Satire has been an important genre in literature for hundreds of years. Satire is used to poke fun at people and their stupidity, and is sometimes used to tell the government the thoughts of the people while trying to make the opposite point. It is a genre that is still used in literature and entertainment today, and every Saturday by the cast of Saturday Night Live. Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal during the restoration period in 1729. Swift wrote this to convey his feelings about the poverty of women and children in Ireland at this time in history. He says that the only solution to this poverty is to eat some of the babies that are born in the country; things will get better then, obviously. Throughout the essay, Swift says damaging things about women and their involvement in the issue, and it is clear that Swift blames women for this poverty in Ireland.
Swift blames women for the poverty in Ireland, and he tells the audience that in the first paragraph. He writes, “These mothers instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in stroling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants who, as they grow up, either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country, to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes” (Swift 140-141). He is saying that women spend their time strolling the streets with their numerous infants in tow asking for money, when they should really be getting jobs, going to work, and making money to support their families. The word “honest” in the first sentence connotes the word “real” when paired with “livelihood”. The women are not making a “real livelihood” when they beg for money on the streets with their children. When Swift uses the phrase “honest livelihood”, it is like he is saying that what these women are doing is in fact, “dishonest”. The use of the word “employ” in the next line, though, makes it seem like what the women are doing is a job in itself. The women are the ones who “employ all their time” into begging on the streets, but what else are they supposed to do if they cannot get jobs? In the next line, Swift brings the “helpless infants” into the equation with the women. He says that the children in these situations never turn out “right”. They leave the country, they become thieves, or “sell themselves” to Barbados. Swift is blaming all of this on their mothers who never earned that “honest livelihood”. The children are “helpless”, so they cannot help but turn into thieves because their mothers were not given the opportunities that they should have been given in Ireland at this time.
Swift continues The Blame Game a couple of paragraphs after the one above. Swift writes, “There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to avoid the expence than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast” (141). In this passage, he is saying that eating the babies once they are born is better than women aborting them before they are born, as if the babies do not die either way. The phrase “horrid practice of women” is blaming the women for the abortions that are sometimes necessary to have. “Of women” says that it is only the women who decide to go through with the abortions, and not anyone else’s choice. The word “their” is important to look at in this passage, because “their” is connected to “women”. Yes, these aborted children are apart of these mothers, but men have to be involved in order to make a child. The phrase “women murdering their bastard children” only amplifies the notion that the men involved in making these children are not to blame for these abortions, and the children are not even technically “theirs”. The children belong to the women who then decide what to do with these “bastard children”.
The most interesting paragraph to look at in this essay would be the one where Swift talks about how eating the babies would help marriages between men and women. He writes, “Men would become as fond of their wives, during the time of their pregnancy, as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, or sow when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of miscarriage” (144). In this passage, Swift is comparing women to farm animals. Men would become fond of their wives in the same way that they are fond of their pregnant farm animals. Farm owners are fond of their pregnant animals because that will most likely bring them more money, and the men are fond of the pregnant women because the children will be made into goods and make the men more money. The line “men would become as fond of their wives, during the time of their pregnancy” is an interesting one because the men are only fond of their wives when they are pregnant, hence the the words “during the time”. Pregnancy is the only time where the men will even act like they care about their wives, and that is just because they are pregnant with what could potentially make them more money. The men will not beat or kick them “for fear of miscarriage”. They will not beat or kick them because they do not want to hurt the child that the mother is carrying; he does not care about whether he hurts the woman or not. Before that, the words in parenthesis back that up further. “As is too frequent a practice” brings the thought that the men do hurt the women quite often, but they do not hurt them while they are pregnant.
Jonathan Swift wrote this essay to share his thoughts about the poverty in Ireland. He says that eating some of the babies, and making others into goods, will make the country more money and be in a better place. While suggesting this absolutely absurd idea as a solution, he also threw in some real suggestions in disguise. Swift blames this poverty on the women of the country, though, and blames everything that happens to their children on them. How could the poverty of women and children be entirely the women’s fault if the country’s poverty is so bad that they cannot find jobs to make an “honest livelihood”? Swift’s feelings about women are clearly stated in the paragraph comparing women to farm animals. Yes, this is satire, but Swift is incredibly convincing. If he does not actually blame women and have harsh feelings towards them, he sure does make it seem like that is true. This text shows what men’s attitudes toward women were like in the 1700’s, and not just in Ireland, but the world.
