ISSN: 1086-6523


MacLean, Gerald, ed. Culture and Society in the Stuart Restoration: Literature, Drama, History. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1995; xvi + 292 pp. $59.95; $19.95 pap.

Reviewed by Marc Geisler
December 15, 1995

An "English" Restoration?

    Gerald MacLean has collected thirteen admirable essays by literary critics and historians that collectively take up the question of what makes Restoration culture and society different from earlier and later periods. For Miltonists engaged in the study of the poet's radicalism and politics, the book should prove of great interest not only because two substantial entries address him directly, but also because many of the essays challenge long cherished notions about the relationship between history and literature during the Restoration. In one sense, the title itself provokes questions about authorship and history. Did Charles II and James II create the Restoration, making it a "Stuart" Restoration, or were other parties and influences more significant factors? Perhaps against the expectations set into play by the title, the precis argues that during the period "religious and royal authority gave way before the advance of a secular literary culture geared to the demands of a developing commercial and imperial nation." Furthermore, "the Restoration produced the concept of a national literature crucial to a new nationalist cultural enterprise" (i). In his often quoted study of the origins and spread of nationalism, Benedict Anderson has connected the rise of print culture with nationalist aspirations, but he and most other historians treat nationalism as a phenomenon arising out of the French Revolution of 1789. Could the "English" Restoration be the birthplace of nationalism? Were religious and dynastic forms of identity superseded by national identity? Was the Restoration predominately secular, commercial, and imperial in its orientation?

    Such are the provocative claims made by Gerald MacLean in his introduction to the collection. Underpinning his view of the Restoration is his sense that recent historical research has insisted correctly on the continuing influence of the Civil War: "The traditional scholarly emphasis on the self-consciously neo- classical style in conversation, theatrical staging, music, oil- portraiture, and clothing, initially introduced by members of Charles's Court to London and thence to the nation at large, has shifted toward study of those continuing forms of resistance, dissent, and control, of contending political and religious languages and practices, that were inherited from the 1640s and 1650s" (4). Because Royalist efforts to reimpose order failed at least as often as they succeeded, questions of national identity could be discussed and disseminated outside the institutions of Church and Crown. Specifically, the press, which first tasted freedom in the early 1640s, continued to act as a conduit for the creation of a public sphere dominated by commercial and imperial concerns. In MacLean's view, this public press "produced an irreverent, secularizing, commercial, literary culture" capable of ridiculing political leaders (14). He provides a brief reading of texts by the Stuart propagandists Robert May and Ralph Astell to support his contention that "the agency of a literary culture is central to the formation of the new nation state" (19).

    Although the guiding purpose of the collection seems strong, the evidence appears to be somewhat weak. It is strange that MacLean does not cite or discuss the one major study that situates the birth of modern nationalism in England--Liah Greenfeld's Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Indeed, Greenfeld would have us believe that secular nationalism developed much earlier, coming into full fruition during the Civil War. Surprisingly, there is only one essay in the collection that directly supports MacLean's thesis, leaving one with the impression that the evidence for his characterization of the period is not adequate. The essay in question, however, is very persuasive, making one wish for more like it. In a superb analysis of why public opinion swayed away from support of the Anglo-Dutch war (1672-4), Steven C. A. Pincus argues that "English moderates shifted their foreign policy orientation not because they feared the revival of Catholicism at home, but because they were well aware that the struggle for European mastery had begun" (266). Concern about England's ability to compete economically, Pincus argues, weighed much more heavily on the public's mind than religious conviction or empathy for the King.

    Perhaps as a testimony to the editor and the generally high quality of the essays in the volume, many of the contributions do not necessarily support the collection's guiding hypothesis, but rather serve to complicate the status of national identity in the period. What most of the essays do support is the continuing influence of the previous two decades. For example, John Patrick Montano finds that the production of the Lord Mayor's Shows of the 1670s were part of a Royalist strategy to counter the continuing fragmentation of consensus resulting from the Commonwealth years. The success of these shows, which "helped create an increasing number of adherents for the Court," provides evidence that dynastic identity was still very much alive and kicking (51). Even though the pageantry was eventually overshadowed by the end of the century, Montano's essay recalls a period of competing loyalties, rather than a clear endorsement of nationalist ideology. Likewise, Andrew R. Walking's analysis of Tate and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas suggests that the revival of the Court masque was part of a complex political discourse that both supported James II's right to rule and criticized his Catholic leanings. Turning to the public theater, Nancy Klein Maguire shows that John Crowne's Henry VI "uncovers the problem of being a 'Tory' during the religious and political crisis of 1678-83" (70). Although she calls Crowne "a typical ambivalent Tory," willing to voice opposition to the Court, she also emphasizes that he was consistent in his loyalty to the King (91). In a splendid essay devoted to "Pepys and the private parts of monarchy," James Grantham Turner argues "that the construction of sexuality, under a priapic monarch, breaks down the dichotomy of private and public" (95). If this is the case, then it is difficult to see how a press fascinated with all aspects of sexual conduct could have inhabited a public sphere distinctly set apart from the monarch or his government. Where can we locate the launching of a nationalist agenda, if not from the press?

