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10 Best 17th Century Authors: Discover Historical Literature Today!

Discover our guide with the best 17th century authors! Take a step back in time and delve into this fascinating time of literature.

From Don Quixote to astronomical texts, the 1600s were a time of challenging the status quo and taking bold steps for the ten best 17th century authors. Authors were often severely reprimanded for challenging the views held by the government and church.

Many found that their willingness to speak out resulted in punishments ranging from house arrest to political exile. We’ve gathered a list of the movers and shakers from the 1600s whose influence in the literary world can still be felt today. If you’re interested in historical reading, check out the best books for American history !

Here Are The 10 Best 17th Century Authors

1. john locke, 1632-1704, 2. sir isaac newton, 1642-1727, 3. jonathan swift, 1667-1745, 4. pierre corneille, 1606-1684, 5. john milton, 1608-1674, 6. ihara saikaku, 1642-1693, 7. galileo galilei, 1564-1642, 8. miguel de cervantes, 1547-1616, 9. margaret cavendish, 1623-1673, 10. william wycherley, 1641-1716.

John Locke

John Locke  was an author, philosopher, and physician known today as the father of liberalism. An Enlightenment thinker, many today believe that Locke’s psychological theories on the ideas of identity and self were heavily influential in the development of the idea of consciousness. 

Locke’s most well-known works include “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1689), “Two Treatises of Government” (1689), and “A Letter Concerning Toleration” (1689). Locke believed that people should tolerate the beliefs of others even if they disagree with them and that violence should be avoided at all costs.

“The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where this is no law, there is no freedom.” John Locke, Of the State of Nature

Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration (with an Introduction by Henry Morley)

  • Locke, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 242 Pages - 01/05/2016 (Publication Date) - Digireads.com Publishing (Publisher)

Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton  was an alchemist, theologian, author, physicist, astronomer, and mathematician known for discovering the laws of motion and other rules of the natural world, including Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, the trajectories of comets, and predictions of tides. 

Newton’s most influential works include Principia (1687), which described the laws of motion and cemented the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun (instead of the sun revolving around the Earth, as the idea of heliocentricity had been widely accepted at the time), as well as Opticks (1704), in which he discussed his discoveries about light. Looking for more authors to explore? Check out our guide to the best 9th century authors . Or you can find different authors from other centuries by searching the keyword “century” in our search bar.

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Isaac Newton,  Memoirs of Newton

The Principia: The Authoritative Translation and Guide: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy

  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Newton, Sir Isaac (Author)
  • 987 Pages - 02/05/2016 (Publication Date) - University of California Press (Publisher)

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift  was an Irish author, poet, satirist, and political pamphlet writer. He’s known as a satire expert who published nearly all of his work under pen names, including M.B. Drapier, Isaac Bickerstaff, and Lemuel Gulliver. He also published some of his works anonymously. In his early 20s, the author began working as a personal assistant to Sir William Temple, an English diplomat.

According to many accounts, Swift was unhappy in this position and often butted heads with his boss. His first published work, The Battle of the Books , was written in response to Temple’s upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1690). Following the death of Temple, Swift wrote his memoirs, which were met with opposition from his family due to the blunt honesty Swift used in his writing. His most well-known work, Gulliver’s Travels , was published in 1726.

“Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.” Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift Collection: Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, The Battle of the Books, A Tale of a Tub, The History of Martin, & Other Essays

  • Swift, Jonathan (Author)
  • 362 Pages - 05/06/2020 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

Pierre Corneille

Pierre Corneille  was known for his French tragedies. His most well-known work is 1637’s Le Cid , a play about a Spanish warrior. Corneille’s writing career wasn’t what he expected from his life, before writing, he studied law but did not find success as a lawyer. 

Le Cid is known as both a tragedy and a comedy, and it was well-received by audiences of the time. Some viewers had issues with the play, as it did not follow the expectation of the time that the events of a play should take place within the same 24-hour time frame and setting). Some also criticized the play for being immoral. Corneille struggled with the public criticism he received and chose to step away from the public eye.

“We never taste happiness in perfection, our most fortunate successes are mixed with sadness.” Pierre Corneille

Le Cid: Pierre Corneille,texte complet suivie d'une biographie et résumé du Cid (French Edition)

  • Corneille, Pierre (Author)
  • French (Publication Language)
  • 139 Pages - 05/02/2022 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

John Milton

John Milton  was best known for his 1667 poem Paradise Lost , a free verse epic poem that delved into religious issues, including the fall of man. According to many literary critics today, Paradise Lost is one of the greatest written works of all time. 

Born in London, Milton began his life as a musical composer in the arts. After recognizing his talent, the musician’s father hired a tutor for him who began to influence Milton’s radical religious writings. Throughout his life, Milton studied theology, history, literature, politics, science, and philosophy and kept track of his learnings in a book that’s now cemented in history at the British Library. The author spoke Italian, Hebrew, Old English, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and French.

“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.” John Milton, Areopagitica

Areopagitica and Other Writings

  • Milton, John (Author)
  • 384 Pages - 01/26/2016 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

Ihara Saikaku

Ihara Saikaku  is the creator of the floating word form of Japanese prose. He got his start by studying haiku poetry with Matsunaga Teitoku. The poet was known for his ability to create poetry with extreme speed, famously completing 16,000 haiku stanzas within 24 hours. 

Saikaku had a recognizable style of writing that used colloquial language to discuss life in Japan. One of the artist’s most well-recognized pieces of literature is the 1975 piece, which he wrote after his wife’s death, entitled Haikai Single Day Thousand Vers e. Following this work, Saikaku became interested in writing novels. He was one of the most popular writers in Japan in the 17th century and is still praised for his literary contributions that influence fiction writing in Japan today.

“The wind may have no body to call its own, and yet it echoes through the pine forests. On the other hand, a flower, as long as it has its colors, need not say a word to make itself felt.” Ihara Saikaku

The Great Mirror of Male Love

  • Saikaku, Ihara (Author)
  • 384 Pages - 04/01/1991 (Publication Date) - Stanford University Press (Publisher)

Galileo Galilei

Born Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei,  Galileo Galilei  was a multi-talented phenom whose name has become synonymous with his brilliance. The writer, polymath, engineer, physicist, and astronomer is known as the father of modern science, promoting ideas about speed, velocity, inertia, projectile motion, and pendulums. 

Galileo’s assertion that the Earth revolved around the sun challenged commonly held beliefs. The Catholic church and respected astronomers believed the inverse was true, as they believed it contradicted the Bible. The astronomer defended his truth with his 1632 publication Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems .

The publication of this document resulted in Galileo losing the support of Pope Urban VIII, who had previously supported the scientist’s differing views. Galileo was forced to spend his remaining years under house arrest. While confined to his home, he wrote the book Two New Sciences in 1638, which detailed many of his discoveries over the decades prior.