Carey, John. “Review.” Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World by Leo Damrosch | The Sunday Times. The Sunday Times, 17 Nov. 2013. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
N.d. Public Domain Pictures. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
Scott, Anne Firor, and Suzanne Lebsock. “Virginia Women: The First Two Hundred Years.”Virginia Women: The First Two Hundred Years : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
Swift, Jonathan. A Modest Proposal.
To first understand the literary motivations and influences of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, it is important to first take a look at what was going on historically during his life. Wilmot was born right before what is now called The Restoration Period. The political shifts in power along with the ever changing religious influences held great significance on his life. The Restoration Period is named quite fittingly after the reinstatement of the English monarchy. After Parliament-elected leader Oliver Cromwell’s son succeeded the throne after his father’s death, Parliament realized that familial lineage had been what determined their most recent leader. They recognized that this was no different from a normal monarchy, and made the political move to proposition Charles II, son of the executed King Charles I, to come back to England and rule as the king. Charles II was brought back in the year 1660, which marks the beginning of the Restoration period.
Charles II was a catholic man, unlike Oliver Cromwell and his son who had ruled England under a strict Puritan rule. Under their reign, the theatres had been shut down completely because they were viewed as places of sin. This was due to the fact that because plays could only be performed during the day, (as there was no electricity for lighting at night) it was thought that any individual that had the time to spend their days at something as frivolous as the theatre had to be the scum of society, such as prostitutes and those without jobs. Once Charles II was put into power, the theatres opened back up, and with them there was a literary burst in plays and poems with sex-obsessed themes.
This type of writing was John Wilmot’s bread and butter, and he became a member of Charles II’s court, writing these sexually explicit works. Wilmot became known as quite a debaucherous character, rumored to have had multiple mistresses throughout this life. One of which was said to have been a heiress named Elizabeth Malet who Wilmot trained to be a actress for the stage. His sexually charged life came to an abrupt end when he died from various venerial diseases combined with severe alcoholism. (Encyclopedia Britannica).
To say that John Wilmot only wrote poetic erotica would be an oversimplification of his writing style and it wouldn’t permit him the credit which he deserves. His poetic works also typically have an element of satire and wit weaved within them. Although on the surface it can appear as if he is only relating crude and sexually explicit images in poetry, once his poems are dissected with a more critical eye it can be seen that there is more to his writing. “The Imperfect Enjoyment” is no exception to this claim.
One of the first elements of Wilmot’s writing style to take into account is his use of the “English heroic couplet”, which is a literary device with two successive rhyming lines in a verse which will have the same meter to form a complete thought. This literary device was heavily used during the Restoration, espeically with writers who identified themselves as neoclassical, such as Alexander Pope (PoetryFoundation.com). These poets saw their form of writing as “high brow” with a nod back to the classical styles of ancient Greece and Rome. Thematically, their writing typically had an element of wit to it in addition to contemplating human nature. It is clever of Wilmot to include such a neoclassical element of writing style into his poem because it pokes fun at the suggestion of a high brow form of writing and subject matter. As an example of one of his couplets, the line
“Quill Quest” is a theoretical mobile application geared towards college students and functions to aid students in writing any important papers or essays on an endless amount of topics. This presentation was completed as a project for the Restoration Period. The link to the presentation is located below:
Here is a link to my storify:
Hope you enjoy!
Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko is one of the more famous pieces to come from the restoration period, and its popularity comes from the main character’s nobleness as a slave. Although the work presents itself in a way that leads the audience to believe that the narrator had a first-hand experience of the tale of the royal slave, it lack depth and accountability. Behn’s Oroonoko was a fictional work to stir political unrest in regards to both societal issues and slavery.
