Aesthetics of contingency

Writing, politics, and culture in England, 1639– 89

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.

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‘For a work concerned to muddy critical waters, Aesthetics of Contingency is admirably clear, and its arguments broadly convincing.
Taylor & Francis Online

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