“Nature is relentless and unchangeable, and it is indifferent as to whether its hidden reasons and actions are understandable to man or not.” Galileo Galilei

Sidereus Nuncius, or The Sidereal Messenger

  • Galilei, Galileo (Author)
  • 152 Pages - 01/19/2016 (Publication Date) - University of Chicago Press (Publisher)

Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes  is best known for his timeless classic Don Quixote (1605), which many literary critics herald as the first modern novel. While Cervantes’ work is well-heralded today, he did not have immediate financial success with his writing. The author wrote more than 20 plays, but they were not well-received by the audiences of the time. The success of Don Quixote was life-changing for Cervantes. 

There was high public demand for Cervantes to write a sequel to Don Quixote . The second part of the novel was published in 1915. While the two books share a similar style, readers tend to find the second volume more complex, while the first version is more comedic. 

“One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world will be better for this.” Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote

  • Cervantes, Miguel de (Author)
  • 424 Pages - 05/03/2012 (Publication Date) - Insignia Publishing (Publisher)

Margaret Cavendish

Margaret Cavendish  was born to a royal family in England when most women were not formally educated. Cavendish attended private school and became a natural philosopher. At a time when most female writers either wrote anonymously or used a pen name, Cavendish chose to attribute her works to herself. The philosopher’s first publication was Poems and Fancies (1653), which explored science, philosophy, and art. Throughout the book, Cavendish repeatedly apologizes to her readers if they aren’t happy with her ideas. 

Cavendish published an autobiography entitled A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life (1656)  at age 33. The writer is seen as one of the first philosophers to propose a new, anti-scientific take on the world, going up against the ideas that prevailed at the time. Cavendish had to include testaments from her brother-in-law and husband that she wrote her works herself, as many people in the literary world at the time did not believe a woman could write at Cavendish’s level.

“A rude nature is worse than a brute nature by so much more as man is better than a beast: and those that are of civil natures and genteel dispositions are as much nearer to celestial creatures as those that are rude and cruel are to devils.” Margaret Cavendish

The Blazing World and Other Writings: Penguin Classics

  • Audible Audiobook
  • Margaret Cavendish (Author) - Abigail Thaw (Narrator)
  • 07/02/2020 (Publication Date) - Penguin Audio (Publisher)

William Wycherley

Image description: A painted portrait of William Wycherley. He is looking down with a thoughtful expression. He has long, thick, dark curly hair and is wearing a large brown overshirt. 

William Wycherley  was an English playwright best known for The Plain Dealer and The Country Wife . Wycherley’s plays were highly regarded as scandalous and were restricted in many areas. The Roman Catholic writer was known for his straightforward, take-charge attitude that was reflected in his writing. In addition to providing the English public with entertainment, Wycherly was also known for his military service in Ireland and his service to the country as a diplomat to Spain.

The Country Wife was published around 1673 and followed the story of a woman who was getting to know the city of London. The fast-paced nature of the play and the mature jokes were shocking for the time.  The Plain Dealer follows the story of a sailor and his girlfriend, who leaves him for his best friend. If you want to explore other authors from different centuries, you might want to check out our list of the best 3rd century authors . You can discover more authors from different centuries by using our search bar and typing in “century”!

“Bluster, sputter, question, cavil; but be sure your argument be intricate enough to confound the court.” William Wycherley

Classic Radio Theatre: The Country Wife (Dramatised)

  • William Wycherley (Author) - Maggie Smith, Jonathan Pryce, John Duttine (Narrators)
  • 02/24/2010 (Publication Date) - BBC Audio (Publisher)

Looking for audible recommendations? Check out the best history books on audible !

famous writers 17th century

Amanda has an M.S.Ed degree from the University of Pennsylvania in School and Mental Health Counseling and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. She has experience writing magazine articles, newspaper articles, SEO-friendly web copy, and blog posts.

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English 101: English Literature

Introduction to 17th & 18th-century literature: major authors and works.

If the above player doesn't work, try this direct link .

After you watch the video and know the material, click HERE for the quiz.

A lot can happen in 200 years, as you'll see on our lesson that introduces you to British literature of the 17th and 18th centuries. Go from Shakespeare to the invention of the novel to the introduction of a prominent dictionary in our video below!

200 Years of Literature

Two hundred years of literature - no big deal, right? As you might have guessed, during the 17th and 18th centuries, a whole lot happened in the world of English lit. It would be impossible to cover everything that went down in this intro lesson, but we're going to take a quick tour of the broad movements that defined these two centuries of the written word in the U.K.

If you, like me, struggle with what '17th century' means as far as what the years actually were, 17th century: 1600s; 18th century: 1700s. I mix those up all the time; let's just put that out there right now.

Basically, this period of English literature can be broken down into three smaller eras, each of which has their own little sub-eras, so take these designations loosely. It's not like they're set in stone, but they're just meant to give a sense of context. So, today we're going to be looking at:

  • The Renaissance - or really, the back end of it. The early 17th century is also known as the 'Jacobean era' in England.
  • The Caroline, Interregnum and Restoration periods that filled up the latter half of the 17th century. By the way, these names basically just refer to what was going on politically at the time. ('Caroline' is the Latin word for 'Charles,' and King Charles I had an on-again/off-again relationship with the throne during this time.)
  • The Neoclassicism of the 18th century. The first half of this century is also known as the 'Augustan era'.

So, alright, let's dive right in!

The Renaissance

We're not going to spend a whole lot of time on the Renaissance since we've already got a few lessons covering that period and its main authors in detail. But we can't rightly talk about the 17th century of British literature without mentioning William Shakespeare , the biggest name in the field. He's the big daddy - the big cheese. He wrote plays and poems that were immensely popular, and we've got videos that cover a lot of them. Some of the most important pieces that he wrote are the stand-outs, like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet . If you study literature, he's often the figure to which all other writers are compared - so, totally important guy.

Of course, he wasn't the only writer to make a name for himself in the early 17th century. There was also his frenemy, Ben Jonson , a fellow dramatist and poet. Jonson's most famous for satirical stage productions that illuminated human flaws via darkly comedic plots. Some famous Ben Jonson works include - and this one, I say 'Vol-pone', I've heard 'Vol-poh-nay', you call Volpone what you will, The Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair . Jonson was also known for his masques , or elaborate stage plays produced in the royal court, kind of like the ancient version of a Lady Gaga concert.

One other important part of literary culture in the early 17th century was the appearance of metaphysical poets , like John Donne . These poets were extremely clever and crafty with their words, but they also really meditate on some heavy subjects, like 'What is religion?' and 'What is love?' Their poetry is marked by their intricate phrasing and extended metaphors; if it helps, you can think of them as poetic show-offs; although that shouldn't detract from the fact that they were often talking about really important things.

Before we moving on from the Renaissance, let's just mention a couple other cultural landmarks from that time. A little bit prior to the 17th century, the printing press kicked into high gear in England, and this allowed literature to be mass-produced for the first time, and that's huge - so it's not just available to the elite. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the printing press was the Bible. In particular, the King James Bible was completed in 1611; this was more or less the definitive English-language Bible and a massively important piece of literature at the time. The Bible's influence is everywhere in English literature; it's almost impossible to overstate how influential it is.

Also, other disciplines, like the sciences, really began to jell during this period, and that was led by major thinkers and essayists, like Francis Bacon, whose work brought about the scientific method - which hopefully you're familiar with from science classes. So, we owe a lot to Bacon.

