire countryside she knew so well. And she chose to write about it with the same poetic voice that typified the romantic tales she had produced as a child. The result, Wuthering Heights, is a tale of love, revenge, and redemption that comments on the tensions of nineteenth-century society. Unlike Charlotte's Jane Eyre, which became an instant success, Wuthering Heights failed in its day to gain the recognition it deserved.
Emily, meanwhile, was in poor health, having long suffered from a respiratory condition. Her breathing became extremely labored with the death of her brother in 1848, and before the year was over she died at the age of thirty.
That Emily Bronte may have intended her masterpiece as a visionary work is suggested by a study of her poetry, which expresses her impatience with social order and her yearning for a "dazzling sea" of infinity. As some contemporary critics have suggested, Wuthering Heights clouds rather than explains the mysteries of Bronte's brief life, yet there is no denying the enormous imaginative power behind the words.
No other writer since Shakespeare has occupied a more important place in popular culture than Charles Dickens. From his own time on, his works, with their unforgettable characters, have held special appeal for both scholars and the reading public at large, and have been transformed time and again into plays and films.
Dickens was born in Portsmouth on England's southern coast. Except for a few happy years at Chatham, east of London, his childhood was darkened by his father's wavering economic status. After years of eluding creditors, his father was finally sent to debtor's prison. Dickens in the meantime was sent to a "prison" of his own-to a factory where he worked long hours pasting labels. These experiences and other ills of the newly industrialized society figure prominently in his novels.
After becoming a law clerk at the age of fifteen, Dickens taught himself shorthand and became a court reporter. At twenty-one he began applying his keen powers of observation to humorous literary sketches of everyday life in London while reporting on the Parliamentary debates. A collection of these, Sketches by Boz (1835-36), earned him a small following, which he built up considerably with his first novel The Pickwick Papers, published in 1837.
Next came such favorites as Oliver Twist (1837), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), and, after a trip to America where his fame had already spread, A Christmas Carol (1843). In these early novels, which paint a sweeping satiric picture of Victorian England, Dickens displayed both a passion for social reform and a unique ability to combine humor with horror-themes and techniques that became the hallmark of all his fiction. He also developed his lifelong practice of writing for serial publications. Paid by the word, he wove elaborate plots with vast numbers of characters.
A turn toward more serious planning and characterization of greater psychological depth are evident in Dombey and Son (1848) and David Copperfield (1850), which also contain social criticism that is more direct and less optimistic. In the later novels Dickens blended these elements together most successfully, and the results were his masterpieces: Bleak House (1853), Hard Times (1854), and Great Expectations (1861). "The Signalman" was published in 1866 in a collection including several other railway stories.
Dickens never gave up journalism as a second outlet for his social conscience. In later life, the work load imposed by his many writing responsibilities coupled with his exhausting public reading tours took its toll on his health. In 1870, while at work on a novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, he died of a stroke.
William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) was born in India, the son of an East India Company administrator. After his father's death, he was sent to England at age six to be educated. His mother joined him five years later, after she married her first love. Thackeray was educated at the better public schools and on taking possession of his inheritance at age twenty-one, promptly lost it to gambling and bad investments. His work a t Trinity College was only notable in that he lost a poetry contest to Alfred Tennyson. After six years of marriage, his wife Isabella Shawe went insane. His two daughters, Anne and Minnie, lived with his mother for several years before coming to live with him. In the Victorian period, Thackeray was considered the only potential rival to Charles Dickens.
Thackeray worked as an editor at "The Cornhill Magazine" and contributed pieces on a variety of subjects to "Punch" and "Fraser's Monthly Magazine." Thackeray published under a number of very Victorian pen names including Charles James Yellowplush, Major Goliah O'Grady Gahagan, Michael Angelo Titmarsh, and George Savage FitzBoodle. "The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon" (1844, revised 1856) showed great satirical skill. "Vanity Fair" (1847-1848) is his masterpiece. It contrasts the wealth and ambitions of two Regency women of different means, boarding-school friends Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley.
