LITERARY CHARACTERISTICS OF RESTORATION AGE : The literature of the Restoration period marked the complete breaking of ties with the Renaissance literature. It reflected the spirit of the age. The spirit of corruption and moral laxity, which were predominant in the social life of the restoration, are reflected in literature.


The following are the chief feature of the period:

1 Rise of Neo-classicism 

The Restoration marks a complete break with the past. The people believed in the present, the real and the material. Moody and Lovett remark: ―In all directions it appeared as a disposition towards conservation and moderation. Men had learned to fear individual enthusiasm, and therefore they tried to discourage it by setting up ideals of conduct in accordance with reason and common sense, to which all men should adapt themselves. Rules of etiquette and social conventions were established and the problem of life became that of self-expression within the narrow bounds which were thus prescribed.‖ All these tendencies were reflected in the literature of this period. The writers, both in prose and poetry, tacitly agreed upon the rules and principles in accordance with which they should write. Rules and literary conventions became more important than the depth and seriousness of the subject matter to the writers of this period. They express superficial manners and customs of the aristocratic and urban society and did not pry into the mysteries of human mind and heart.

2 Imitation of the Ancient Masters 

The authors of the period were not endowed with exceptional literary talents. So they turned to the ancient writers, in particular, to the Latin writers, for guidance and inspiration. It was generally believed that the ancients had reached the acme of excellence and the modern poets could do no better than model their writings on the classics. Thus grew the neo-classical school of poetry. The neo-classicists or pseudo-classicists could not soar to great imaginative heights or could not penetrate deeply into human emotions. They directed their attention to the slavish imitation of rules and ignored the importance of the subject matter. This habit was noticeable in the age of Dryden. It strengthened in the succeeding age of Pope.

3 Imitation of the French Masters 

King Charles II and his companions had spent the period of exile in France. They demanded that poetry and drama should follow the style to which they had become accustomed in France. Shakespeare and his contemporaries could not satisfy the popular literary taste. Pepys wrote in his diary that he was bored to see Shakespeare‘s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Italian influence had been dominant in Elizabethan period. Now began the period of French influence, which showed itself in English literature for the next century.

Commenting on the French influence on the literature of this period W. H. Hudson writes: ―Now the contemporary literature of France was characterized particularly by lucidity, vivacity, and by reason of the close attention given to form – correctness, elegance and finish. It was essentially a literature of polite society, and had all the merits and all the limitations of such a literature. I was moreover a literature in which intellect was in the ascendant and the critical faculty always in control. It was to this congenial literature that English writers now learned to look for guidance; and thus a great impulse was given to the development alike in our prose and in our verse of the principles of regularity and order and the spirit of good sense.

As in verse pre-eminently these were now cultivated at the expense of feeling and spontaneity, the growth of an artificial type of poetry was the inevitable result.‖ The famous French writers like Corneille, Racine, Moliere and Boileau were imitated. Boileau‘s ―good sense‖ ideal became very popular. English writers imitated the French blindly; rather they copied the worst vices of the French, instead of their wit, delicacy and refinement. The French influence is seen in the coarseness and indecency of the Restoration comedy of manners. The combined influence of French and classical models of tragedy is seen in the heroic tragedy. The French influence is responsible for the growth and popularity of opera.

4 Correctness and Appropriateness

 The work of the authors of the Restoration period was imitative and of limited quality. Since they lacked creativity and flight of imagination, they abandoned freedom altogether and slavishly followed the rules. Edward Albert writes: ―Thus they evolved a number of ―rules‖ which can usefully he summarised in the injunction ―Be Correct‖, correctness means avoidance of enthusiasm, moderate opinions moderately expressed, strict care and accuracy in poetic technique; and humble imitation of the style of Latin Classics.‖

The new tendency, which reached its climax in the Age of Pope, is very clearly marked in the literature of the Restoration period. To Dryden Dr. Johnson applied the term ―Augustan‖, saying that Dryden did to English literature what Augustus did to home, which he found ―of brick

and left of marble.‖ Dryden was the first representative of the new ideas that were to dominate English literature till the end of the eighteenth century.

5 Realism and formalism 

Restoration literature is realistic. It was very much concerned with life in London, and with details of dress, fashions and manners. ―The early Restoration writers‖, observes W. J. Long, ―sought to paint realistic pictures of corrupt court and society, and emphasized vices rather than virtues and gave us coarse, low plays without interest or moral significance. Like Hobbes, they saw only the externals of man, his body and appetites, not his soul and his ideals. Later, however, this tendency to realism became more wholesome.

While it neglected romantic poetry, in which youth is eternally interested, it led to a keener study of the practical motives which govern human action.‖ The Restoration writers eschewed all extravagances of thought and language and aimed at achieving directness and simplicity of expression. Dryden accepted the excellent rule for his prose, and adopted the heroic couplet, as the next best thing for the greater part of this poetry. It is largely due to Dryden that ―writers developed formalism of style, that precise, almost mathematical elegance, miscalled classicism, which ruled the English literature for the next century.

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