Caroline/Interregnum/Restoration

A lot of the trends from the late Renaissance continued into the latter part of the 17th century, known as the Caroline, Interregnum and Restoration periods. For example, metaphysical poetry kept going and got one of its most famous practitioners in someone named Andrew Marvell , whose poem 'To His Coy Mistress' is really one of the most celebrated in our language. You might be familiar with the opening couplet of 'To His Coy Mistress.' It goes:

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, Lady, were no crime .

He's basically saying, hey, we don't have forever, but let's get together while we can - so, he's smooth. It's a great poem; you should really check it out.

Another important thing to remember here is Restoration literature , particularly Restoration comedy , is so-named because it's what resulted after King Charles II was restored to the English throne after almost two decades of boring Puritan rule. Restoration comedy is marked by its incredible sexual explicitness; it would even make some modern audiences blush. This was also the first time in history that there were female actors (or you know, 'actresses') and female playwrights. The times, they were a-changing. We've got a whole lesson on Restoration comedy you can watch if you want to learn more about this crazy time in English theatrical history, and I recommend you do.

However, in the later half of the 17th century, some of the biggest splashes were being made by three guys who were all conveniently named John, and we're going to talk about each of them. We've got:

  • John Milton
  • John Dryden
  • John Bunyan

Of the three, I'd say John Milton is the big one; you've probably heard his name before. When it comes to English lit, he's usually placed as the second most important writer, after Shakespeare, so he was a big deal. Again, we've got a whole lesson on Milton if you want to know more about him, but here are the basics: He was a noted essayist, poet and dramatist who produced popular but controversial work leading up to and during the Puritan regime (during which he actually held a political office). Exemplifying his work from that period is an essay called 'Areopagitica' (you can read it on the screen; that's not a word I'm familiar with). It's a 1644 tract about the dangers of censorship that helped develop the concept of freedom of the press. So, that's huge.

But what he's probably most known for, and what you've probably heard in conjunction with Milton's name, is the poem Paradise Lost from 1667. It's a Homeric-style epic that dramatizes the story of Satan's rebellion from God and the fall of Man. Maybe that doesn't sound that appealing but it's a kickin' poem. You should really check it out. It's one of the most celebrated works of literature in the English language; it's long - it's over 10,000 lines long, but it's really worth the investment of time. It's fascinating and also another huge influence on literature.

But let's not neglect the other Johns. As important as John Milton was to long-form poetry, John Dryden was also the most celebrated poet of his age, to the point that some literary circles referred to Restoration England as 'the Age of Dryden.' While you may or may not have heard of his individual works, he racked up a couple accomplishments that are really hard to ignore. First, he was the first guy to formally hold the position of England's 'poet laureate' - so, good on him. Second, he established the heroic couplet as the dominant form of English verse. For an example of a heroic couplet, take these two lines from Mac Flecknoe , his celebrated satire:

All human things are subject to decay,

And when fate summons, monarchs must obey

So basically, heroic couplets are just pairs of rhyming lines in iambic pentameter. You can see this used all throughout English literature, from John Keats to Alexander Pope to even modern pop music (which some might consider literature - not me, but some). Anyway, Dryden's influence is hard to downplay; there are heroic couplets everywhere.

Last, we'll talk about John Bunyan , one of those Puritans we mentioned earlier - who is not Paul Bunyan, no matter what I say. Bunyan wrote one of the major examples of religious literature, The Pilgrim's Progress , in 1678. This is a lengthy allegory in which the lead character, conveniently named Christian, tries to make his way through the world while fending off characters like Beelzebub, Lord Hate-good and Atheist. This may not be the most subtle piece of work ever written, but it was incredibly popular and has never gone out of print since its release. It's also one of the most prototypical examples of the early novel. It's over 100,000 words and split into two parts with no chapter breaks, so it's not quite the literary form we know yet, but that will come quickly. We have a video on The Pilgrim's Progress if you want to learn about it in more detail.

Neoclassicism

One of the most defining features of 18th-century British literature is the rise of the novel . During this time, authors like Daniel Defoe (who wrote Robinson Crusoe ) and Jonathan Swift (who wrote Gulliver's Travels ) began to write in the lengthy, chapter-divided form that today we consider the standard for consuming literature. Obviously, though, this standardization wasn't always the case. What happened? Well, in addition to writers like Bunyan, Defoe and Swift paving the way (all three had serious successes with their works), the Licensing Act of 1737 encouraged more controversial thinkers, who would typically write plays to fire up the masses, to instead turn to novels. This was a huge act of censorship that neutered drama for some time in England, but it ended up working out okay for people who enjoy reading novels, like myself.

Besides novels, poetry was still going strong in the 18th century. One of the major figures working in the form was one of my favorites, Alexander Pope , a noted satirist and classicist who produced popular works, like The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad , mock epics that scrutinized what he saw as the failings of his time by casting them in a very serious, heroic light a la Milton or Homer. Really funny guy; his stuff is great. Check out Pope.

One other important literary figure of the time is Samuel Johnson , a celebrated essayist, poet and critic who helped define and push the boundaries of English literature with his work - like an influential annotated edition of Shakespeare's plays and, most importantly, one of the first major dictionaries, simply titled A Dictionary of the English Language . Who needs something fancier? In fact, until the famed Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1895, Johnson's was the preferred dictionary of choice among writers and scholars. So, that's a really impressive contribution.

A few other aspects of 18th-century literary culture began to look quite a bit like our own. Also, in the mid-1700s, writer John Newberry made children's literature a popular thing or a real thing that people took seriously. (You may be familiar with the children's literature award now named after him, the Newberry Medal.) Finally, during this period an illustrator named William Hogarth pioneered sequential art - what we now refer to today as comics or graphic novels. Although in his time this much more resembled political cartoons or newspaper strips than the graphic novels you may think of today, like Maus or Persepolis.

Lesson Summary

So that's 200 years of literature condensed down into just a few minutes. Of course, there's a whole lot I wasn't able to cover, and there are a lot of lessons to help fill in the gaps, but let's just do a basic recap. We divided these 200 years into three major periods:

  • The Renaissance , which really started in the 16th century and took up roughly the first third of the 17th, depending on who you're talking to. During this period, writers like Shakespeare , Ben Jonson and John Donne left their marks, particularly in the worlds of theater and poetry.
  • The Caroline, Interregnum and Restoration eras - Those took up roughly the remainder of the 17th century and saw important work from the three Johns: Milton , Dryden and Bunyan .
  • And finally, the Neoclassical period that took up much of the 18th century. This was marked in large part by the rise of the novel and featured luminary creators such as Daniel Defoe , Jonathan Swift , Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson , the guy who created the first English-language dictionary.

And that, my friends, is 200 years of literature in a nutshell.

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Seventeenth Century

famous writers 17th century

“Charles I (1600-49)” by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, 1635. Wikimedia Commons .