It is worth noting that Aphra Behn was a Tory, and she was opposed to the Exclusion Crisis that was favored by the Whigs. Behn used her writing to attack the Whig opposition by stressing its commitment to radical religion, and emphasizing its links with republicanism (Williams &O’Connor). Behn attacks extreme religion multiple times when utilizing the noble savage ideal. “Religion would here but destroy that tranquility they possess by ignorance; and laws would but teach ‘em to know offense, of which now they have no notion” (Behn, 96). Behn simply states here that trying to get the people of Oroonoko’s culture to ‘possess’ any sort of religion before having any organized religion prior would be chaotic. A couple of words in this statement really stick out in how she words this. ‘Tranquility’ means that up to this point, Oroonoko’s people lived in perfect peace and harmony; ‘ignorance’ is used here to describe any sort of organized religion. Religious laws would ‘teach’ them to know what is wrong, and by giving them those laws and rules, they therefore can disobey them, which would have been a new concept for them. Although this can be a subtle notion for the noble savage ideal, Behn makes the statement by reckoning that religion is not always the answer, especially for people of Oroonoko’s kind.
In relation to the works’ beginning, Behn starts the piece by stating that this was all real, that she could not make something like this up. We have to understand that for her to write this, she would have to have been on the scene to truly get the idea of what this character must be like. “But we who were perfectly charmed with the character of this great man were curious to gather every circumstance of his life” (Behn, 94). Throughout the piece, she uses the pronoun ‘we’ to describe those who are enriched with Oroonoko’s story. Here we see the first example. Behn says that we are curious to hear all about every detail of Oroonoko’s life, and that because she was there and had a first-hand experience, we get to see how great and noble of a man this royal slave is. We could also make the general assumption that the ‘we’ could even refer to the tory audience that Behn was trying to envelop. As a slave trader of that time, this is not something you would want to tune in for solely based on the idea that the beginning paragraph shows slaves in a positive light.
One thing that Behn never really takes sides on whether or not slavery is right or wrong. We have a general understanding that to this point she is by and large on Oroonoko’s side, and even after the tale is over we still see that she wants the legacy of Oroonoko to live on. “Thus died this great man, worthy of a better fate, and a more sublime wit than mine to write this praise: yet, I hope, the reputation of my pen is considerable enough to make his glorious name to survive all the ages…” (Behn, 134). She says that Oroonoko is a great guy, and that even though he was a slave, his name should be known for years to come. Behn uses the word ‘great,’ and ‘glorious’ to talk about Oroonoko, and claimed that his wit outlasted hers. She claims that her writing has a reputation, and that she hopes that her name is reputable enough to publish a work as uncommon as this. As mentioned, she never claims to take a side as to whether she is for or against slavery; however, she wants it to be known that this Oroonoko should be known throughout the land for years and years to come, and it all but solidifies her stance.
Lastly, for someone like Aphra Behn, it would be easy to fixate a story like this. He father was the Lord-Governer of Surinam, and if she truly wanted to get to know the slaves on that particular plantation, it would not have been very hard to accomplish. Figuring out whether or not Oroonoko was a real person or not can easily be debated, but it is safe to assume that this was a fictional piece written to present political issues of the time being. “Though this digression is a little from my story, however, since it contains some proofs of the curiosity and daring of this great man, I was content to omit nothing of his character” (Behn, 95). Here, she is talking about the adventures Caesar would go on; tiger killing, fishing, etc. ‘Digression’ is an understatement, but she wanted to make sure that everybody knew of the type of character he was. He was ‘curious’ and ‘daring,’ which to this point, he never was. He was the type of person who would obey his commands and do as he is told. This is the first time we hear Behn talk about these characteristics in relation to Oroonoko, and it makes it seem as though this part of the history could easily have been made up to attract attention.
We have covered the fact that the character of Oroonoko could be debated as a fictional or non-fictional character, as well as the stance that Behn was believed to have on slavery. It is nearly impossible to really determine whether either of these are true or not, and we may never know. One question that will continue to be debated, however, is why she wrote this. The evidence above (which barely scratches the surface) should be enough to tell you that Aphra Behn wrote this as a political attack on the Whigs. She did not like way politics were shaping in the 1670’s, and this history exemplifies her political views in a subtle, but recognizable manner.
Behn, Aphra. “Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave.” Currents in British Literature. Ed. Dr. Ann McClellan. Buford, GA: LAD Custom Publishing, nd. 94-134. Print.