Thackeray showed great skill in writing historical fiction with fine attention to period manners and customs and a dispassionate sympathy for his character's actions. "The History of Henry Esmond, Esq." (1852) features a vanished England and a carefully constructed plot and emotionally complex characters. "The Virginians" (1857-1859) detailed the lives of George and Harry Warrington, the grandsons of Henry Esmond. "The Newcomes" (1853-1859) features the most popular deathbed scene in Victorian times. Thackeray's use of the adjective snob transformed its meaning; it was previously defined as a vulgar person.
Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) was born in Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire. Her father was a carpenter who rose to be a land agent. She was educated at home and in several schools, and developed a strong evangelical piety. However, later Eliot rejected her dogmatic faith. When her mother died in 1836, she took charge of the family household. In 1841 she moved with her father to Coventry, where she lived with him until his death in 1849. After her father's death, Eliot traveled around Europe. She settled in London and took up work as sub editor of Westminster Review.
Under Eliot's control the Westminster Review enjoyed success. She became the center of a literary circle, one of whose members was George Henry Lewes, who would be her companion until his death in 1878. Lewes's wife was mentally unbalanced and she had already had two children by another man. In 1854 Eliot went to Germany with Lewes. Their unconventional union caused some difficulties because Lewes was still married and he was unable to obtain divorce.
Eliot's first collection of tales Scenes Of Clerical Life, appeared in 1858 under the pseudonym George Eliot. It was followed by her first novel, Adam Bede, a tragic love story in which the model for the title character was Eliot's father. The book was a brilliant success. Her other major works include The Mill On The Floss (1860), a story of destructive family relations, and Silas Marner (1861). Middlemarch (1871-72), her greatest novel, was probably inspired by her life at Coventry. The story follows the sexual and intellectual frustrations of Dorothea Brooke.
In 1860-61 Eliot spent some time in Italy collecting material for her historical romance Romola It was published serially first in the Cornhill Magazine and in book form in 1863. In 1876, she published Daniel Deronda.
After Lewes's death Eliot married a twenty years younger friend, John Cross, an American banker, on May 6, 1880. After the honeymoon they returned to London, where she died of a kidney ailment on the same year on December 22. In her will she expressed her wish to be buried in Westminster Abbey, but Dean Stanley of Westminster Abbey rejected the idea and Eliot was buried in Highgate Cemetery.
When Alfred Tennyson was named baron by Queen Victoria in 1883, he was doubly honored-first by the title Lord, second by being the first English writer so titled. The honor seemed fitting for one whom most Victorians regarded as the poetic voice of their age. His commitment to responsible action and his belief in the inherent goodness of people were just two of many traits that made Tennyson the object of his contemporaries' admiration and affection. Yet, beyond these qualities was the man himself, forever struggling to overcome shyness and self-doubt, his mind keenly attuned to the problems of his century. Tennyson's best poems reflect both the inner and outer being, expressing through a clear and richly haunting music those certainties that sustain the human spirit.
Tennyson was born in the rural town of Somersby in Lincolnshire, the fourth of twelve children. His father, a rector, had a large library and personally supervised his son's early education. In 1827 Tennyson entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became close friends with Arthur Henry Hallam, the son of a noted historian and a great fan of Tennyson's early efforts at poetry. In 1830, with Hallam's encouragement, Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, which he followed up two years later with the simply titled Poems. When Hallam died suddenly in Vienna in 1833, the loss left a void in Tennyson's life that nearly destroyed him.
Grief, however, was ultimately to prove to be the inspiration behind some of the poet's greatest work. Relatively soon after Hallam's death, Tennyson began work on a collection of memorial poems dedicated to his friend. When the lengthy tribute, titled In Memoriam, finally appeared in 1850, the Queen's husband, Prince Albert, was so impressed that he encouraged the Queen to appoint Tennyson next Poet Laureate of England. For the next forty years Tennyson continued to publish regularly. Among his most celebrated works was Idylls of the King, a series of poems based on the legend of King Arthur, which began appearing in 1859 and was completed in 1885.