Introduction

by D.J. Kingdon

The 17th Century in  English  history can be marked with numerous upheavals, with even greater engagement with the wider world and with rapid changes in commerce, science, society and religion. It was a century that was easily broken into two parts: before the Civil War and the  Interregnum  and after those events. Trade across continents opened expansively with cargo moving across the world and across the Atlantic. Cultures began to intermingle and bought goods from each other. In the New World which was rapidly becoming colonized, settlers found that their villages were inhabited by those of various European countries. They realised that in order to colonize this “land of opportunity”, they had to work together.  In Europe, Galileo and Kepler were busy with their  revolutionary theories on heliocentrism and planetary motion which were not without controversy. Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity while being known as a very gifted theologian and writer. As Protestant “minimalism” became more anchored in Europe, the Catholic Church countered with the opposite: its funding of the “baroque”or the elaborate and exaggerated in its buildings and arts and music. This grand century of reason, science and the colonisation of new lands was occurring parallel with yet another century of political and religious struggle in  England .

It is important to remember that the influence of the Elizabethan Age did not end with Elizabeth’s death in 1603. It continued on into the early part of the 17th Century with Francis Bacon (who lived until 1626) being its most important writer and essayist. He wrote on a remarkable range of topics: law, science, mythology, philosophy, ethics and religion. Bacon wrote over seventy works, but only 20 were published in his lifetime. Shakespeare wrote his first play,  Henry IV (Part I),  in 1590 and in the new century he wrote 20 of his 37 plays. His last play was written in 1513, a few years before his death. So, the “Golden Age of Elizabeth” continued a decade or two into the tumult that was to grip  England  for the middle part of the 1600’s. The religious and political extremism of the mid-century curtailed the wit and and high ideals that had been exhibited in writings at its beginning. It was not until the succession of Charles II, and the Restoration period that writers would feel free again to create the heroic world of a Milton or the comedy of a William Wycherly.

After the Tudors: The Stuarts

Elizabeth I died childless in 1603 and James I of  England  (who had been James the VI of Scotland before taking the British throne) succeeded his cousin. He was not a Tudor, he was a Stuart. He was also the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. James came to the throne at the tender age of one, after his mother’s forced abdication. Unlike his mother, he was raised a staunch Protestant. James was also the great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of  England  and Lord of Ireland which meant that James was to eventually claim the three thrones as his right. James, through this lineage, was able to do what no other ruler could do before him: he unified  England , Scotland and Ireland thereby calling himself “The King of Great Britain and Ireland” though Parliament did not agree with this new title. Nevertheless, he reigned over all  three kingdoms until his death in 1625. This was to be later coined the  Jacobean  era. This was the same King James who oversaw the translation of a Bible for the common people which was published in 1611 and is still in publication today. This Bible served to strengthen Protestantism, but it also was responsible for introducing hundreds of phrases and idioms into the  English  language. The King James Bible influenced many writers during the period soon after its publication, among these was John Milton.

Soon after James’ succession to the throne, he was met with much resistance. In 1605, a group of angry  English  Catholics who disagreed with James’ lack of tolerance for the Catholic Church plotted to blow up the House of Lords at the state opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605. The plot was uncovered and at midnight the night before the opening, authorities discovered a man by the name of Guy Fawkes guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder under the Parliament building.  That was enough explosive to have reduced the building to ashes. All the men involved were executed and to this day, the fifth of November is termed “Guy Fawkes Night” and is commemorated with bonfires, firecrackers and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes. But the dissent with James did not end there. Many of the  English  resented having a Scottish king and they felt that they had been “invaded” by the Scots . A plot to bomb the homes of prominent  Scottish residents was discovered and stopped. This discovery shocked the  English  and brought James a lot of sympathy. But it was not enough to stop the series of wars that were to come.

 The  English  Civil War

The foment that had been brewing between Catholics and Protestants for well over a century, long before Elizabeth I, finally led to a series of three wars which have been simply known as “The  English  Civil War”. After the death of James I, his son, Charles I came to power as the new King of  England , Ireland and Scotland. He was quick to exercise his “divine right of kings” as he proceeded to dissolve one Parliament and marry a  Spanish Catholic a year after he took the throne. His arrogance and lack of humility angered the  English  and his marriage was not popular among his subjects. Charles continued these impulsive actions with his pro-Catholic stance and dissolved another two more Parliaments, ruling ten years without a Parliament at all. It was the Scots’ military incursion as far south as Durham during the “Bishop’s War” that finally sent Charles back to convene Parliament so that he could finance a defence. The Parliament agreed as long as he gave in to their demands. One of them was that it would be forbidden for him to dissolve Parliament again without their permission. This was the beginning of what is now termed “The Long Parliament” because the Parliament sat from 1640 through 1660 without dissolution.

Around 1641, Parliament sent a list of grievances to the King called “The Grand Remonstrance”. It divided the Parliament because many saw it as a document that was too puritanical and populist in tone. Charles was angered by these grievances and marched soldiers into the House of Commons to arrest the MP’s who had been instrumental in drafting the missive. But they had already fled. Charles knew he had lost control over Parliament and the City of London, so he also left the capital to go into hiding.

Eventually, these grievances against the King led to a division among the  English , a division that led to the formation of two armies: the Royalists (who gained the support of Catholics, anti-Puritans, anti-populists, and the nobility in the north and west) and the Parliamentarians (who were supported by the middle class, the merchants and the staunch Protestants in the south and east). These civil wars were devastating to the  English .

In 1649, Charles I was found guilty of treason and executed. It was then that  England  became known as a Commonwealth. This left Charles II, son of the previous monarch as ruler and he immediately made an alliance with Ireland and Scotland. Oliver Cromwell, who was heading the Parliamentarian troops responded to this by invading Ireland and killing a fourth of its population. He then entered Scotland and took Edinburgh.  Charles II also landed in Scotland to lead uprisings against Cromwell’s forces. But Cromwell pursued the King’s regiments and defeated them in 1651. This ended the Civil War. Charles II fled to France, leaving Oliver Cromwell as leader of the country.

The  Interregnum

Because  England  had never had rule without a kingship, and Cromwell was now the head of state, Parliamentarians in the “Rump Parliament” (the leftover MPs after the war) could not agree  with Cromwell on how to rule the Commonwealth. The army was the most powerful group in the country at that point, so they took control of the Commonwealth and declared Cromwell “Lord Protector”. This meant that while he was not a king, per se, he ruled as one. Effectively, what Cromwell did was rule the Commonwealth with a number of major-generals which meant it left  England  as a military dictatorship. Cromwell allowed more religious freedom for Protestants but as an avowed Puritan he introduced many “moral laws” which forbade people to dance, to attend the theatre, to make music, to drink, and even to celebrate Christmas. The arts and literature suffered during this time and the frivolity and flowering of the arts enjoyed during the Elizabethan period became a faint memory. Upon Cromwell’s death, in 1658, he was succeeded by his son, Richard who was then named the new “Lord Protector.” However, Richard had none of the political prowess of his father, nor the ambition or leadership capabilities. After a series of very inept political moves and equally inept decisions,  he tended his resignation which was accepted and he left for France. He was only in power for nine months.

