UNIT 3: Restoration & Eighteenth Century

by   |  11.27.09  |  221-Restoration/18th Century


In 1660 the monarchy was restored to England, but the experiment with constitutional government encouraged increased skepticism through public discussions of politics, philosophy, and art. A free press and the new coffee houses helped develop the eighteenth-century taste for the lively exchange of ideas in this new “Age of Reason.”

Reflecting on the Human

by   |  11.26.09  |  221-Restoration/18th Century

    Much of Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels comes from a captain’s log describing a foreign land to his countrymen or describing his own country to a foreigner. Either way we as readers are forced to view ourselves from a different perspective. In Book 2 after hearing a relation of the “State of Europe” with its senators, soldiers, priests, lawyers, and judges, the 70 foot king of Brobdingnag can only look down on Gulliver and his countrymen, dismissing them as a “pernicious race of little odious vermin” much like the Lilliputians in Book 1.

    Gene Rodenberry must surely have read Swift since similar descriptions or critiques occasionally appear in episodes of Star Trek. Whenever Kirk or Picard attempt to explain some typically human behavior to a Vulcan, an android, or an alien ambassador, the audience is forced briefly to reconsider its own view of the world.

    The heirs of Gene Rodenberry have occasionally used the human body to consider the essential features of humanity. Each series has provided rational foils like the Vulcan Spock or the android Data as mirrors through which to reflect the most basic elements of a human being: body and mind, passion and reason. In the following clip from Star Trek: Voyager, Lieutenant Torres has been sent to repair an alien ship inhabited only by a pathological hologram who may have disposed of the ship’s human crew.

    Star Trek, Revulsion clip

    Though many of the political and social targets of Book 4 have been treated earlier in the novel, one subject new to Book 4 is the satire of the human body. In passages like those in chapters 5 and 6, the Houyhnhnms provide an ironic study of the human form which focuses not on its beauty but on its deficiencies. What does Swift have to say about this “biological cage of flesh and bone and blood”?

Gulliver’s Trek Exercise

    Since, if Swift had lived in our own time, he surely would have sent Gulliver traveling through space, boldly going where no yahoo had gone before, choose some aspect of life in our country or on our planet that an alien observer would find amusing or repulsive (possibilities might include love, democracy, social clubs, church, movies, weapons of mass destruction, or kissing).

    Before moving on, write a 1 or 2 paragraph description of a topic taken from politics, religion, or society for some member of a more civilized culture and bring your work to class.

    I’ve included two imaginative examples from past students below, but feel free to take your own post into uncharted territory.

    We Call It “Democracy” – Student Example

    On Matters of Transportation – Student Example

Rescuing the Human

    Scott Derrickson’s 2008 Day the Earth Stood Still offers a recent revision of the alien visitor motif. The hyper-reasonable Klaatu has come to save the earth from the human race. These scenes share several parallels with the judgments of the representatives of pure reason in Gulliver’s Travels though they add a clear acknowledgement of humanity’s dual nature, as the greatest threat and hope of the future.

    Judgment Day clip

News of the Triangular Trade

by   |  11.12.09  |  221-Restoration/18th Century

    After reading the intimate meditations of Donne and Herbert or the introspective sonnets of Milton and Shakespeare, the first impression for readers of Behn’s Oroonoko is the striking scale of her novel. Not content to introduce a single setting or domestic love story, she stretches her canvas to include two continents and characters from three very different worlds.

    Joanna Lipking has speculated on the seventeenth-century vogue for travel writing from the New World in her introduction to Oroonoko:

      Early travelers to the Americas described lands that seemed to recover the first age of the world, the golden or innocent time of both classical and biblical tradition. . . . For those at home, the discoveries brought travels of mind: catalogs of the plant life and strange animals, collections of natural specimens and artifacts, a stage fashion for New World pageantry. (Norton Critical Edition 75)

    Behn’s novel comes after a long career as a popular playwright for the Restoration stage where her success depended on gauging the fashions of public taste. For example, Lipking suggests the original appeal of the novel lay in just the catalogs of New World flora and fauna quickly skipped over by readers today. She implies that one reason to begin the novel in Surinam was to establish a cultural ideal of golden innocence, “so like our first parents before the Fall” (Norton 2184), to prepare us for the contrasts to come.

    The most striking and obvious contrast in the novel appears in the juxtaposition of South America and Africa. As Lipking notes,

      No such idealizing marks the reports of West Africa. . . . Like most Native American peoples, West Africans were without written language and might go unclothed, but they provided no scenes of naked innocence, no trustful, open-handed kings. On the contrary, by a reverse stereotyping passed on from book to book, the received opinion was that African women were by nature lascivious, punishments notwithstanding, and the men crafty or “thievish.” (75-6)

    If the South American setting of the novel’s opening shared an untouched, golden innocence with the first age of the world, Africa represents a people that bring together duplicity and a heroic code of courage and brave deeds. New World simplicity and contentment are replaced by the sumptuous luxury and decadence we find in the “Kingdom” of Coramantien.