Modern scholars are in general agreement that there is much of lasting value in Tennyson's works. Certainly, there is no denying what the twentieth-century poet and critic T. S. Eliot has called the "abundance, variety, and complete competence" in Tennyson's poetry. Nor can one ignore the number of quotable lines Tennyson has added to the language, among them " 'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all." These aspects of his verse and others have earned Tennyson yet another honor-that of being one of the best-known poets of any age.
In Victorian England, clubs to promote the works of the masters of English literature were fairly common. In 1881, a group of amateur scholars banded together to found another such club, the Browning Society. What made this literary club unique was that the poet it paid tribute to was living. Yet if honor in this form came unusually early to Robert Browning, then fame came unusually late, for it was not until nearly a half century after the publication of his first book that the public came to recognize his genius.
Robert Browning was born in London and spent the first twenty-eight years of his life there. like Tennyson, he was educated mainly at home, spending much of his time during his early years in his father's large library. Here he immersed himself in art, history, literature, philosophy, religion, music, medicine, and zoology. At twenty-one, Browning published his first book, Pauline, a highly personal record of his religious skepticism, no doubt influenced by the writings of Shelley. Discouraged by the book's poor critical reception, Browning tried his hand next at something less personal, publishing Paracesus, a long dramatic poem, in 1835. Failing again to please the critics, he turned to drama and two years later produced Strafford, which closed after five performances.
Despite his inability to establish himself in the public eye as a writer to be reckoned with, Browning was all the while shaping the distinctive dramatic voice that would ensure his eventual fame. In Dramatic Lyrics (1842), Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845), and Men and Women (1855) he reveals a rich and varied talent in both the short lyrical poem and the dramatic monologue.
In 1846 he married Elizabeth Barrett, a poet whose fame greatly exceeded his own. They established a home in Florence, Italy, a setting that figured in many of Browning's works. The marriage was an extremely happy one, and when his wife died in 1861, Browning, unable to face constant reminders of her in Florence, returned to London. Here, he soon became a popular figure, especially among university students, who were attracted to his next book, Dramatis Personnae (1864). This was followed by his masterpiece, The Ring and the Book (1868), which was hailed as the most "profound spiritual treasure that England had produced since the days of Shakespeare." Based on an actual seventeenth-century Italian murder trial, this long poem comprises ten dramatic monologues.
Browning's dramatic monologues have greatly influenced many. twentieth-century poets. Today, he is admired not only for these complex psychological portraits, but also for his masterly blending of natural speech rhythms with strict poetic forms.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) One of the best-known woman poets of her own or any time, Elizabeth Barrett was the oldest of twelve children in an upper middle class family. She received no formal education, but a zest for knowledge enabled her to learn eight languages on her own.
Barrett began writing poetry as a child and, by the time she reached adulthood, had published four immensely popular volumes of verse. Though she met many of the leading writers of the day, a longtime illness made her something of a recluse.
Then, in 1845, she began to receive letters from the poet Robert Browning, who, after five months of correspondence, paid her a visit. Her doctors suggested that she spend the winter of 1846 in Italy, which offered a warmer climate. When her stern father refused to allow her to leave, she and Browning eloped there.
In 1849 their son was born, whom they nicknamed "Pen." A year later, Mrs, Browning revised and published Sonnets from the Portuguese, a sequence of 44 love poems written to her husband. Aurora Leigh (1857), a love story in blank verse, was completed during the second of two trips she made back to London.
One can scarcely think of twentieth-century trends in fiction without thinking of "stream of consciousness," the technique whereby a character's innermost thoughts, emotions, and memories are woven together into a complex psychological fabric. And one can scarcely think of stream of consciousness without thinking of Virginia Woolf, the brilliant literary pioneer whose novels and short stories introduced this technique to the world.
Ironically for a writer who would become one of the leading lights of Modernism, Virginia Woolf was born into a family of prim and proper Victorians. Her father, Leslie Stephen, who served as the first editor of the renowned Dictionary of National Biography, saw to it that his daughter grew up surrounded by books, and at the age of twenty-three Virginia began contributing reviews to the Literary Supplement of The Times of London. In 1912 she married Leonard Wo01f, an author and social reformer, with whom she founded the Hogarth Press. Their house in the Bloomsbury section of London became an informal meeting place for some of the more important thinkers of the era, attracting such figures as the writers E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey, the art critic Roger Fry, and the economist John Maynard Keynes.
