Eighteenth Century Term Paper

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Eighteenth Century was a time of profound change and upheaval in the western world. Alexander Pope, Samuel Pepys, Jonathan Swift were among the most prominent of 18th century writers, and each left his mark on literature. Importantly, the 1800s were characterized by the impact of social stratification on all aspects of life, including food, fashion, society, furnishings, and even literature.

Society and Culture

In 18th century Europe, the dominant powers were Russia, Prussia, France, Austria, and Britain. As such, any discussion of the 18th century usually focuses upon life in these leading nations. At the time, America was embroiled deeply in the development of a new nation, the shaking off of the shackles of slavery, and lessening English control in the American colonies. The United States Declaration of Independence was only signed late in the eighteenth century, in 1776 (Wikipeda).

Lasting from 1701-1800, the 18th century is often synonymous with the ideals and beliefs of the enlightenment, and the ideals of absolutism. The enlightenment brought great changes to the previously almost unquestioned power of theology in Europe.

In contrast, in the American colonies, the Great Awakening was a revolutionary religious movement in the American colonies that is often seen as one of the last major uprisings of religious ideals in the Western world. On the political scene, absolutism in France led to the peasant revolts that shook the entire power structure within France, and the French revolution that placed Napoleon Bonaparte in control of the nation. Essentially, "the 18th century was the beginning of Europe's changes and influence around the world" (Wikipeda).

Society saw profound changes in the 18th century. Inventions like improved steam engines, the cotton gin, and the automobile began to revolutionize how people worked and lived. The economy was based largely on the land, and while some peasants were free (France and England), others were bound to the land (Russia, Germany, and Austria) (Brainard).

Despite these changes, in the 18th century society continued to be largely patterned on social division, and "medieval sense of rank and degree was still persistent and became more rigid throughout the course of the century" (Brainard). The aristocratic elite had a number of legal privileges that were inherited and protected by the government. The Catholic and Protestant churches had a strong influence on individuals from all walks of life. Modern individual rights were largely unheard of, and a person's lot in life was determined by their place in the social order. Land ownership was only by inheritance or through the King's wishes (Brainard).

Clothing in the 18th century was significantly different from today. For example, dress clothing went with a widely different idea of accessories and conventions that did informal clothing. In 1775, a woman's dress clothing would often consist of a pair of panniers (exaggerated side hoops) that supported her wide skirt, while less formal clothing often simply had a narrower skirt size and did not require hoops. Caps were commonly worn by women, and were made of lace, cotton or linen. Cloaks were common for both women and men at the time, and women had a number of jacket styles including the caraco for informal wear. Stays were the essential undergarment for women in the 18th century, and consisted of long boning, and eventually evolved into corsets. (Colonial Williamsburg)

Men's fashions in the 1700s were also significantly different than today's dress. Up until the early 19th century, most men wore breeches as their lower garment. They were worn by all levels of societal classes, and made of many fabrics, including silk, leather, cotton, linen, knits, and cottons. In the early 18th century, long waistcoats and coats often hid breeches, while by the mid-18th century breeches became tighter and waistcoats became shorter. Waistcoats (known today as a vest) were common, and often as the most elaborate part of a man's clothing, could even be adorned with tassels, or silver or gold lace. Undergarments were mostly composed of a knee-length shirt, but knee-length underdrawers were also worn by some men. Men commonly wore stockings, made of silk, cotton, linen, or even wool. A stock was the most common form of formal neckwear, and was made of white pleated linen. Wigs were one of the most important male fashion accessories of the 18gh century, and by the mid-1700s wigs were available to most levels of society. They were made of human, goat, horse or yak hair, and became less common among the young and fashionable in the last part of the century (Colonial Williamsburg).

During the 18th century, children's clothing gradually began to be less patterned on constricting adult clothes. Swaddling infants decreased in popularity, and loose clothing became popular for children of both sexes (Colonial Williamsburg).

Home furnishings in the 18th century ran a wide gamut, from the extremely ornate furnishings of the aristocracy to the rough-hewn and practical furnishings of peasants. Many 1 ith century furniture styles became memorable for their designers, and their names are familiar today. They include Chippendale, Sheraton, and Hepplewhite, while names like Robert Adam were more familiar for combinations of furniture, accessories and indoor and outdoor architecture. In the United States, the Early Colonial style of simple, homemade furniture was in vogue. This style used native wood, pewter, and homemade fabrics. In Georgian mansions, the Late Colonial formal style was popular, while European provincial styles were used in Pennsylvania's German population (AllRefer).

Food in the 1700s was largely based on the availability of game and agriculture from the local area. Meat was an especially important component of the diet, and venison was the meat of those of the highest social strata. Meat quality was often poor, and of poor odor. Fruit was largely limited to the wealthy, and many people worried about uncooked fruit. Cheese became more available during this time, and sugar was popular as well. Milk was usually watered down or sour, and tea was popular but highly expensive. Coffee was also popular, as were puddings and syllabub (a sweet beverage), and gruel (which was simply boiled oatmeal with butter) (Porter).


Born in 1688, Alexander Pope is a well-known 18th century writer perhaps most famous for his works The Rape of the Lock, An Essay on Criticism, and a translation of Homer's Iliad. He was well-known for his controversial stands, and often attacked other writers, and his satire was well-known. The Rape of the Lock is simply the story of a young woman who has a lock of hair stolen, despite the intimation of the title. He uses literary allusion in the poem, largely making it a sometimes seemingly bizarre writing on a trivial theft in the style of a great epic poem. In sum, "Pope will still stand out, not perhaps as a master-genius, but as the typical man of letters and as the great representative English poet of the first half of the eighteenth century" (Malaspina Great Books).

Samuel Pepys was born in 1633 in England. Pepys is known as a vain man, which may have spurred his writing of a diary. Further, "As he pursued happiness and was proud of his achievements, the writing down of events involving him gave him great pleasure, the re-reading even more so" (www.pepys.info).While the motivation for his diaries may have been selfish, their literary merit is well-known, as they have given a good glimpse of the world of his time. In short, "For us he is best known for his less than ten years of personal diaries, at once personal and historic, characterful and literary" (www.pepys.info).

Jonathan Swift, the Irish novelist, is best known for his novel Gulliver's Travels. Born in 1667, Swift was an important literary figure in London. He was also involved in the political life of the times, and often spoke out on social and religious issues. While Swift remains well-known…[continue]

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