A Brief Introduction to Western Literature • Ancient world • Middle Ages • The Renaissance • Classicism • Romanticism • Realism and Naturalism • Modernism
Chapter 1. Ancient World(500B.C—A.d.400) The ancient world represents the most significant area and period of ancient man’s development. The area is the Mediterranean Basin. In this place and time ancient man laid the intellectual and religious foundations of the modern Western outlook. The literature of the Ancient world was written in three languages—Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
Chapter 1. Ancient World The Hebrew achieve little of note in the military area and their later history was a bitter and unsuccessful struggle for freedom. They left no drama nor epic poetry but religious literature, which was later called the Old testament.
Chapter 1. Ancient World Greek literature begins with two masterpieces the Iliad (Trojan War) and Odyssey (Odysseus), which were created by Homer. As a result of the political and economical development and the great literary achievements in poetry and drama, the ancient Greek literary criticism prospered. The greatest Ancient literary critics are Plato and Aristotle, who opened the history of Western literary criticism.
Chapter 1. Ancient World The Romans looked to Greek models for their literature. Romans began to write after they conquered Greece. The first real example of a literary work in Latin is a translation of Homer’s Odyssey. In spite of the imitation, there were the finest Roman accomplishments in literature, as in other aspects of art and life.
Chapter 2. Middle Ages (500—1500A.D.) The period of the Middle Ages encompasses a thousand years of European history, distinguished by the heroic-Age society with Greco-Roman culture and Christian religion. It began with the collapse of the Roman Emperor and ended with discovery of the Western Hemisphere, the consolidation of strong national states and the break in religions brought about by the protestant reformation.
Chapter 2. Middle Ages During the Medieval times, there was no central government to keep the order. The only organization that seemed to unite Europe was the Christian Church. Christianity took the lead in politics, law, art and learning for hundreds of years. Religion shaped people’s lives.
Chapter 2. Middle Ages The medieval literature can be divided into three categories---religious writing, romance, and vernacular writings. The greatest achievement of religious literature was made by Italian poet, Dante. His masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, is the greatest Christian poem with a profound vision of the Medieval Christian world. It expresses humanistic ideas which foreshadowed the spirit of the Renaissance.
Chapter 2. Middle Ages With regard to romance, the most well-known are the adventures of King Arthur and his knights of the round Table. The vernacular literature of this time tends to be realistic and satirical. The greatest works of this kind is Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.
Chapter 3. Renaissance(1350—1650) Against the theology of the Middle Ages arose the intellectual movement, Renaissance, which sprang first in Italy in the fourteenth century and gradually spread all over Europe. The movement had two striking features. One was the thirsting curiosity for classical literature, and the other was the keen interest in human beauty and human activities, which is in sharp contrast with Medieval theology.
Chapter 3. Renaissance Renaissance marks the transition from the medieval to the modern world. It resulted from many new facts and forces arising within the old order of the Medieval Period: • Hellenistic spirit—human beings are glorious creatures capable of individual development (perfection) • The Protestant Reformation • The introduction of printing, which led to a commercial market for literature
Chapter 3. Renaissance • The great economic and political changes leading to the rise of democracy • The encouragement of the growing new science. • The spirit of nationalism and an ambitious commercialism All these made human beings and nature the results of natural and demonstrable law rather than a mysterious group of entities subject to Gods.
Chapter 3. Renaissance The peak of it occurred at different times in different countries, the movement having had its inception in Italy, where its impact was at first most visible in the fine arts, while in England, for instance, it developed later and its main achievements were in literature, particularly in dramas (Williams Spears) and poems (John Milton)
Chapter 4. Classicism(1680s—1750s) The Renaissance is romantic in nature, for it stresses the liberation of the human mind. To restrain the liberal mind arose a new literary movement, Classicism, which began in France in the late 17th century and flourished in other European countries in the mid-18th century.
Chapter 4. Classicism As a result of the establishment of the Monarchy, France had emerged as a national state with the King. The King, to weaken the power of the feudal nobility and strengthen his own power, made some concessions to the bourgeoisie, who were new and weak and in need of the help of the Monarch. Therefore, the King and the bourgeoisie worked in combination and wiped out the feudal rules of separation
Chapter 4. Classicism To unite the nation in politics demanded an authoritative literature corresponding with it---that is Classicism. Classicism places emphasis upon the qualities of the classical literature: • Rationalism---elegant and well-proportioned form, precise idea, true-to-life description and standardized language. • Restraint of emotion and passion
Chapter 4. Classicism • An ability to think logically and to communicate objectively rather than subjectively. • Follow the fixed laws and rules drawn from Greek and Latin works. These qualities are apparent in the words of Moliere, the best representative dramatist of French classical comedies, and of Pope, the greatest English poet and critic of Classicism.
