Novels and Dramas



The 18th century witnessed the growth of a reading public, mainly consisting of the educated middle class, which provided a market the novelists served. This middle class had numerous reasons to feel dissatisfied, be it they were heavily taxed, treated as lower in rank than the nobility (although many nobles were heavily indebted to members of the middle class), remnants of the feudal system often proved obstacles in their economic activities.
Novels provided escapist sceneries, in which a better world could be described, criticism could be formulated without directly attacking the present situation and/or policy. Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau wrote novels, of which Voltaire's Candide (1759) and Rousseau's Emile (1762) reached lasting fame. Even Catherine the Great of Russia tried herself in writing novels.
In 1772, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing published Emilia Galotti, the story of a burgher's daughter who is abducted by the absolute ruler of an Italian town, forced to live in his palace, as a maitresse; she commits suicide.
In 1775, Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais published Le barbier de Seville ou la predication inutile, which in 1778 he reedited under the title Le mariage de Figaro. The story of a nobleman, the girl he loves, and the barber whom the nobleman attempts to use as an intermediary. The barber turns out to be wittier than the nobleman and gets the girl; Mozart later turned the story into an opera.
In 1779, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing published Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise), the title hero being a Jew in the time of the crusades.
These dramas feature the topics of the injustice of arbitrary despotic rule, of a feudal class society, of religious toleration, implying the equality of men, individual freedom, the necessity to emancipate oppressed minorities. Nobels and dramas thus went far beyond mere entertainment, spreading ideas of the enlightenment in an entertaining way, and preparing the changes which came about during the French Revolution.






EXTERNAL
FILES
Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, from Theatre History
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, from Imagi-Nation; from Books and Writers
DOCUMENTS Online edition of Rousseau's Emile, from ILT, Engl. trsl.
Online edition of Voltaire's Candide, from eserver, Engl. trsl.
Online edition of Lessing's Emilia Galotti, from Projekt Gutenberg, in German
Online edition of Lessing, Nathan der Weise, from Projekt Gutenberg, in German; English translation from Project Gutenberg
REFERENCE



This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 21st 2003, last revised on November 14th 2004

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