Critical Background - Critical Background/Contexts for...

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Critical Background/Contexts for Phillis Wheatley * Her importance is founded upon being the first African American to publish a book in 1773. Her work is highly influenced by the tenets of Neoclassicism, and especially poets such as Alexander Pope, whose heroic couplet form she mimicked. Historically, Neoclassicism can be put in the following literary periods: For the sake of convenience the Neoclassic period can be divided into three relatively coherent parts: the Restoration Age (1660-1700), in which Milton, Bunyan, and Dryden were the dominant influences; the Augustan Age (1700- 1750), in which Pope was the central poetic figure, while Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett were presiding over the sophistication of the novel; and the Age of Samuel Johnson (1750-1798). The subject matter and characteristics of Neoclassicism can be articulated in the following way: To a certain extent Neoclassicism represented a reaction against the optimistic, exuberant, and enthusiastic Renaissance view of man as a being fundamentally good and possessed of an infinite potential for spiritual and intellectual growth.
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