Chapter 5. Romanticism(1780s—1830s) As a reaction to the restraints and rules imposed by classicists, Romanticism came into being in the late 18th century. Romanticism is a bourgeois literary movement and its emergence was closely connected with the French Revolution, the European national liberation movement and the Industrial Revolution:
Chapter 5. Romanticism In 1789 broke our the French Revolution which destroyed the feudalism and established the bourgeois democracy with its slogans of liberty and equality. Inspired by it, the national liberation movement swept over Europe and Industrial Revolution arose. However, Capitalist industrialization brought sufferings and poverty to the working class. As a protest against the industrial revolution, writers looked to the Middle Ages and to direct contact with nature, wanting to return to the simpler life of the past.
Chapter 5. Romanticism Characteristics: • Romanticists were discontented with and opposed to the development of capitalism. They tried to idealize the life of a non-capitalist society and thus laid emphasis on subjective idealism and emotional expression. • Romanticists had a persistent interest in the medieval literature, such as epics, ballads, which were not restricted by various kinds of classical rules and were characterized by rich imagination, strong emotion and free expression.
Chapter 5. Romanticism • Romanticists showed a profound admiration and love for nature. • Romanticist were full of moral enthusiasm, believing ideality. • Romanticists took interest in the strange and the mysterious as opposed to common sense. The leading Romantic writers include Blake, Wordsworth, Scott, Shelly and Keats in England.
Chapter 6. Realism(1850s—1920s) Realism, as a literary movement, is usually called critical realism, because it rose as a reaction against the social reality and the sentimentality of Romanticism. Realism began in France in the 1850’s and prevailed in Europe and the United States until the early 20th century.
Chapter 6. Realism The capitalists’ ruthless exploitation and suppression left the working class in extreme poverty. As a result, the workers began to fight against the capitalism, which started in France 1848 and swept over the other European countries. But for lack of strong leading nuclear powers, they all failed. The failure brought about a time of false imagination and loss of hope (sentimentality of Romanticism), and the literary men felt the need for a return to what was plain and real. Therefore, the name Realism was given to the new movement.
Chapter 6. Realism Characteristic: • Critical realism was characterized by the verisimilitude of details derived from observation and objective description of the representative character in a typical circumstance. • The language was usually simple, clear and direct, and their tone was often sarcastic.
Chapter 6. Realism • It provided a vivid picture of the capitalist world, exposed the social contradictions and criticized the ugliness of the bourgeois world. • Realists showed profound sympathy for the common people, but could not find them a right way out. Their words pointed toward moral evolution and reform rather than revolution.
Chapter 7. Naturalism Naturalism is a literary movement which is regarded by many as related to but different from, Realism. Its founder was Emile Zola, French novelist. Naturalistic writers held that man’s existence is shaped by heredity and environment over which he has no control and about which he can exercise little if any choice.
Chapter 7. Naturalism Novels and plays in the movement emphasized the animal nature of man and portrayed characters engrossed in a helpless brutal struggle for survival in a cold world. Unlike realistic writers, naturalists attempted to achieve fidelity to nature by rejecting idealized portrayals of life. Realists observed a general situation and invented incidents which would make that situation vivid, while naturalists dissect and analyze the subjects with dispassionate and scientific accuracy.
Chapter 8. Modernism(1890s—1950s) Modernism was a complex and diverse international literary movement, originating at about the end of the 19th century and reaching its maturity in the mid 20th Modernism was rooted in the social upheavals (Wars, economic crisis) and promoted by the new ideas and thoughts such as Nietzsche’s philosophy of subconsciousness, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, Bergson’s intuitionism, and Darwinism.
Chapter 8. Modernism The economic crisis and the great tragedy of the two world wars shook people’s trust and belief in the future and values of capitalism. A large group of writers took up pens to express people’s frustration and present how people were distorted and dislocated under the irrational forces of the modern world. After 1950s, Modernism began to lose its wail, but its artistic technique has been still exerting influence. Therefore, the time between the 1950s and the present day is generally regarded as the period of postmodernism,
Chapter 8. Modernism Modernism is mainly characterized by a conscious rejection of established rules, traditions and conventions both in content and in form. In content, the search for identity is the frequent common theme. To modernists, the world is an irrational machine, from whose control man can by no means escape; man is an indifferent, selfish animal who is unable to understand each other; nature is like a horrible prison where man’s freedom is not allowed. In such a world of chaos, man loses his identity and doesn’t know where he belongs to.
Chapter 8. Modernism Therefore, modernists deny rationalism and science, and stress the importance of instinct and subconsciousness in literary creation. They are subjective idealists who concentrate on the “inner reality” of the character. Their works are tragic, nihilistic and mysterious. In form, Modernism is the synonym of revolution. Not any of the previous periods in history has ever seen so many experiments in form and style. They advocate “art for art’s sake”. To them, art should be separated from life and politics. It serves nothing but itself.
Chapter 8. Modernism • Post-modernism • Symbolism • Futurism • Expressionism • Existentialism • Surrealism
Chapter 8. Modernism Reference: 左金梅，A Brief Introduction and Selected Readings to Western Literature, Qingdao: Qingdao Ocean University Publisher, 2001 TiffanyThank you !