Woolf's first two novels, The Voyage Out (1915) and Night and Day (1919) were more or less conventional works. Her third was anything but. Jacob's Room (1922), which shattered the conventions of modern fiction-writing, tells the story of a young man's life entirely through an examination of his room and its cluttered contents. Although we never actually meet the title character, we come to know a great deal about him through an artful arrangement of photographs.
In the years between the wars, Woolf continued to refine her fluid, inward-looking style with three more stream-of-consciousness novels-Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and The Waves (1931 )-and with four slightly less experimental ones. In her more revolutionary works, she virtually abolished the traditional concept of plot, preferring instead to concentrate on what she called "an ordinary mind on an ordinary day."
For much of her adult life Woolf suffered from painful bouts of depression brought on by poor health and a consuming hatred of war. In 1941, two years after the outbreak of World War II, she ended her life: Today Woolf is recognized, along with James Joyce, whose life span almost exactly paralleled her own, as one of the most influential shapers of conter:nporary modern fiction.
During his ninety-four years, George Bernard Shaw was a novelist, a critic on many subjects, a champion of all sorts of reform, and, finally, a playwright. Original, witty, and opinionated, he often managed to offend people when he was not busy charming them. Born in Ireland to a family with musical talent but little money, Shaw saw to his own education. At the age of twenty he arrived in London, where he remained for the rest of his life. After trying, and essentially failing, as a writer of fiction, he turned to reviewing-first books, then paintings, and finally music.
Shaw was a restless man, however, with boundless tastes and interests. In 1884 he joined the Fabian Society, an organization whose aim was the peaceful reform of social, economic, and political systems. His personal ambition, as he put it, was "to force the public to reconsider its morals," and toward this end he invested every ounce of his energies. In the process he established himself as a debater and public speaker of some stature.
The enjoyment he derived from crafting lines for his public addresses coupled with his earlier enthusiasm for writing criticism naturally led him in the direction of drama criticism. From there it was a short ju'mp to playwriting itself. Shaw's first play, Widower's House (1892), was a rather heavy-handed and ironical exposure of the slum landlord practices and municipal graft that were common ills of the day. His next effort, Mrs. Warren's Profession (1894), ran into trouble with official censorship due to its serious treatment of prostitution and the inequities of industrialism. In the same year, Arms and the Man enjoyed a limited success.
If people would not attend productions of his plays, Shaw reasoned, they might at least read them. In 1898 he published his first collection, Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant, adding the prefaces and epilogues that came to be his trademark.
Shaw's plays, forty-seven in all, continued to challenge the "spiritual sleep" of England's "middle-class morality." When Pygmalion was completed in 1913, it was produced in German in Vienna, as a means of avoiding the usual bad press. Its success there led it to London, where, in April of 1914, it opened to immediate acclaim. Like his professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins, Shaw believed in the power of language to break down class barriers. In his will he left a sizable bequest to furthering a system of phonetic spelling. In the interests of spelling simplification, he left out the apostrophe in some contractions, as in this text.
Both a novelist and a poet, Thomas Hardy is sometimes called "the last of the great Victorians." Like Matthew Arnold, Hardy held a pessimistic view of the world. In his great novels he depicted people striving against overwhelming odds within a society and universe that were uncaring. Unlike Arnold, however, who sought to improve society, Hardy remained a passive observer of the ills of his century; if he offered comfort at all, it was in the uncertain hope that the future would be at least different, if not better.
Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset, a region in southwest England noted for its agriculture and, perhaps more importantly, for its ruins which date to Anglo-Saxon and Roman times. This "Wessex," as Hardy fictionalized the region in his poems and novels, is the setting for the works that established Hardy's reputation as a writer. In Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), and his masterpiece, Jude the Obscure (1895), Hardy's characters move against a haunting landscape that is at once ancient and modern, starkly beautiful yet indifferent to the tragic I.ives of its inhabitants.