The Restoration

In 1660, soon after the exit of Richard Cromwell, Puritanism was outlawed in  England , not by the King, but by Parliament. Charles the II who had fled after the Civil War was invited to return to  England  to assume the monarchy.  Charles II was the antithesis to the grim puritanical Cromwell. He was called the “merry monarch”. He was a very agreeable ruler. He believed that in the matters of religion one should simply “live and let live”. He arrived in great splendour in  England  as he had been well-schooled in Versailles by Louis XIV where he had spent his early exile. He and Louis were good friends.  Taverns, brothels, racing arenas and theatres reopened under Charles II. There was even a special “Theatre Royal” opened in Drury Lane. The extroverted King enjoyed walking in the park with his spaniels trailing behind him and it is said he often would stop to chat with the people he met on his walks. The reinstatement of Charles II as king led to a resurgence of the arts and culture that had been obscured with years of war and another decade of Cromwell’s grim “moral laws”. Alas, though Charles II was a colourful figure and a patron of the arts, his seventeen mistresses and his extravagant lifestyle soon led him to come to loggerheads with Parliament over his expenditures. Added to this expense was that London was hit with a plague in 1665 that killed at least 68,000 people (though some estimated that it was twice that). Then the next year, a great fire swept London gutting the medieval city within the old Roman wall destroying a great many of the houses within the area. It is estimated that almost 70,000 houses were destroyed. If this was not enough, the following year, the Dutch sailed up the Thames, burned thirteen navy ships and took the navy flagship  The Royal Charles  as a souvenir.  England  had been brought to its knees and Charles’ hedonistic lifestyle was blamed.

Charles II later died without any legitimate heirs (though he had fifteen illegitimate children) and on his deathbed converted to Catholicism because he had promised Louis the XIV that when he found a good time to do it, he would. A deathbed conversion seemed convenient. Charles II made his exit with no doubt a huge crowd of mistresses and children there to bid him  adieu .

The Restoration brought much needed life back into the arts and writing. That period is most characterised by its plays especially its comedies which are still being produced today. It was a time of novelty and change and relaxation after the difficult decades before. But mostly, it was a time of  the  reclamation  of writing and the arts which had been largely ignored because of war and forbidden because of Puritanism.  Aside from the witty Restoration comedies, the prose that has endured as classics from that period are John Bunyan’s  The Pilgrim’s Progress  and Milton’s  Paradise Lost.  The poetry most known from that time is that   of John Dryden.

The Glorious Revolution

Because there was no direct male heir to the throne, James II, brother to Charles II came to rule. He was a very openly devout Catholic and he was unapologetic about it. The  English  were not open to having a Catholic monarch rule over their very Protestant country. The succession of James II to the throne led to the “Exclusion Crisis” which divided Parliament among the Tories and the Whigs. The Tories wanted James to rule and the Whigs wanted to “exclude” James from succession. This led to the “Monmouth Rebellion” which was organised by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (Charles II’s eldest illegitimate son) to stop James from ruling. It was unsuccessful and the Duke was beheaded. James II then executed 320 supporters of the Duke of Monmouth and then sent another 800 to the West Indies, which with its primitive conditions was tantamount to a death sentence. James II used this opportunity to consolidate his power and to exercise more of his “divine right of kings”. He dismissed the Earl of Rochester, Lord of the Treasury, when he would not recant Anglicanism. He used his power to appoint Roman Catholics to top posts. Everything that Elizabeth I had done to keep Protestantism as the religion of  England  was being stripped. More than that, Catholicism was being imposed without any tolerance for opposition. When James II had a son, and it was clear that there was another Catholic-in-waiting to succeed to the  English  throne, Parliament and the  English  had reached their boiling point. It was clear that James II believed as King he had the right to impose his will on all matters and that he was nothing short of a despot who would stop at nothing to get his way.

A list of grievances was drawn up against James II including: cruel and unusual punishments (he had people who opposed him hanged, drawn and quartered), he suspended laws passed by Parliament, he intimidated Anglican bishops, he kept invoking his divine right as king and usurping Parliamentary law.  As Parliament (along with other  influential  leaders in  England ) searched for some way to depose the king, it came to their attention that James II had a daughter who was a Protestant and who was married to William III, Prince of Orange and a Dutch  Statdtholder  (official). William had been the son of Mary, the daughter of Charles I. He was also a Protestant. William and Mary (his spouse) were first cousins. In a very bold move, the majority in Parliament decided to invite William and Mary to “invade”  England  and depose James II as ruler. In 1688, William landed in Brixham on the southern coast of  England  and James II was sent fleeing. James mounted an offence to regain the Crown in 1690 in Ireland. But William fought back and defeated him at the  Battle of Boyne  in eastern Ireland. James II went into hiding in France. Though the “Glorious Revolution” is termed a bloodless revolution, there were Jacobite uprisings and loss of life in skirmishes in Ireland and Scotland by loyalists to James II.

The Declaration of Rights

The Revolution brought about sweeping changes especially in limiting the power of the monarch and in ensuring the rights of the people. The Declaration of Rights had these important tenets included:

The Limitation of the Monarch’s Powers

When William and Mary succeeded to the throne of  England  as co-regents, they had to agree to certain terms put forth by Parliament. These terms (included in the Declaration of Rights)  were to forever change the  English  monarchy and its powers. William and Mary agreed to a limitation of their powers and they acknowledged the lawmaking authority of Parliament. This guaranteed that the Parliamentary law was supreme, not the monarch’s will. Parliament would make the laws from that time forward. The monarchs would no longer impose laws at will. And they also declared that there could never be another Catholic monarch again nor could a monarch marry a Catholic.

For the Common People

For the  English  people, among the rights guaranteed were: that Parliament was to hold free elections (with no monarch involved in any part of the election in any way); that Parliament was to meet frequently and regularly (not just when a monarch called them to convene) and Parliamentarians had the right to free speech within the chamber and in public; that Protestants could have arms for their defence  suitable to their condition as allowed by law  (it was only Catholics who had had rights to bear arms at that time); they had the right to petition; they had a right to reasonable bail fees, no excessive fines and no unusual punishments (those were now illegal) and they had a right to qualified jurors.

There is no doubt that this revolutionary document was a precursor to the American “Bill of Rights” which was to come a century later.

The 17th century was one that started with the glory of  the court of Elizabeth I and ended with the monarchy stripped of all its power except for ceremony. As the famous bard who ushered in the 17th century once wrote:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries…and we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.”  (Julius Caesar, Act 4, scene 3, 218-224)

The  English  people took the current and gained their liberty from centuries of royal oppression. While there were still more battles to be fought, they would now be fought on a more just and level ground.

An Open Companion to Early British Literature Copyright © 2019 by Allegra Villarreal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Rare and Manuscript Collections

Anglo-american literature of the 17th-20th centuries.

The Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections has considerable holdings in Anglo-American literature from the 17th century onward, with notable strengths in the 18th century, Romanticism, and the Victorian and modern periods. Among the seventeenth-century holdings is a complete set of the Shakespeare folios, and works by John Milton and his contemporaries. Eighteenth-century highlights include near comprehensive printed collections of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, and substantial holdings on John Dryden, Samuel Johnson, Joseph Addison, Sir Richard Steele, William Cowper, Fanny Burney, and others. Related materials include complete runs of periodicals, such as the  Spectator  and the  Tatler .

