Restoration and the Eighteenth Century


Course Convenor:  Dr. Paul Davis

The course introduces students to the principal authors and literary modes of the period running from the Restoration (1660) to the death of Samuel Johnson (1784). Sometimes referred to as ‘the Enlightenment’ and regarded as the gateway to modernity, the period witnessed a number of innovations which set in train the development of literary culture as it exists today. Particularly: the invention of the novel, the rise of journalism, the development of literary criticism, the birth of the ‘woman writer’ and the advent of writing as a professional career. It was also a great age of scandal and satire, and of travel and translation.

In the first lecture of each term, students are introduced to the historical and cultural contexts necessary for a full appreciation of the literature of the period (the Restoration, in the autumn term; the Eighteenth Century, in the spring term). Thereafter lectures proceed in chronological order, some examining single authors (e.g. Dryden, Aphra Behn, Pope, Fielding, Johnson, Sterne), others surveying larger bodies of work or literary tendencies (e.g. Restoration Comedy, the Sublime, Women Poets).

Seminars in the autumn term cover the four set texts, currently: Rochester’s poetry; Alexander Pope, Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot and Epistle to a Lady; Samuel Richardson, Pamela; and Samuel Johnson, Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and James Boswell, A Tour of the Hebrides. In the spring term, students choose from a range of ‘sign-up’ seminars offered by teachers on the course. Recent options have included: ‘Restoration sexualities’; ‘The Novel: Defoe to Sterne’; ‘The Invention of Literature’; ‘The Birth of Literary Criticism’; ‘The Country in Eighteenth-Century Poetry’; and ‘Women Writers’.

Examination is by means of a 3-hour written paper, or by Course Essay, if preferred and if no other Course Essay is being submitted by the candidate in that year.