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British Literature (1785-1960)
May 3, 2001
People read literature to obtain pleasure. They call pleasure many different names such as satisfaction, delight, and insight. Since people seek pleasure, enjoyment (at least for a part of the audience) is a requisite for a literature work. Works of literature provide pleasure not by direct consumption, for they are simply black symbols on white paper. Instead, they provide beautiful mental images, suspense, and pleasure of greater understanding of the world and human nature. A work of art is an object (such as a book) that provides its utility indirectly--through its message. Because many works of British writers during the period provide pleasure, they are valid and good works of literature.
In Romanticism, enjoyment is provided through strong feelings. The feelings overwhelm the reality and thus provide an emotional escape from everyday life.
Literature during the Victorian era is characterized by traditional methods of giving pleasure. The authors used suspense. They reduced depression of the readers through works that display abundant energy. They also give valuable lessons about life through their works.
The Modern period is best characterized by bold experimentation of the ways to capture the reader. For example, some poems become fragmented and display clear images without formal transition between scenes.
A major disagreement about writing literature works is the amount of mental processing that should be used to extract the pleasure. During much of the history, those who read well were the elite who accepted much mental processing for reading. However, always, but especially in the twentieth century, many readers want books that are easy to read and that are interesting without the need for research and special analysis.
All these techniques are valid because they provide enjoyment to some readers. However, different readers have different personalities and thus enjoy (and read) different works. For example, Finnegans Wake by James Joyce is a work of literature because it causes deep analysis by some readers. Some of the other people, however, should not read it because the novel does not make much sense.