The Division’s book holdings are also especially rich in the literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The  Cornell Wordsworth Collection , the second largest Wordsworth collection in the world, documents the Romantic movement in detail. All the major “standard” authors of the Victorian and modern periods, such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, et al., are well represented. In addition, the library’s holdings in Victorian fiction include scarce works by many popular women authors of the time, such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Maria Edgeworth, Marie Corelli, Ouida, and Helen Mathers. The collection also includes many popular literary genres such as gift annuals, dime novels, railroad novels, and yellowbacks, as well as the small literary magazine of the 1920s and 1930s. The modern collection features strong collections of manuscripts and books by  George Bernard Shaw , Rudyard Kipling, Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis, and  James Joyce .

In support of RMC’s  Human Sexuality Collection , the rare book collections feature especially strong representations of literary works by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender writers, such as Oscar Wilde, Christopher Isherwood, Vita Sackville-West, Radclyffe Hall, E.M. Forster, W.H. Auden, Ronald Firbank, Edith Sitwell, Elizabeth Bowen, Jan Morris, and others. The collection’s strengths in more recent British literature include the works of Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, and Doris Lessing, to name just a few.

The Division holds major collections of the papers and literary manuscripts of E.B. White, Laura (Riding) Jackson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Theodore Dreiser, American theater critic George Jean Nathan, and  New Yorker  magazine authors Frank Sullivan and A.J. Liebling. Smaller manuscript collections for James Thurber and Theodore Roosevelt add to the riches of the library’s holdings. Each of these collections is complemented by a collection of the author’s published books.

The Division’s book collection shows considerable depth in the literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of the major authors of the period, such as Walt Whitman, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Faulkner, Eliot, Pound, Dos Passos, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald, are well represented. Besides these writers, the collection is notable for its strength in the works of H.D., Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Stephen Vincent Benét. Harlem Renaissance authors, such as James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen, are also well represented.

The book collection also shows notable strength in the literature of the 1950s to 1970s, including comprehensive collections of the published work of Gary Snyder and Paul Goodman, and lesser strengths in Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. The political writings in the Goodman collection in particular are supplemented by the Division’s social protest (1960s) holdings, which include the papers and published writings of Daniel and Philip Berrigan, as well as extensive archival holdings about student protest at Cornell in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The rare book collections feature especially strong representations of literary works by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender writers such as Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Paul Goodman, Djuna Barnes, May Sarton, Gore Vidal, John Cheever, Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, Rita Mae Brown, James Merrill, and Audre Lorde. Related material in the  Human Sexuality Collection  includes extensive collections of gay and lesbian pulp novels, and the records of the lesbian/feminist publisher Firebrand Books.

The Division also holds collections of the books, manuscripts, and personal papers of notable Cornell authors such as Alison Lurie, A.R. Ammons, and Diane Ackerman. This brief description highlights only a few of the many strengths of the Division’s vast holdings, whose continued growth is ensured through judicious purchases and the generosity of donors.

Related Online Resources

  • ENGLISH LITERATURE: A Selected Bibliography of Reference Sources  (Cornell University Library)
  • Women in the Literary Marketplace, 1800-1900

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Women’s History Month: Female Authors Of The 17th Century

To celebrate Women’s History Month we’re taking a look at some female authors of the 17th century who left their indelible mark on history.

Female Authors of the 17th Century

We’re continuing our celebration of Women’s History Month by looking at some amazing female authors throughout history. Because we can’t bear to limit ourselves to just a few authors or risk excluding writers, we’re looking at a handful of women from each century.

Today, we’re looking at some prolific female authors of the 17th century, their works, and the mark they’ve left on history and women who decided to take up the pen after them.

This is the first in our series of Female Authors Throughout History, so make sure to check back for our next article on 18th century writers! Also, keep an eye out for more Women’s History Month content from us, including feminist reads for International Women’s Day, and new books by female authors that are making history!

Now, let’s dive into some women’s history!

Aphra Behn, 17th Century Author, Women's History Month

Aphra Behn broke cultural and societal barriers by becoming one of the first English women to make her living as a writer. The best part? Behn was a dramatist, translator of science and French romance, and an erotic poet . Behn regularly wrote about topics like female sexuality, the comedy of male impotence, bisexuality, and gender.

On Behn’s sexual frankness, novelist Virginia Woolf famously wrote, “All women together must let flowers fall on the tomb of Aphra Behn… For it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”

Behn’s most notable works include Oroonoko : or, the Royal Slave (1688), which is considered one of the first novels in English, and The Rover (1677), which was Behn’s most popular and respected play for three centuries.

Marie Meurdrac

Marie Meurdrac, 17th Century Author, Women's History Month

Besides being a writer, Marie Meurdrac was a French chemist and alchemist. Her book, La Chymie Charitable et Facile, en Faveur des Dames (roughly Useful and Easy Chemistry, for the Benefit of Ladies) (1666), is her most notable work, and the one that keeps her name from falling into obscurity. La Chymie is one of the first works on chemistry to be written by a woman, and it went through five editions in French, and was translated to German and Italian.

Despite potential criticism from those who believed women shouldn’t receive and education, Meurdrac wrote anyway and believed “minds have no sex.”

Marie Dupré

Marie Dupré, 17th Century Author, Women's History Month

Marie Dupré was a French scholar and poet who knew Latin, Greek, and Italian, and was also versed in rhetoric, poetics, and philosophy. A relative of French writer and dramatist Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, Dupré wanted to follow in her family’s footsteps. She was the author of The Responses of Isis to Climene , and her ability to argue her points earned her the nickname “ The Cartesian .” Dupré was well-known and admired by those within the French Salons of the day.

Anne Dacier

Anne Dacier, 17th Century Author, Women's History Month

Anne Dacier was a French translator, classical commentator, and editor. Her most notable work comes from her translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey . Dacier’s father taught her ancient Greek and Latin. In 1683 she married one of her father’s students, André Dacier, who also worked on translations, though encyclopedia editors consider his work to be far inferior to Anne’s.

Anne Dacier: 1, Men: 0.

Marie de Gournay

Marie de Gournay, 17th Century Author, Women's History Month

A French writer and translator, Marie de Gournay used her gift for words to advocate for women’s right to receive an education. Gournay argued that given the same opportunities, privileges, and education as men, women could equal men’s accomplishments in her works like The Equality of Men and Women (1622) and The Ladies’ Grievance (1626).

Gournay studied humanities and taught herself Latin. While in Paris she was determined to make a living through writing, and eventually wrote for famous figures like Queen Margo (who later became Gournay’s patron), Henry IV of France, Marie de Médicis, and Louis XIII. With the support of Queen Margo, Gournay was invited to the Queen’s royal salon and received financial support on a quarterly basis.

Madame de La Fayette

Madame de La Fayette, 17th Century Author, Women's History Month

Madame de La Fayette wrote France’s first historical novel and one of the earliest novels in literature, La Princesse de Cléves (1678). It was first published anonymously and is considered to be a prototype of the early psychological novel.

