Satire, in prose, drama and poetry, was the genre that attracted the most energetic and voluminous writing. The satires that were produced during the Augustan period were occasionally gentle and nonspecific, commentaries on the comically flawed human condition, but they were at least as frequently specific critiques of specific policies, actions and persons. Even the works studiously nontopical were, in fact, transparently political statements in the 18th century.
Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was the first major novel of the new century and was published in more editions than any other works besides Gulliver’s Travels (Mullan 252). Defoe worked as a journalist during and after its composition, and therefore he encountered the memoirs of Alexander Selkirk, who had been stranded in South America on an island for some years. Defoe took aspects of the actual life and, from that, generated a fictional life, satisfying an essentially journalistic market with his fiction (Hunter 331–338). In the 1720s, Defoe interviewed famed criminals and produced accounts of their lives. In particular, he investigated Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild and wrote True Accounts of the former’s escapes (and fate) and the latter’s life. From his reportage on the prostitutes and criminals, Defoe may have become familiar with the real-life Mary Mollineaux, who may have been the model for Moll in Moll Flanders .
In the same year, Defoe produced A Journal of the Plague Year , which summoned up the horrors and tribulations of 1665 for a journalistic market for memoirs, and an attempted tale of a working-class male rise in Colonel Jack . His last novel returned to the theme of fallen women in Roxana . Thematically, Defoe’s works are consistently Puritan. They all involve a fall, a degradation of the spirit, a conversion, and an ecstatic elevation. This religious structure necessarily involved a bildungsroman, for each character had to learn a lesson about him or herself and emerge the wiser.Two other novelists should be mentioned, for they, like Fielding and Richardson, were in dialogue through their works. Laurence Sterne’s and Tobias Smollett’s works offered up oppositional views of the self in society and the method of the novel. The clergyman Laurence Sterne consciously set out to imitate Jonathan Swift with his Tristram Shandy (1759–1767).
Tristram seeks to write his autobiography, but like Swift’s narrator in A Tale of a Tub, he worries that nothing in his life can be understood without understanding its context. For example, he tells the reader that at the very moment he was conceived, his mother was saying, “Did you wind the clock?” To clarify how he knows this, he explains that his father took care of winding the clock and “other family business” on one day a month. To explain why the clock had to be wound then, he has to explain his father.
In other words, the biography moves backward rather than forward in time, only to then jump forward years, hit another knot, and move backward again. It is a novel of exceptional energy, of multi-layered digressions, of multiple satires, and of frequent parodies. Journalist, translator, and historian Tobias Smollett, on the other hand, wrote more seemingly traditional novels. He concentrated on the picaresque novel, where a low-born character would go through a practically endless series of adventures.
Sterne thought that Smollett’s novels always paid undue attention to the basest and most common elements of life, that they emphasized the dirt. Although this is a superficial complaint, it points to an important difference between the two as authors. Sterne came to the novel from a satirical background, while Smollett approached it from journalism. In the 19th century, novelists would have plots much nearer to Smollett’s than either Fielding’s or Sterne’s or Richardson’s, and his sprawling, linear development of action would prove most successful.34The concept of multiple authoritative editions is not contradictory, for the term “authoritative” does not necessarily entail singularity. Rather, it refers to an edition that has been edited according to specified principles applied as consistently and accurately as possible. One should allow for the appropriate use of judgment and insight as well, for editing is no less an imaginative task than other forms of reading or interpretation.
Faced with various documents – letters, manuscripts, printed books – editors interpret the circumstances of their production, ask who wrote them, when, and for what purposes. Editors then examine the aggregate of the evidence, placing greater emphasis on some documents over others in an attempt to shape an edition. Since all these activities involve judgment, equally competent editors might form different conclusions. And from the outset, different editors might select different aims for their editions.
40Eclectic editions vary widely in terms of the assumptions and goals that underlie them. Creators of eclectic editions strive to shape a text that best represents the intentions of the author as distinct from those of editors, booksellers, or others. In this approach, the editor would attempt to identify and remove “corruptions” to the text imposed by those other than the author. Thus this kind of editor would want to incorporate the accidentals that seem to be closest to the author’s preferences. In the case of Gulliver, the primary corruptions involve Tooke’s alterations, which were clearly done without Swift’s approval. Ford’s list – certainly prepared under Swift’s guidance – helps us identify where Tooke changed Swift’s text.Alexander Pope was arguably the only great poet of Enlightenment England. Not surprisingly, he was a controversial figure who invited as much scorn as praise.
His biting satires were not modulated with as much humor as Swift or Voltaire, so he drew down the thunder of many powerful figures. From a literary standpoint, Pope was an innovator on several fronts. For one, he popularized the heroic couplet, a sophisticated rhyme scheme that suited his subject matter well. He took mundane settings and events and made them grandiose, a kind of irony that anticipated Modernism by two centuries. He blended formal criticism into his poetry, a diffusion of generic boundaries that also strikes one as an entirely modern practice. In his own day, Pope was possibly most admired for his capable and effective translations of classic literature.
He single-handedly elevated translation to an art-form, and demonstrated that a good poetic sensibility was necessary to pull it off with any success. Pope’s great masterpiece was The Dunciad, a four-part, scathing indictment of eighteenth century English society. Although he initially attempted to conceal his authorship, the vitriol of his attacks made it clear that only Alexander Pope could have produced such a piece of literature. Unlike most of his Enlightenment brethren, Pope was singularly pessimistic about the future of civil society. Perhaps he foresaw that the tide of rationalism could sweep out just as easily as it had swept in.