Eighteenth Century Prose

Eighteenth century period is supposed to be very fertile period in the development of prose work. The writer slowly turned into reasonable things. The prose was thought to be a good medium in order to express more elaborate ideas and arguments. The earlier development in journalism also gave rise to prose work to some extent.

Daniel Defoe is a good prose writer as well as the first English journalist. He began to publish the early London newspaper The Review and ran it for nine years. He has finely described the Great Plague in London in his Journal of the Plague Year (1722).

Robinson Crusoe is his famous work. It is a story based on the real events of a sailor who quarreled with his captain and was left alone on an island for four years. Two famous writers as well as journalists Richard Steel and Joseph Addison worked together in publishing the newspaper like The Tatler and The Spectator. They wrote many famous and good essays on various subjects and published in their newspaper. They also wrote actions of imaginary characters. Their works written in pure and simple English helped much to the development of the novel.

Perhaps Jonathan Swift was the greatest English satirist. He has written many bitter satirical works which severely attack the social evils and human wickedness. He wrote The Battle of the Books in favor of ancient writers. His Tale of Tub attacks on religious ideas. Swift wrote his famous satire, A Modest Proposal in order to attack the injustice of English rulers to the poverty of Irish people. Gulliver’s Travels is the most popular satire of Swift. It is very popular among the young children as a beautiful story. It is written in four books. It contains the accounts of an English captain Gulliver’s adventurous voyage to different imaginary places like Lilliput and Brobdingnag. There are many strange and unusual descriptions in it. It powerfully attacks on man’s wickedness and stupidity.

Dr. Samuel Johnson was another famous literary personality of this period, who wrote all sorts of literary works because of his poverty. He compiled a Dictionary and published it into five times in his lifetime. It was his famous and major work. His Lives of the Poets is a critical work which he wrote carefully and obviously towards the later part of his life. He also wrote a kind of novel entitled Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. Apart from this, he wrote many essays on various subjects.

Edward Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in six books. It is the greatest historical work in English literature which covers the events of thirteen centuries and relates the ancient to the modern world. It is written in splendid prose and is clear, complete and usually correct. It deals with various religious, Roman law, Persian politics, the attacks of uncivilized tribes and many other affairs.

Edmund Broke was mainly famous for his fine oratorical prose. His works Speech on American Taxation, Speech on Conciliation with America and Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol contain some of his best speeches. He was always in favor of people’s freedom and hated the slavery and cruelty of the government. Being related to the parliament, he gave many speeches. Later in his life, he wrote Reflections on the French Revolution. It made him famous in all parts of Europe.

English Novels in the Eighteenth Century

During the half of the eighteenth century, we notice the real beginning of the English novel. Although sometimes Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is called the first English novel, it lacks some essential qualities. More appropriately Samuel Richardson’s Pamela is the first English novel. Richardson discovered his talent as a novelist at the age of fifty-one. Pamela is written in the form of a series of letters. It contains a simple love story of a virtuous servant girl who eventually married her master. Richardson’s next novel Clarissa Harlow appeared in eight volumes. It is his masterpiece, which is far better than the previous one. The plot of this novel is a remarkable achievement.

Henry Fielding’s first novel Joseph Andrews is a kind of satire on Pamela. Its hero is supposed to be a brother of Pamela. In the later part to the novel Fielding’s interest shifted on another character named Parson Adams. Tom Jones is the greatest and longest novel of Fielding. It is both a comic and an amoral novel about a boy Tom, who is found and brought up in Mr. Allworthy’s house. His satirical work The History of Jonathan Wild the Great deals with the life of real notorious criminal.

Another novelist Tobias Smollett worked in picaresque tradition. He presented a new sort of social realities of life in his novels. His novel Roderick Random is a powerful but less pleasing. It describes bitterly the life of those who sail the seas. Another novel Peregrine Pickle is concerned with the adventures and travels of a wicked hero. Smollett seems less violent in this novel Humphrey Clinker which appeared in the form of a letter. It contains the account of the journey of a family. His books often give us interesting information about life and society in his time.

Laurence Sterner revealed a whole new concept of form in novel by writing his famous novel Tristram Shandy. There is no better organization and order in the story. It gives a great surprise and confusion to the reader. The hero actually appears in the middle of the novel. There are rows of stars, solid black pages and blank pages in the novel. Thus, Sterne gives the readers a shock of surprise by writing a strange sort of novel. His other works are not so confusing and are in better prose.

Horace Walpole wrote a set of novels, which are known as novel of terror. Such novels include the description of horrible events and the scene, supernatural elements, and so on. His novel The Castle of Otranto is about the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It has some strange descriptions concerning the activities of a huge ghost.

William Beckford also wrote the same kind of novel of horror named Vathek. It was first written in French and was translated into English. Its story is about a man Vathek who becomes the servant of a devil. The novel has some strange and wonderful descriptions including Vathek’s visit to the underground hall of the devil which is full of riches. But he is severely punished by the devil for his crimes.

Mrs. Ann Radcliff is another novelist who wrote the novel of terror. We find that her novels are of better qualities than the novels of another writer. She had a real feeling for nature. She mixes horrible descriptions with the fine descriptions of nature. The Mysteries of Udolpho is her famous novel, which has the setting of the Apennine Mountains. There are unusual scenes and sights in the novel such as moving walls, secret passage and strange events. There is a girl, Emily who is kept in a castle by her aunt’s husband, a wicked person. In an event she sees a dark curtain in a locked room and wants to look behind it. She sees a dead body with blood on the floor below and faints there. The writer describes such strange events one after another. She also wrote other four novels.

The Gothic Novel or The Novel of Terror

The Novel of Terror is the peculiar product of the later eighteenth century. It is a new type of romantic fiction inspired by the general interest in medieval life and art, in ancient ballads, and in Gothic castles and churches The story is full of mystery and violent emotion, set in a far-away time and place, with ghosts, spirits, and satanic forces, and with descriptions of old unhappy far-off things and battles. The central figure is, usually, a serous and restless villain. The beautiful, innocent and sensitive heroine has to be rescued by a brave lover. The scent is usually a haunted castle or a dark room of an old church, full of secret passages and private chambers. The background is wild and desolate nature. The supernatural forces also help with physical and mental violence. In this mysterious background there is romantic love.

Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto (1764), a novel about the medieval age. It contains descriptions of impossible events, such as the destruction of a building by a ghost inside it. William Beckford wrote Vathek (1786), with a background of ancient Arabia. It is about the grandson of Harun-al Rashid becoming a slave of Eblis, the devil. Vathek commits horrible crimes with Eblis, and in the end, he is punished in hell.

The most popular novelist of the Novel of Terror was Mrs. Ann Radcliff. Her novels are better quality because she provides the explanations for the mysterious happenings in her novels. She had a real feeling for nature. She causes interest by describing strange scenes and sights, such as moving walls and secret passages. Her great novel The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) is about Emily, who is held captive in a castle by her uncle. Her other novels were Romance of the Forest and The Italian. She also wrote A Sicilian Romance (1790) and An Italian Romance (1791).