La Fayette began to receive a literary education and was taught Italian and Latin at the age of 16. In Paris she was a member of a number of well-to-do salons, like those of Madame de Rambouillet and Madeleine de Scudéry. In the 1650’s after marrying her husband she even started her own successful salon in Paris and mixed with court society. One of her acquaintances included the future Duchess of Orleans, who asked La Fayette to write her biography.

Anne Bradstreet

Anne Bradstreet, 17th Century Author, Women's History Month

Anne Bradstreet is one of the first poets to write works in the American Colonies. Though she supposedly didn’t know it, her brother-in-law took some of her poems back to England and published them in 1650 under the title, The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America .

The Tenth Muse was the only collection of her work to be published during her lifetime. Six years after her death in 1678, The Tenth Muse was published in America and expanded as Several Poems Compiled with Great Wit and Learning . Bradstreet posthumously gained critical acceptance for her later poetry, which weren’t published until the mid-1950s. Poet John Berryman paid tribute to Bradstreet in a 1956 poem titled Homage to Mistress Bradstreet .

Bathsua Makin

Bathsua Makin, 17th Century Author, Women's History Month

Bathsua Makin was considered one of England’s most learned women, skilled in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, German, Spanish, French, and Italian. Makin argued for the rights for women and girls to receive an education and criticized women’s inferior positions in domestic and public spheres. In her most famous work, An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen (1673), Makin argued for the women’s’ rights to education.

Makin was also a seasoned teacher in addition to being a writer. She was a tutor to Charles I of England’s children and the governess of Princess Elizabeth Stuart.

Henriette-Julie de Murat

Henriette-Julie de Murat, 17th Century Author, Women's History Month

A French aristocratic writer, Henriette-Julie de Murat published three volumes of fairy tales from 1698-1699: Fairy Tales (1698), New Fairy Tales (1698), and Sublime and Allegorical Stories (1699). Additionally, she published a short ghost story titled A Trip to the Country in 1699. Her works gained her recognitions by the Ricovrati Academy of Padua and the Academy of Toulouse.

Unfortunately Murat’s publishing career was put on hold when she was accused of “shocking practices and beliefs” in 1699. One of these accusations included Murat supposedly having a relationship with a woman. People believed this to be “confirmed” in 1701 when Murat was pregnant. Don’t you just love 17th century logic?

The scandal caused Murat to be estranged from her husband, disinherited by her mother, and exiled in 1702 to Château de Loches. She tried to escape Château in 1706 by wearing men’s clothing, but was captured and transferred to two other prisons before being put back in Château. It wasn’t until 1709 that Murat obtained partial liberty and returned to her aunt’s home. She published her last work, The Sprites of Kernosy Castle , in 1710.

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Fanny Burney , 1752-1840

Burney’s novels were immensely popular during the late eighteenth century. However, Burney herself had to overcome family disapproval in order to make a name among English literary circles. Her father, Charles Burney, a renowned musicologist, discouraged his daughter’s literary activity and provided her with no formal education. In spite of this, she read widely and began writing at a young age. But at the age of fifteen, in response to her father and perhaps her stepmother’s objections to imaginative poetry, plays, and stories, she dramatically sacrificed all of her writings to a huge bonfire. Not completely deterred, she resumed writing and anonymously published her first novel, Evelina (1778), which became a great success. Evelina won Burney not only her father’s approval, but also writer and critic Dr. Samuel Johnson’s. She went on to secure a place in Queen Charlotte’s court and in English literary society. She later left court to marry French �migr� General Alexandre D’Arblay (1791) and lived until the age of eighty-seven.

Her novels deal with women’s roles in relation to the British aristocracy, marriage, wealth, and power. Her successful works influenced other women writers, including Jane Austen, whose name is among the list of subscribers to Camilla .

Camilla: Or, a Picture of Youth by the Author of Evelina and Cecilia . London: Printed for T. Payne, T. Cadell, and W. Davies, 1796. 5 vols. First edition.

Burney’s fourth published novel involves the "courtship of lighthearted Camilla by somber Edgar. Led by his tutor Marchmont, a misogynist, to demand perfection and the full possession of his lady’s heart before he declares himself, Edgar puts Camilla through a series of tests and suffers torments of misapprehension and jealously, for the girl has been warned by her father never to let her feelings show" (Doody).

Elizabeth Carter , 1717-1806

Carter, known for her translations, poetry, essays, and letter writing, was fortunate enough to be educated by her father, the Perpetual Curate in Deal, England. Learning alongside her brothers, she received a well-rounded education, which included knowledge of several languages. She was skilled in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Italian, Spanish, and German. As an adult, she taught herself Portuguese and Arabic. According to tradition, Carter lost her health by studying long nights as a child, and did in fact suffer from severe headaches as an adult. Her father was a friend of Gentleman’s Magazine editor, Edward Cave, who began to publish Carter in his periodical. She became active in England’s literary circles and developed friendships with Samuel Johnson, Catherine Talbot, Elizabeth Montagu, Samuel Richardson, Edmund Burke, Horace Walpole, and Hannah More.

A Series of Letters between Mrs. Elizabeth Carter and Miss Catherine Talbot, from the Year 1741 to 1770: To Which Are Added, Letters from Mrs. Elizabeth Carter to Mrs. Vesey, between the Years 1763 and 1787; Published from the Original Manuscripts in the Possession of the Rev. Montagu Pennington . London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington, 1809. 4 vols. First edition.

Mlle. Clairon (Claire-Jos�phe-Hippolyte L�ris de la Tude), 1723-1803

Clairon began acting on the French stage in her youth and, as an adult, became one of the greatest tragediennes of the seventeenth century. She was persuaded by her lover, the critic Marmontel, to abandon the "solemn, declamatory style of the day" for a more "conversationally direct form of diction." Before her career was over, Clairon attained the admiration of Voltaire and Garrick. She retired from the theater in 1764 and opened a school for young actors.

Mary Masters , 1706?-1759?

Not a great deal is known about Mary Masters. According to James Boswell, she was acquainted with Samuel Johnson, who may have helped to edit some of her verses. She is also linked with Edmund Cave, editor of Gentleman’s Magazine . She advocates women’s rights in her Familiar Letters and Poems on Several Occasions (1755): "a Woman is equal to a Man, as being of the same Species, and endow’d with every Faculty which distinguishes him from the Brutes."

Poems on Several Occasions . London: Printed by T. Browne for the author, 1733.

Sarah Jennings Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough , 1660-1744

The influential and opportunistic Duchess of Marlborough entered court as a maid of honor for Anne Hyde, the Duchess of York, and eventually advanced to become an intimate and influential confidante to Queen Anne. She and husband, John Churchill, hid the former princess Anne during the exile of Roman Catholic James II (1688) and thus secured high positions in court for a time. Unwise political moves and inattentiveness to the Queen later led to the Duchess’ disfavor and ejection from court (1710). Her courtly ambition and outspokenness contributed to her illustrious public reputation. Samuel Johnson and Robert Walpole were highly critical of her. Pope unattractively modeled his character "Atossa" from Ethic Epistles (Moral Essays) on her life, which led the Duchess to arrange for the work’s suppression. However, Henry Fielding did publish in her defense A Full Vindication of the Duchess-Dowager of Marlborough (1742). During the end of her life, she authored An Account of the Conduct with the help of Nathaniel Hooke.