Williams, Abigail, and O’Connor, Kate. “Aphra Behn and Political Culture.” Great Writers Inspire. University of Oxford, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
Having always been one of the World’s most powerful and influential countries, England had seen a very impressive yet also very tumultuous past. Focusing specifically on the years 1660-1789 we can see just how influential England was on the rest of the world. The years of 1660-1789 are specifically being pulled out in this instance because it is during that time that England was in the Restoration period of literature. This period began with King Charles II being restored to the throne in 1660. The years that followed saw some of the greatest changes that England and her literature have seen to date.
With the restoration of the crown by King Charles II in 1660 the reopening of the theatres of England also came. The theatres of England were reopened after having been closed for a number of years because the previous King had seen them as anti-religious and too blasphemous to be a part of everyday life. With the reopening of the theatres, a new style of drama was also created that allowed for much more freedom for the playwright as well as allowed women to actually act in the plays. Previously women were not allowed to act in plays and men had played the roles of women.
This shift in drama was seen as a direct result of the religion of England switching over from Protestant to Catholic and also as a direct result of King Charles II’s time spent in France prior to taking the throne of England. During his time in France he developed a great interest in the arts and in the sciences that left him curios and that aided in his country’s switch in literature from a very conservative past to a much more open and critical present.
With the new style of drama many new ideas and strategies were being used in the plays. Satire started to play an enormous role in the world of literature as a way for the playwrights and authors to criticize and make fun of the British government and the rest of the British society at the time. One of the most notable plays that came out of this time was a play written by William Wycherley entitled The Country Wife. This play was riddled with both satire and allegory from start to finish. During the play there are numerous characters that are introduced, all of whom have names that reflect their personality. For instance, there is a character from the play whose goal is to sleep with every other character’s wife; this man is named “Horner” because he is perpetually “horny.” Another character mentioned frequently goes by the name of Mr. Pinchwife. Pinchwife’s name is very fitting for him because he does not let his wife do as she pleases and in turn is instead “pinching” his wife or not letting her get any freedom by keeping such a tight hold on her at all times. It was also during this time that comedy was being added to the world of drama again along with literature and drama being more widely available to all social and economic classes.
The newly revised style of literature that was being produced took on fresh angles that had yet to be used. With the emergence of new ideas and more authorial freedom genres such as the mock epic and the idea of the novel were beginning to be produced in much greater quantities. The Rape of the Lock, by Alexander Pope was one of the more popular mock-epics of the time. This five-canto poem was written as a short epic that had all of the same qualities of a traditional epic but in a much shorter piece of literature. This particular mock epic shows a quest and a battle when Belinda has her lock of hair cut from her head. In this piece we see also the face of satire show through as Belinda states how she would have rather been sexually assaulted than to have had her hair cut from her head the way that it was. She was more concerned with her hair and her physical appearance being unharmed that she would have rather had her emotional self harmed and raped.
At this time a new genre of writing was also born, the novel. One of the first novelists came out of the restoration period and was an author named Aphra Behn. She wrote for a white, British audience but focused around an African slave as her protagonist. During her novel, The Royal Slave, Behn gave her protagonist, Oroonoko, many traditional British characteristics so that her audience would still be able to relate to her protagonist. The first novels written in English were written about faraway lands and were the inspiration of many great adventurers. This period saw a time for people to explore and discover places that had yet to be discovered and mapped.
Prior to the restoration period, drama was seen as a place for poor people to go to get entertainment but after King Charles II took the crown the whole world of drama saw a great change. Along with women finally being able to act on stage as women in female roles, theatre saw a great shift in who was in attendance as people from every social and economic class began to go to the theatre for their entertainment. It was during this time that literature also saw a great deal of change as it was becoming more and more available to all socio-economic classes. Prior to the restoration of the crown, literature was only available to first class citizens but with more and more authors publishing their work, more literature was published that was not just for the rich but literature for the poor and for the working class citizens. It was not until the year 1710 that the first law regarding copy writes was passed making all work published unavailable to be copied or reproduced in anyway whatsoever for its first 14 years of life. This allowed for authors to publish more literature and allowed for more authors to publish because they were finally able to make money off of the literature that they were producing.
The restoration period was a very influential period in English literature history and also in world history. With the introduction of women to the world of literature and the introduction of copy write laws into society great waves were created that helped pave the way for the world we live in today.
“Arabella Fermor.” Wikimedia.org. Accessed March 7, 2017.
Pope, Alexander. The Rape of the Lock.