The Descent of Euphues: Three Elizabethan Romance Stories: Euphues, Pandosto, Piers Plainness

The Descent of Euphues: Three Elizabethan Romance Stories: Euphues, Pandosto, Piers Plainness

The Descent of Euphues: Three Elizabethan Romance Stories: Euphues, Pandosto, Piers Plainness

The Descent of Euphues: Three Elizabethan Romance Stories: Euphues, Pandosto, Piers Plainness

Excerpt

The growth and decline of fashion makes a curious study. A new style of painting or architecture may flower after a long period of uncertain development, exert widespread influence for two or three decades and then mysteriously lose its authority and wilt into obsolescence. Such a course of plantlike growth and decay is the law in the natural kingdom: reflected in human sensibility and behaviour it is more difficult to explain. The vicissitudes of literary fashion could have no better example than the history of Euphuism provides; a prose style which after some tentative movements in early Elizabethan fiction suddenly reached its fulfilment with the publication of Euphues in 1578. The work ran through ten editions before the end of the century, drawing behind it a lengthening train of imitations; yet before the closing years of Elizabeth's reign its influence was exhausted, and its stock had collapsed to the point where Euphuism could be guyed on the popular stage.

Its only begetter, if we ignore the claim of George Pettie, was a graduate of Oxford who, after six years at the university, had turned to literature for a career when it appeared that no college fellowship could be expected. John Lyly was in some ways the most gifted of the university wits whose company he joined in London, and his subsequent success as a dramatist was cut short only by the rise of a more vigorous dramatic tradition and its incomparable poet. Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit and its sequel Euphues and his England, his first published works, belong to the genre of Elizabethan prose fiction usually, and uncritically, described as novels. These two books recount the adventures of a young man of means who, after committing some of the milder follies incident to youth, retires from the . . .

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