The English Civil Wars in the Literary Imagination

The English Civil Wars in the Literary Imagination

The English Civil Wars in the Literary Imagination

The English Civil Wars in the Literary Imagination

Synopsis

The English civil wars loom large in seventeenth-century history and literature. This period, which culminated in the execution of a king, the dismantling of the Established Church, the inauguration of a commonwealth, and the assumption of rule by a lord protector, was one of profound change and disequilibrium. Focusing on writers as major as Milton, Marvell, Herrick, and Vaughan, and as misunderstood as Fane, Overton, and the poet Eliza, the fifteen essays in this collection discuss not only the representation of the civil wars but also the ways in which the civil wars were anticipated, refigured, and refracted in the century's literary imagination.

Although all of the essays are historically grounded and critically based, they vary widely in their historical perspectives and critical techniques, as well as in their scope and area of concentration. Six of the essays are on Royalist literary figures, six are on figures traditionally associated with the Parliamentarian side of the civil wars, two consider both, and the remaining essay examines how Royalist writers refashioned a puritan literary trope.

Unified through the contributors' concentration on "moderate" voices and their recurrent concerns with the ambiguities of literary response, The English Civil Wars in the Literary Imagination provides an important understanding of the English civil wars' manifold and sometimes indirect presence in the literature of the period.

Excerpt

Ted-Larry Pebworth

The English civil wars, which culminated in the execution of a king, the dismantling of the Established Church, the inauguration of a commonwealth, and the assumption of rule by a lord protector, unsurprisingly loom large in seventeenth-century history and literature. For many people who lived through the wars and the religio-political struggles that preceded and followed them, the period was experienced as one of profound change and disequilibrium. The phrase most frequently used to describe the brave new world of the civil wars and their aftermath, “the world turned upside down, ” gives some indication of the way the internecine conflict affected almost everyone, though of course how particular groups reacted to the sea changes of their society varied dramatically. For some, a world turned upside down might be greeted exultantly as affording the possibility of redressing social grievances or realizing millenarian dreams, while for others, it might signify only the imposition of new forms of tyranny, and for still others, perhaps in fact the majority, the feeling of disorientation might be the result of what they saw as a deeply bewildering and unsettling breakdown of authority of all kinds. Although historians continue to debate whether the English civil wars constituted a genuine revolution or a more limited constitutional crisis or rebellion, there can be no doubt that the momentous events of midcentury deeply affected England's shifting and increasingly diverse literary culture, even as the varied literature of the time helped shape the events that transformed the nation.

This volume is a contribution toward understanding more precisely the English civil wars' manifold and sometimes oblique presence in the literature of the period. The historically informed essays of this collection are interested not only in the representation of the civil wars, but also more generally in the ways in which the civil wars are anticipated and refigured and refracted in the century's literary imagination. As Nigel Smith has noted, not only did the conflict influence the revolutions in . . .

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