    However, the more subtle contrast Behn introduces in the novel’s opening juxtaposes naive Americans with no concept of lying and her civilized readers. Lipking concludes in her discussion of travel writing:

      Most of all, [travel books] brought accounts of “savage” people living without divine or human law, as if far back in time or out of time. For reflective writers in Europe, Montaigne, Swift, and Rousseau, among many others, the simpler New World societies could hold a mirror up to the old, letting civilized Europe view itself in all its habitual corruption and deceit, the whole sad tangle of its history. (75)

    With Behn, and later with Swift, travel narratives question the foundations of cultural superiority on which European colonialism was based. The perfect example of this is the English Captain. Behn feigns objectivity over Oroonoko’s abduction but within paragraphs she has her hero questioning the Christian faith of the Englishman, whose “gods had taught him no better principles than not to credit as he would be credited.” Clearly Behn’s aims in the novel are complex and require careful consideration.

    As we research the complex network of politics, religion, and commerce that fueled the triangular trade, consider how Behn’s presentation of the Middle Passage functions within the novel. Does Oroonoko’s suffering only heighten the sympathy for a tormented hero in a steamy romance novel? Or does the novel move beyond entertainment into social satire or critique with the intent of changing views of slavery if not public policy?

Middle Passage Exercise

    After seeing your first piece based on Behn’s novel, your editors were skeptical about her reliability as a source. (Some critics early in the twentieth century doubted whether Behn had even been to Surinam herself though more recent scholars support her claim.) You’ve been asked by your editors to find other sources to challenge or corroborate Ms. Behn’s description of the Middle Passage.

    Spend 15-20 minutes researching the motives and realities of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade using one or more of the links below. In your notes, record leads which support or challenge the truthfulness of Behn’s portrayal. Be ready to distinguish differences and similarities between the slave trade as practiced by the British in the seventeenth century and by other countries in later centuries. Your editors have asked you to consider writing either a provocative expos√© revealing the conditions of the Middle Passage or a business profile recommending a promising investment opportunity, so try to find details to support both anti-slavery and pro-slavery positions from the period.

    A Slave Ship Speaks – The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie

    The Slave Trade in Britain – Norton Topics Online

    Breaking the Silence – Learning about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

    Keep in mind that the novel’s main action occurs two centuries before the American Civil War, so you’ll need to develop a definition of slavery particular to the world Behn and her readers knew. Historian Dinizulu Tinnie suggests that

      Perhaps the most challenging aspect of studying a phenomenon like the Atlantic “slave trade,” as it was known, is the realization that such developments are not as monolithic and constant as even their vast scope, verifiable statistics, and widely recognized patterns might suggest. It can be easily overlooked, in examining a phenomenon that endured for more than four centuries, involving tens of millions of individuals, that it is in fact a story of individuals: each person, each voyage, each ship has a different story to tell, a different, but definite, impact on history. (“The Henrietta Marie in Perspective”)

    In what ways does Behn’s novel seek to personalize the slave trade by telling the story of this “royal slave”? Is her novel ultimately about slavery, or does Oroonoko represent some other injustice, social or political, she hopes to consider through her suffering hero?

Restoration and 18th Century Timeline

by   |  11.04.09  |  221-Restoration/18th Century

    Before class, spend a few minutes reviewing the Breaking News timeline. This interactive timeline will introduce you to figures and events in the news during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Taking notes as you read about the different monarchs and religious groups may help you keep the important names and dates straight. 

    Breaking News Intro

    Once you’ve viewed the Breaking News introductory film, explore the Flash timeline below.

    Breaking New timeline

    Breaking News transcript

Restoration Reading Exercise

    Though new playwrights like Dryden and Congreve captivated new theater audiences after the Restoration and great poems like Milton’s Paradise Lost and Pope’s Rape of the Lock appeared in print over the next half century, the period’s most unexpected literary achievement was the rise of a new reading audience for prose. After the Restoration, the educated elite were joined by middle class readers and women who poured over a growing number of prose titles, including travel narratives and romances, political pamphlets and tracts, works of scientific or philosophical speculation, and–by far the best selling of the period–sermons and religious works. Popular prose titles appearing in the period reflect many of the new interests and tensions of the seventeenth century:

      – John Milton, Areopagitica (1644)
      – Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)
      – Robert Hooke, Micrographia (1665)
      – Isaac Newton, Principia (1687) or Optics (1704)
      – John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
      – John Toland, Christianity Not Mysterious (1696)
      – Jeremy Collier, Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698)

    Spend 10-15 minutes researching one of these titles. You might begin with the Encyclopedia Britannica to put your author and work in context but may use any other sites or resources from the web. *Make sure to keep web addresses for sources providing unique information to cite at the end of your summary.

    Encyclopedia Britannica Online

    After you can answer the basic journalistic questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why?), write a short 1-2 paragraph introduction to the author and work that summarizes its main thesis or purpose. Then speculate on the title’s importance to the period or connection to events from the timeline.

    Bring your summary to class to conclude our discussion of the Restoration period.