From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
However, Western historians may sometimes specifically define the 18th century otherwise for the purposes of their work. For example, the "short" 18th century may be defined as 1715–1789, denoting the period of time between the death of Louis XIV of France and the start of the French Revolution with an emphasis on directly interconnected events.
To historians who expand the century to include larger historical movements, the "long" 18th century may run from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the battle of Waterloo in 1815 or even later. During the 18th century, the Enlightenment culminated in the French and American revolutions. Philosophy and science increased in prominence. Philosophers were dreaming about a better age without the Christian fundamentalism of earlier centuries. This dream turned into a nightmare during the terror of Maximilien Robespierre in the early 1790s. At first, the monarchies of Europe embraced enlightenment ideals, but with the French revolution, they were on the side of the counterrevolution.
Great Britain became a major power worldwide with the defeat of France in the Americas in the 1760s and the conquest of large parts of India. However, Britain lost much of her North American colonies after the American revolution. The industrial revolution started in Britain around the 1770s. Despite its modest beginnings in the 18th century, it would radically change human society and the geology of the surface of the earth.
- Enlightenment, an 18th century counterculture
- the roots of European exploitation
- Venus in the 18th century
This movement turned its attention toward landscape and nature as well as the human figure and the supremacy of natural order above mankind's will. There is a pantheist philosophy (see Spinoza and Hegel) within this conception that opposes Enlightenment ideals by seeing mankind's destiny in a more tragic or pessimistic light. The idea that human beings are not above the forces of Nature is in contradiction to Ancient Greek and Renaissance ideals where mankind was above all things and owned his fate. This thinking led romantic artists to depict the sublime, ruined churches, shipwrecks, massacres and madness.
- All in all, literature was not so widespread as in the following century, since paper was still quite expensive, see cheap paper.
Literature of the 18th century refers to world literature produced during the 18th century. The 18th century saw the development of the modern novel as literary genre, in fact many candidates for the first novel in English date from this period. Subgenres of the novel during the 18th century were the epistolary novel, the sentimental novel, "histories", the gothic novel and the libertine novel. 18th Century Europe started in the Age of Enlightenment and gradually moved towards Romanticism. In the visual arts, it was the period of Neoclassicism.
Although the modern novel as literary genre solidified, literacy rates were still very low as there was no primary education for the common man. As Resa L. Dudovitz notes in The Myth of Superwoman, "a novel which sold well in the eighteenth century - and even the most successful book rarely sold more than a few thousand copies - did so within a fairly closed circle of readers, many of whom as writers also participated in deciding the prevailing criteria of literary excellence, [...], by the mid-nineteenth century cheaper editions and improved access to reading material through subscriptions and in France, through reading rooms, pushed sales of a popular novel as high as 10,000 copies. Although critics continued to function as the arbiters of taste, the critical elite could no longer claim literature to be their exclusive property."
The English novel became a popular form in the 18th century, with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740). Another very popular form was the Gothic novel (The Castle of Otranto, 1764) and its European equivalents the roman noir in France and the Schauerroman in Germany.
There was already literature of subversion such as that from Voltaire and Sade and other libertine writers. In the United Kingdom there was the renegade publisher Edmund Curll known for his radical pamphlets and bawdy books.
A good introduction to this period, one which describes the popular literature of that era in France very well, is The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France.
Films about the 18th century