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Literature in Jane Austen's World

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Jane Austen was born in 1775, toward the end of what is now called the Neoclassical Period of Literature. This period of literature lasted from 1688 to 1789. In this period, reason was elevated as the highest form of thought. Literature was expected to display structure and strict organization. Empiricism, the belief that the five human senses alone determine reality and truth, was also influential and abundant in this type of literature. Satire was also an extremely popular genre within this period of literature. The Neoclassical Period came about because of the writings of men such as Jonathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels), Alexander Pope (Essay on Criticism), and Samuel Johnson (A Dictionary of the English Language).

As stated above, one of the chief literary means of expression was satire which is the ridicule of persons or institutions to bring about positive social change. Johnathan Swift's efforts are particularly memorable in Gulliver's Travels. Rationalism was also prominent as a belief and it was in part responsible for the popularity and growth of deism (the belief that God created the universe and then left it to run on its own). But, through the preaching and writing of the Wesley brothers and George Whitefield, England experienced religious revival which lasted almost a century beyond their lives.

Jane Austen lived most of her life in what is now known as the Romantic Period (1789 - 1832). This period influenced both thought and literature. The Romantic Writers and thinkers elevated individual experiences and feelings over reason and satire. The French Revolution was the key historical event that ushered in the Romantic Period. Rationalism was determined to be cold, demanding, and oppressive. Furthermore, the Romantics rejected the idea of a transcendent God, claiming that "God" was simply the inner of light of man's feelings and creativity. What were once moral absolutes became mere preferences.

Various forms of poetry were the preferred literary styles during this period. Poets such as William Blake, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote their poetry during this era of literature. Most of their work was dedicated to expressing and elevating the purity and nobility of personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Despite all of this, Jane Austen's work seems to be more in line with other writings from the Neoclassical Period of literature. Her writings tend to be more satirical in that she consistently mocks the hypocrisies and follies of various people in society. In addition, her characters in her stories tend to use rational thought and logic to solve the problems that their feelings have created.

 

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