    The two essays focusing on Milton give much the same picture. While it may have been true that the events of the 1640s and 1650s weighed heavily on Milton's mind, it was not so clear that his publications were part of a literary culture of commercial imperialism. In a meticulous comparison of the writings of Roundhead politicians of the 1660s and Samson Agonistes, Blair Worden finds many parallels supporting his view that Milton's play was probably written after the Restoration. The trials of regicides in 1662, and the literature following them, were full of language and concerns very similar to those adopted by Milton. During the course of his reading, Worden also refers to texts written during the 1640s and 1650s, making the case that even after the Restoration Milton remained connected to a community of men devoted to the good old cause. Even though "by 1660 he looks to have become a party of one," Milton never allowed his criticism of the fellow members of his cause to question his basic loyalty to the "commonwealthmen" or republicans who helped make the regicide a reality (133). At the same time, the language Milton employs to talk about the nation carries all the same religious inflections found in the likes of Edmund Ludlow, Algernon Sidney, and Sir Henry Vane. It is unlikely that any of these men thought of the nation as a secular enterprise.

    The competing loyalties of the period are nicely captured by Steven Z. Zwicker, who focuses on what he sees as a literary contest fought between Milton and Dryden. Underneath a sense of admiration for Milton, Dryden struggled to eradicate his predecessor's republican values: "For Dryden to prepare an adaptation of Milton's epic for the marriage festivities of the Duke of York . . . is not simply to neglect the ideology of his great original or to indulge in a recondite form of ridicule; it is utterly to deny its spiritual and ideological authority" (156). For Miltonists the most interesting facet of Zwicker's argument is probably his contention that Paradise Regained was crafted in part to address the revival of heroic drama among Court poets. According to him, Milton was anxious about the rise of the heroic drama, which Dryden defended so eloquently. In response Milton created one of his own that challenged the celebration of Court taste found in texts like The Siege of Rhodes and Mustapha.

    Also of interest to students of Milton in this book is a cluster of essays on women writers. Trying to set Eve among her contemporaries has proven to be a difficult task, but these essays shed some important light on the status of women writers in the Restoration. In a significant contribution to scholarship on Hannah Wolley, Elaine Hobby recalls that The Gentlewomans Companion, with its "autobiographical" and "personal" sections, was not written by Wolley but by a male hack writer. For Hobby this is important because it helps us to distinguish what was important to male and female writers of the period. Male writers tended to rehash the conventions of the "advice-book" genre, while women writers focused more on status and "the promise of upward mobility" (190). In a different vein, N. H. Keeble shows how Royalist women writers produced autobiographical texts that "ironize their narrators' patriarchal commitment" (216). Even while these women praise the return of the King and a restored patriarchal order, "they nevertheless create from the exceptional experiences of the Interregnum years wayward heroines whose transgression of the bounds of the 'naturally' womanly, though in the loyal service of patriarchy, contradicts its sustaining ideology" (216). Thus, in Royalist women writers, we find more evidence of the continuing influence of the Civil War and of conflicting loyalties in the period. Finally, Moira Ferguson takes us to Barbados and colonialist America, where Quaker women struggled to make sense of the relationship between slavery and their religious beliefs. In the writings of Alice Curwen, Elizabeth Hooton, and Joan Vokins, Ferguson finds the beginnings of an anti-slavery discourse based on a shared sense of persecution.

    What we have in this book is an intelligently edited and provocative collection of essays that forces us to reconsider what we mean when we speak of the "Restoration." Whether or not a modern secular nation was born in this period has yet to be determined, but these essays serve as an excellent starting point for those interested in the relationship between literature and nationalism in the early modern period.

    Marc Geisler
    Western Washington University

Library of Congress Information

Title:         Culture and society in the Stuart Restoration :
                  literature, drama, history / edited by Gerald
Published:     Cambridge [England] ; New York, N.Y. : Cambridge
                  University Press, 1995.
Description:   xvi, 292 p. ; 24 cm.
LC Call No.:   PR437 .L55 1995
Dewey No.:     942.06/6 20
ISBN:          0521416051
               052147566X (pbk.)
Notes:         Includes bibliographical references and index.
Subjects:      English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 --
                  History and criticism.
               Literature and society -- Great Britain -- History --
                  18th century.
               Great Britain -- History -- Restoration, 1660-1688.
               Great Britain -- Civilization -- 17th century.
Other authors: MacLean, Gerald M., 1952-
Control No.:   94019821