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Brief Overview of Victorian Art, with a further explanation of the influences of the images below.
Pre-Raphaelite Art: Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millias
Victorian Classicism: Flaming June by Fredrick Leighton
Tonalism: Pool in the Woods by George Inness
Orientalism: The Bride of Bethlehem by William Holman Hunt
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