Donaldson, Alasdair Muir (1975) Libertinism in English literature 1650-1700. Doctoral thesis, Keele University.

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My thesis concerns libertine ideals of pleasure in English literature from the time of the Interregnum until about 1700. Restoration comedy is omitted from the study, and so are such subsidiary libertine ideals as wit and honour. Libertinism has a religious and an irreligious phase, and the transition from one to the other occurs during the period studied. The Ranters in 1650 were anarchic spiritual libertines similar to the heretics of the middle ages. They represent an extreme form of that chiliastic enthusiasm which was for a short while strong in the English Commonwealth. After the Restoration, libertinism became the predominant aristocratic code, especially from 1665 to 1680, but the reaction against it was already under way by the time the Society for the Reformation of Manners was formed in 1689. The story, then, is broadly that of the rise and decline of libertinism during the period. By the turn of the century it was changing in character, becoming more consciously atheistic.

The first Chapter describes libertinism in its religious phase, from the early Christian era until its death in Cromwell's England. Chapter II traces the origins of libertinism in its sceptical and naturalistic aspects from Montaigne and the French libertin poets and esprits forts, and shows the French influence on Restoration society. The Don Juan theme is examined in plays by Molière and Shadwell, and the iconoclastic libertine "heroes" of Lee and Otway are also briefly looked at. Some attempt is made to assess how far the libertine's determinist philosophy is derived from Hobbes. The third Chapter deals with various types of Epicurean approaches to happiness - particularly the refined Epicureanism of St. Evreraond, Cowley and Temple. Dryden's translations are seen to set the tone for the erotic poetry of Aphra Behn and others. Wycherley's poems praising solitude and retirement provide a link with the satirists who form the bulk of the last two Chapters, Chapter IV deals with the Court Wits, selecting Rochester, Etherege and Sedley for detailed study. In the fifth Chapter, Oldham and various minor satirists are seen to follow Rochester's example in making libertine themes the subject of their satires. The conclusion briefly indicates the way in which libertine themes are important in the eighteenth century.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Lisa Bailey
Date Deposited: 02 May 2019 16:00
Last Modified: 02 May 2019 16:00

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