Sunday, February 24, 2019

English Literature after great wars

Ian Jack interests me.  In his English Literature, 1815-1832, he wrote, “When Wellington defeated Napoleon in 1815 England was already beginning to suffer from the reaction that seems inevitable after a great war.”  He goes on to say that Sir Walter Scott, with his swash-buckling heroes was a great favorite in England during the war, but afterwards, the English poetry reader turned to the cynical Pilgrimage of Childe Harold of Byron. 

More recently I began looking into Ian Jack’s Augustan Satire, Intention and Idiom in English Poetry, 1660-1750.  Jack wrote this book in 1952 (his English Literature 1815-1832 was written in 1963), but he could very well have said something similar about his Augustan Satire, i.e., that England in the period after 1660 was suffering “from the reaction” that occurred after its Civil War.  The period from 1660 on up to perhaps 1715 or so was considered the “Restoration.”  Cromwell had died and the Monarchy was restored and so the English poetry-reader read cynical Restoration poetry, Augustan Satire.  

In the preface to his Augustan Satire, Jack thanks those who helped him during the writing of his bookHe mentions, “Professor Rosamond Tuve encouraged me during one of those periods of depression that are the student’s occupational disease . . .”  I’ve had occasion to read a bit about “depression,” especially “manic depression,” now referred to by the less descriptive term “bi-polar disorder.”   Robert Lowell had an extreme case of Manic Depression, but Depression by itself is a different disorder.  The clinically depressed doesn’t get a manic phase.  I wonder what sort of depression Jack had. 

And then, leaving Jack, I wonder about American literature after our various wars.  I can’t bring anything substantial to mind – just the impression that these writings, including the writings after the Vietnam war, aside from their political nature (and political rants don’t usually count as literature), seem largely befuddled. 

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