Despite the undeniable greatness of Hardy's novels, the bleak view they presented was distressing to a public who much preferred the life-affirming optimism of Tennyson and Browning. So intense, in fact, was the angry response to Jude the Obscure upon its publication that Hardy thought it wise to abandon the novel in favor of his first literary love, poetry. An epic verse drama about the Napoleonic Wars, The Dynasts (1904-1908), earned Hardy immense public acclaim. With each book of verse that he produced over the next two decades, his reputation as a man of letters grew. When he died, the world honored him by burying his ashes in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey, though, as a token to the region that he loved, his heart was buried in Dorset.
Hardy's poetry marks a bridge between the Victorian Age and the Modernist movement of the twentieth century. In his use of strict meters and stanza structure, Hardy was unmistakably Victorian. One contemporary critic called him "the most fertile inventor of stanza-forms in all English literature." Another critic, however, Leonard Woolf, viewed Hardy as one of the spiritual parents of the modern generation. Hardy's use of "nonpoetic" language and odd rhymes, coupled with his fatalistic outlook, were both source and inspiration to numerous twentieth-century writers, among them such important figures as Virginia Woolf, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves.
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, William Butler Yeats is generally regarded as one of the finest poets of this century. Born near Dublin, Ireland, Yeats was educated there and in London, but his heart lay to the west, in County Sligo, Ireland, where he spent childhood vacations with his grandparents. In the shadow of Sligo's barren mountains, he became immersed in the mythology and legends of Ireland.
After three years of studying painting in Dublin, Yeats moved to London to pursue a literary career. He became friends with the poet Arthur Symons, who awakened his interest in the symbolic poetry of William Blake and the French Symbolists. Yeats's early poetry shows the Symbolist influence as well as that of the Pre-Raphaelites, a group who believed that art needs a moral center which they felt it had lost nearly three centuries earlier. Symbolism, Pre-Raphaelism, and Irish myth combined in Yeats's first important collection, The Wanderings of Oisin, published in 1889.
Yeats led the Irish Literary Revival, helping to establish the Irish Literary Society in London in 1892 and the Irish National Literary Society in Dublin. He was also active in the Irish National Movement, whose members sought Ireland's independence from England. In this, he was spurred by his unrequited love for the beautiful actress and revolutionary, Maud Gonne. To his sorrow-after many refusals of his proposals-she chose a soldier, and Yeats, years later, married another woman.
Near the eod of the century, Yeats joined with his friend Lady Augusta Gregory in founding the Irish National Theatre Society. He turned his attention to writing plays, among them The Shadowy Waters (1900) and Deirdre (1907). When he returned to poetry, it was with a new voice, subtler but more powerful than the one he had used before that time. The poems in The Tower, published in 1928, show Yeats at the height of his abilities.
In 1922 Yeats was appointed a senator of the new Irish Free State, and on his seventieth birthday he was hailed by his nation as the greatest living Irishman. He continued to write poems until a day or two before his death at Roquebrune, France. One of his last poems contains his famous epitaph: Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman, pass by!
D. H. Lawrence occupies a unique position among the leading Modernist writers of the generation that came of age before the outbreak of the First World War. The originality of his literary achievements was partly clouded by the explosive controversy attached to his name during his lifetime and for some years after. As with Shelley and Byron before him, the controversy that swirled around Lawrence touched on several points, not the least of which were his unorthodox opinions on politics, society, and morality.
David Herbert Lawrence was born near Nottingham in the English Midlands, the son of a miner. His childhood was marked by poverty, illness, constant bickering between his parents, and his mother's driving ambition to make something of her son. After attending local schools, the young Lawrence spent several years as a teacher before turning to writing as a livelihood.
As a writer Lawrence was deeply influenced by the pioneering psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. He restlessly searched and researched their writings, seeking confirmation of the underlying moral rightness of his strongest convictions-that the industrial social order was unjust, that open expression of sexuality was healthy, and that human beings could find true fulfillment only by living in harmony with nature.
In 1913, shortly before eloping to Germany with a woman several years older than himself, Lawrence published his first major novel, Sons and Lovers-a thinly disguised autobiographical account of his childhood and adolescent years. During World War I, he returned with his wife to England where he published his next major work, The Rainbow (1915). His frank treatment of sexuality in the book caused it to be declared obscene.
