The Baroque in English Neoclassical Literature

By J. Douglas Canfield | Go to book overview
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I AM VERY PLEASED TO STAND BESIDE MY FRIEND DOUG CANFIELD AT the gateway to this volume and read with him some of the most interesting, challenging, complex, and (in his reading) revealing texts of the time. As is his habit and character, Doug has been bold here both in the selection of texts—many are rarely taught, and some are seldom read even by scholars—and in what he finds in them. He has the uncanny ability to locate passages full of puzzles that centuries of readers have not paused over—and then to suggest how those moments of inappropriateness, contrariness, or momentary loss of control put the whole text in a new light. Canfield offers us a view of Restoration and early eighteent-century literature in a voice at once passionate, questioning, irreverent, earthy, funny, teasing, common-sensical, and authoritative. This is Doug Canfield at his provocative best. By finding unfamiliarities in even the most familiar texts and by insisting again on the virtues of many texts that have fallen by the canonical wayside, he offers us an eighteenth century very different from, and far more interesting than, the one that most contemporary readers assume.

Canfield’s term for the many astonishing textual surprises in Restoration and eighteenth-century texts is “baroque,” and he regards them not as a residue of earlier times but an insistent intruder into “neoclassical” times and texts. Like him, I regard the central texts here as gloriously unpredictable and far more complex and disturbing than literary history has often considered them to be. Whether this is a carryover from earlier times or later temperamental resistance to coercive norms may be debatable: I tend to the view that “neoclassical” ideals go against the grain (though not the vocabulary) of most writers throughout the whole period and thus tend to see the “baroque” surprises in text after text as part of the necessary tension that keeps historical


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