Aesthetics of contingency provides an important reconsideration of seventeenth-century literature in light of new understandings of the English past. Emphasising the contingency of the political in revolutionary England and its extended aftermath, Matthew Augustine challenges prevailing literary histories plotted according to structural conflicts and teleological narrative. In their place, he offers an innovative account of imaginative and polemical writing, in an effort to view later seventeenth-century literature on its own terms: without certainty about the future, or indeed the recent past. In hewing to this premise, the familiar outline of the period – with red lines drawn at 1642, 1660, or 1688 – becomes suggestively blurred. For all of Milton’s prophetic gestures, for all of Dryden’s presumption to speak for, to epitomise his Age, writing from the later decades of the seventeenth century remained supremely responsive to uncertainty, to the tremors of civil conflict and to the enduring crises and contradictions of Stuart governance. A study of major writings from the Personal Rule to the Glorious Revolution and beyond, this book also re-examines the material conditions of literature in this age. By carefully deciphering the multi-layered forces at work in acts of writing and reception, and with due consideration for the forms in which texts were cast, this book explores the complex nature of making meaning in and making meaning out of later Stuart England.
opportunist Edmund Waller readily suggest – accounts of seventeenth-centuryliterature continue to be hung (one might say hung up) on oppositional frameworks. 2 It is true that whereas our histories once baldly juxtaposed ‘Puritan and Cavalier’, we now possess more modulated studies, for instance, of ‘the writing of the English republic’ and ‘the writing of royalism’. 3 Drawing their evidence from broadsides, newsbooks, diaries, and correspondence as well as from more traditional literary sources, such projects clearly entail a radically revised notion of ‘literature
cohort of Marvellians have transformed our understanding of the poet and polemicist, and to have read
part iv: afterword
seventeenth-centuryliterature with undergraduates and graduate students
at Washington University over several decades. They have given patient
and generous attention to what must have seemed, at times, a strange and
challenging set of preoccupations. Their energies and intellectual engagement, their conversation and their writings – their companionship – have
made our common enterprise wonderfully rewarding.
Milton, John Bunyan, Francis
Bacon, or Thomas Browne, thus reaffirming the existing canon.5
The impressively comprehensive The Seventeenth-CenturyLiterature
Handbook (2010) also does not include prose fiction in its discussion of
the major genres and movements of the century.6 Even more remarkably, the book’s section on ‘Key Critical Concepts and Topics’ avoids
mention of prose fiction, concentrating instead on drama and poetry.
Yet the book’s discussion of ‘Changes in the Canon’ describes three
areas of critical interest: looking at neglected works by established
readers of Marvell, and indeed of seventeenth-century literary
culture more broadly, Steven Zwicker. All of the pieces that follow are
influenced by Zwicker’s invigorating and career-long attention to refining
and redefining the precise historical circumstances out of and into which
seventeenth-centuryliterature has been produced.10 His work on John
Dryden and Andrew Marvell, among others, consistently reveals a remarkable sensitivity to the variety of ideological registers in play at a given
moment, to the specific ways in which authors activated and manipulated
. Dzelzainis, ‘Milton’s classical republicanism’, in D. Armitage, A. Himy, and Q. Skinner (eds), Milton and Republicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 3–24.
17 S. Fish, Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-CenturyLiterature (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972), p. 365.
18 S. Fish, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, And It’s a Good Thing, Too (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 272.
19 Though it was of course Presbyterians in