Friday, July 30, 2010

Just don't make me read Dryden

In job-market parlance my specialty is "seventeenth-century, non-dramatic." Like most people, though, my core competence is more like 50 years: I started with the English Civil War and worked backwards, rather successfully, and forward less successfully. Now I'm trying to learn me something about the Restoration--a period for which I've long had a reflexive dislike.

What I learned today: Nell Gwyn's nickname for the eventual James II was "dismal Jimmy."

I like it more already.

13 comments:

Moria said...

What is it, I wonder, about the Restoration that makes it so consistently fraught for periodizing? It's a bone of jovial contention among my crew (I, for one, am with you on the title of this post), but there's a serious question there. I wonder if anything useful has been written about that?

But in the end, I'm happy to say that it's not my fight. As long, that is, as the "long"-eighteenth-centuryists stop trying to claim Milton. Hands off, punks. Hands. Off.

medieval woman said...

I dislike the Restoration as well - but you *must* be careful with those Wikipedia links! :) Seriously - when I visit that site I get sucked in for at least half and hour...all of those parallels linky thingys are like siren calls...can't...get...away...

Piers said...

True story: One of my grad-school professors is a direct descendant of Chuck II and Nell Gwyn. Yeah, he does eighteenth-century.

Dr. Virago said...

Oh, but there's Restoration *drama*! Who doesn't love that?! (Hm, maybe the "seventeenth-century, non-dramatic" types?)

If we could have Restoration drama and chuck the rest, I'd be a happy camper.

Doctor Cleveland said...

I think the Restoration is one of those few periods where a headline political shift actually lines up with major aesthetic changes. And most of us don't even know what to do with that. In lots of ways, the relationship of history and literature should be more subtle and indirect, but the direct correlations are just so much bigger and more obvious than usual.

Flavia said...

Moria:

With you on Milton 100%.

I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it's such a transitional stage. What I dislike is how nostalgic and backwards-looking it is, and how aesthetically played-out; the culture doesn't seem yet to know how to move forward, and in trying to recapture the glory days of Charles I and Henrietta Maria it just feels frivolous and escapist.

I like the 18th C., and I'm sure, were I an eighteenth centuryist, I'd see all the ways in which the Restoration sets up the artistic and cultural concerns of that century. But since I work on the 17th C., it just feels like a lame coda.

And Piers: I'm so going to your grad school's departmental webpage!

Horace said...

I'll say, Nell Gwyn (and the rest of the restoration actresses) are the best thing about the Restoration. other than that, I'd happy nuke the entire second half of the 17th c.

(BTW: my capcha is "goryte" think this is a hint?)

Renaissance Girl said...

(posted some version of this comment before, but it's vanished...)

I was going to spring to the defense of Dryden, probably because he translated Virgil, but I've got nothing there. I'm happy to donate Dryden and all the other Restoration writers to the long 18c folks. But snort at the presumption of their claiming Milton, who is SO 17c. He's freaked out like the 17c folks are, and heaven knows periodization ought to be defined (if it isn't already, de facto) by kinds of freakiness.

Flavia said...

Another fun tidbit from my reading:

Apparently Buckingham described the difference between the two brothers thusly: "Charles could if he would, and James would if he could."

Maybe that's all I need to know about the Restoration?

Flavia said...

Oh, and RG: totally with the freakiness.

Anonymous said...

Great Buckingham quote.

There's a perfectly good case for treating Milton as a Restoration poet: he wrote his greatest poetry after the Restoration. This shows only how arbitrary period divisions are. We train ourselves to fit into standard categories ("17th c non-dramatic", "long 18th c", etc) for practical reasons, which is fine, but turf-war talk about who gets to study whom is silly. It treats the categories as more meaningful than they are.

Cheers, TG

Bardiac said...

Oh, yeah.

Weirdly, one of the most useful courses I TA'd was a Restoration and 18th c course. I knew nothing about it, and then I knew a tiny bit.

Moria said...

Someone – and I'm looking at you, RG, and you, Flavia – really needs to write a memoir titled 'Freaked Out Like C17.'

Please.