At the end of the war, the Lawrences left England for extended travels in Italy, Ceylon, Australia, Mexico, and the United States. Lawrence used many of these locales in his fiction: Kangaroo (1923), for example, is set in Australia; and The Plumed Serpent (1926) is steeped in the mythology of ancient Mexico. It was during his prolonged absence from England that Lawrence found a publisher for one of his greatest novels, Women in Love (1921). III from tuberculosis, Lawrence completed his last novel, Lady Chat- terley's Lover (1928), while living in Italy.
In the half century since his death, society's views on Law- rence's writings have changed profoundly. Today, his fiction is almost universally admired for its vivid settings, fine craftsmanship, and psychological insight.
Thomas Stearns Eliot is one of the dominant figures in twentieth- century English literature. A poet, playwright, critic, thinker, and cultural pioneer who changed the consciousness of an entire generation of writers, he emerged in the 1920's as the acknowledged leader of what is now called the Modernist movement. Eliot's work is often difficult to understand, drawing as it does upon a broad range of myth, history, religion, allusion, and symbol. His poems and plays raise fundamental questions about human aspirations and the nature of civilized society.
Eliot has ties to both the United States and Great Britain. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he was educated at Smith and Milton Academies, Harvard University, the Sorbonne, and Oxford. The outbreak of World War I found Eliot in England, where he remained throughout most of his adult life, eventually acquiring British citizenship. In 1915 he married the sensitive, witty, but highly neurotic Vivienne Haigh- Wood. While writing poetry and critical reviews, Eliot taught school, worked for the banking firm of Lloyd's, and in 1925 took an editorial position with the publishing company that became Faber and Faber.
His earliest work, owing to its unconventional style, was greeted with less than universal acclaim, although the poet Ezra Pound was a vocal supporter from the beginning. Pound saw, as many did not, that Eliot spoke in an authentic new voice and offered an original, if bleak, vision. In Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) through The Waste Land.(1922) and "The Hollow Men" (1925), Eliot pictured the disturbed, fragmented western world wrought by World War I and its aftermath. Then, gradually, came renewed hope through religion, his faith leading him to join the Church of England in 1927. "Journey of the Magi" (1927) and "Ash Wednesday" (1930) mark the new religious phase of his life and writing, capped by his poetic masterpiece, Four Quartets, published in 1943, during the dark days of World War II.
As he grew older, Eliot turned his attention increasingly to poetic drama and criticism. Although Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and The Cocktail Party (1950) are often performed, none of his plays have gained the widespread critical admiration accorded his poetry. As a literary critic, Eliot's influence on his contemporaries was profound. His Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, one of many noteworthy critical works, appeared in 1948, the same year in which he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1967, on the second anniversary of Eliot's death, a memorial was unveiled in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Although George Orwell's popular fame is most directly linked to his two novels of political satire, Animal Farm and 1984, many discerning readers insist that his genius is most readily apparent in his essays and nonfiction. Orwell's prose style, precise yet informal, contributed to making his essays some of the most eloquent short pieces in English writing of the twentieth century.
George Orwell was the pen name chosen by Eric Blair, born in colonial Bengal, an eastern region of India. Schooled in England at Eton, Orwell returned to the Eastlike H. H. Munro to serve in the Imperial Police in Burma. His experiences in that post, which span the years 1922 to 1927, form the basis of his first novel Burmese Days (1934). Disillusioned by his country's policy in the Orient, Orwell left military service to pursue jobs in journalism, publishing, and bookselling in England and France. This period of his life was marked by struggles with poverty, as he recalls in his autobiographical Down and Out in Paris and London (1933).
During the 1930's Orwell became deeply involved in social and international causes. The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) movingly chronicles the miseries of the English working class during the later phases of the Depression. The coming of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) found Orwell firmly committed to the Republican cause. Deploring what he saw as the totalitarianism of the Nationalist victors of the conflict, Orwell paid tribute to the victims in Homage to Catalonia (1939).
During World War II Orwell served as literary editor of the Tribune from 1943 to 1945 and also contributed political columns to a number of newspapers and journals. In 1945 he published Animal Farm, a savage fable that indirectly denounces the evils of both Fascism and Communism. Suffering acutely from the tuberculosis that would ultimately end his life, he completed 1984 (1948), a grim vision of a future in which language and thought would be everywhere manipulated to serve totalitarian ends.
Orwell's passionate concern for the preservation of political freedom was allied with his efforts to save the English language from "double speak," jargon, and bureaucratic vagueness. In "Politics and the English Language" he dramatically demonstrates how language can be used subtly to conceal politicaf corruption, thereby blinding members of a society to the necessity of moral choice. Although 1984 has come and gone without the fulfillment of Orwell's grim prophecies, his lifelong commitment to political freedom and to the integrity of language remain as relevant today as ever.
Herbert George Wells was born in 1866 in Bromley, Kent. His career as an author was fostered by an unfortunate accident as a child. He broke his leg and spent the mandatory rest period reading every book which he could find. Wells was awarded a scholarship and furthered his education at the Normal School of Science in London. It was at the Normal School that Wells came under the wing of the famous biologist Thomas H. Huxley. Wells' "science fiction" (although he never called it such)was clearly influenced by his studies at the Normal School and his interest in biology.
H.G. Wells gained fame with his first major fiction work: The Time Machine in 1895. Soon after the publication of this book, Wells followed with The Island of Dr. Moreau (1895), The Invisible Man (1897), and perhaps his most famous popular work: The War of the Worlds (1898).
Over the years Wells became concerned with the fate of human society in a world where technology and scientific study were advancing at a rapid pace. For a period he was a member of The Fabian Society, a group of social philosophers in London. Wells's later works became less science fiction and more social critique.
The accuracy of the "science" in Wells's work has often been called into question. It is rumored that Wells and the French novelist Jules Verne actually criticized each other's writing. Wells's claim was that "Verne couldn't write himself out of a paper sack" and Verne accused Wells of having "scientifically implausible ideas." The science may not be accurate, but the adventure and philosophy in those books makes Wells' early science fiction fun and fascinating to read.
Although James Joyce left Ireland early in his career and associated with the radical literary experimentalists on the Continent, he never lost the respect for tradition that he had learned from his Jesuit teachers, All of his works are set in his native Dublin, and all have firm roots in the literature of the past. If Joyce's innovativeness in the areas of plot, character, and language are undeniable, so then is the notion that part of his greatness was his ability to reinterpret and transform familiar literary forms.
James Joyce was born and educated in Dublin. Choosing, much to the disappointment of his family and teachers, not to enter the priesthood, he briefly considered careers in medicine and singing. His true calling, however, was as a writer, and in 1907 he published Chamber Music, a collection of poems. At the time of the book's publication, Joyce was living in Trieste, Italy, where he remained until the outbreak of the First World War.
The year he relocated to Zurich, 1914, also marks the appearance of his landmark volume of short stories Dubliners. This collection of deceptively simple tales focuses on people who, on the surface, are quite ordinary but whose minds are filled with raging psychological and emotional conflicts. Each of the main characters in Dubliners experiences in some way a growth of self-awareness that leads to a climactic peak in the story.
This process is developed still more fully in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a fictionalized account of Joyce's own life from infancy through age twenty. Like Joyce, Stephen Dedalus, the novel's main character, finds himself in conflict with his family, the Roman Catholic Church, and the nationalistic fervor of his countrymen. The book also reveals a heightened awareness of the power of language and a deeper immersion into the mind of the character. Both these traits are carried forward into Ulysses (1922), whose ultimate banning in England and the United States, made Joyce famous, if not wealthy. This novel, which roughly parallels Homer's Odyssey, presents a single day in the life of three Dubliners. The world Joyce depicts, while as solidly three-dimensional as any conjured up by nineteenth-century realfsts, is nevertheless one in which language can be seen to provide keys to the exploration of truth.
Joyce's last novel, Finnegan's Wake (1939), was in many ways the most challenging. Written in what one scholar terms "a dream language of Joyce's own invention," this highly experimental work presents its author's view of human existence as moving through various cycles.