An Account of the Conduct of the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, from Her First Coming to Court, to the Year 1710. In a Letter from Herself to My Lord— . London: Printed by James Bettenham, for George Hawkins, 1742.

Elizabeth Robinson Montagu , 1720-1800

Younger sister of novelist Sarah Scott, Elizabeth Robinson Montagu was educated at home and read widely. Active in literary circles, she became known as "Queen of the Bluestockings," a circle of women who promoted literary and intellectual exchanges. She invited educated guests to her gothic house at Sandleford, where she encouraged intelligent conversation between both women and men. Through her gatherings, she made friendships with Samuel Johnson, Hester Thrale, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, and Horace Walpole. In her popular Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear , she defends Shakespeare against Voltaire by comparing him with French and Greek dramatists, and sets Shakespeare up as a great figure worthy of national pride.

An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear, Compared with the Greek and French Dramatic Poets with Some Remarks upon the Misrepresentations of Mons. de Voltaire . London: Printed for J. Dodsley . . . , 1769. First edition.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu , 1689-1762

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, cousin of writer Henry Fielding, was born in London to parents of the aristocracy. Her father, Evelyn Pierrepoint, later became the first Duke of Kingston. She eloped with Edward Wortley (1712) and the two became active in court. Through social activities, she made social contacts with several literary figures, including John Gay and Alexander Pope, although Pope later attacked her in print. From 1716 to 1718, her husband served as ambassador to Turkey, where Montagu wrote her Embassy Letters . At age 47, she shared an infatuation with Francesco Algarotti, a 24-year-old native Italian with literary promise. She moved to Italy to join Algarotti and, although their relationship cooled, remained on the Continent for the next twenty years. Montagu distributed her writings privately and was content not to publish avidly during her lifetime. With the exception of some anonymous articles and a pirated edition of her poetry, her letters, essays, and poems were published posthumously. In her works, she advocated higher education for women and, in turn, more political interest and involvement.

The Works of the Right Honorable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Including Her Correspondence, Poems, and Essays. Published by Permission from Her Genuine Papers . London: Printed for Richard Phillips, 1803. 5 vols.

This particular imprint is one of two editions of Montagu’s first collected works released in 1803 by Phillips. It appears to be quite rare, as no other copies of this edition have been located.

Hannah More , 1745-1833

Hannah More was one of the most prolific and widely read writers of her time. Educated as a schoolmistress, she soon began publishing plays for the instruction of children and, later, religious writings, including several chapbooks for youths. She also became a part of Samuel Johnson’s illustrious circle. Besides being a writer, she was a committed religious and social reformer, establishing Sunday schools for the poor. She encouraged other women to volunteer their time to helping the poor and, as a result, increased women’s influence in social work. However, although she advocated female education, she did so only in the context of an educated domesticity. In her only novel, Coelebs in Search of a Wife , she stresses the role of the subservient wife. Ironically, More, herself, never married or entered into a domestic situation. She "died friendless and alone, the victim of servants who mistreated her" (Horwitz).

Sir Eldred of the Bower and the Bleeding Rock: Two Legendary Tales . London: Printed for T. Cadell, 1776. First edition

Hints toward Forming the Moral Character of a Young Princess . London: Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, in the Strand, 1819. Fifth edition. Inscribed by Hannah More to Lady Arland. The volumes each include fore-edge paintings.

Sarah Pennington, ?-1783

An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters in the Letter to Miss Pennington . London: Printed by H. Hughes for J. Walter, 1773. Sixth edition.

Sarah Pennington began writing after a publicly and personally painful separation from her husband, Joseph Pennington, and their several children. The reasons behind their separation are unclear, although Sarah admits to behaving like a "coquette." Her four publications are often autobiographical and remorseful. An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice was her most popular work. It went through three editions the year it was released (1761) and at least seven more by 1800.

Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi , 1741-1821

Piozzi was born into the English aristocracy and well educated. In 1763, after her father’s death, her mother forced her into an unloving marriage with Henry Thrale, a wealthy brewer, by whom she had twelve children—only four living to adulthood. In 1765, she met Samuel Johnson and helped him with a translation of Boethius. Through Johnson, she was introduced to several popular figures, including Fanny Burney, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. After her husband’s death, she chose to marry a man both Italian and Roman Catholic, Gabriel Piozzi. Her decision to marry both a foreigner and a Catholic was controversial, and ruined her relationship with Johnson, who adamantly opposed the union. Despite objections, their marriage was highly successful. During the time of their travels on the Continent and later settling in Wales, she became a prolific writer of histories, travel accounts, and poetry.

Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. during the Last Twenty Years of His Life . London: Printed for T. Cadell, 1786. Second edition.

First published in 1786, Anecdotes is Piozzi’s best known work. It is considered to be one of the most authoritative contemporary accounts of Johnson’s life.

British Synonymy; or, An Attempt at Regulating the Choice of Words in Familiar Conversation. Inscribed, with Sentiments of Gratitude and Respect, to Such of Her Foreign Friends as Have Made English Literature Their Peculiar Study . Dublin: Printed by William Porter for P. Byrne, and W. Jones, 1794.

Sarah Scott , 1723-1795

Elder sister to writer Elizabeth Montagu, Scott grew up in a family that valued education. Scott was briefly, and apparently unhappily, married to a George Lewis Scott. After her family "rescued" her from the marriage, she went to live with Lady Barbara Montagu (unrelated) and began an active life of charity work and writing. She tried to start a "utopian community" with her sister, Elizabeth, and friends. Her novel, A Description of Millenium Hall , idealizes her utopian ideals. Her novels were published anonymously and sold quite well. Although they lost popularity in the nineteenth century, her work has recently been reprinted.

Mary Wollstonecraft , 1759-1797

After surviving an unhappy childhood with an alcoholic and violent father, Mary Wollstonecraft spent time as a lady’s companion, a schoolmistress, and a governess. Later, her life took a dramatic turn. Beginning in 1794, she visited France and Scandinavia. She had a daughter out of wedlock with an American businessman and attempted suicide when their relationship failed. She then had an affair with British author William Godwin, and the two married after she became pregnant. Sadly, she died shortly after giving birth to a daughter, Mary, who would later be known as Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein . Wollstonecraft’s diversified writings include subjects such as education, travel, history, politics, and women’s rights. She is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

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Review: TV’s New ‘Game of Thrones’ Is Set in 17th-Century Japan

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TV’s New ‘Game of Thrones’ Is Set in 17th-Century Japan

“shogun” is an update of a 44-year-old series perfectly suited to today’s tastes..

How do you say “Winter is coming” in Japanese?

It’s hardly a criticism to say the new series Shogun , currently airing on FX and streaming on Hulu in the United States and Disney+ elsewhere, may remind audiences of Game of Thrones . The HBO spectacle based on George R.R. Martin’s novels was one of the more transformative television events of our age, inspiring several close-but-no-scimitar imitators. Netflix has The Witcher , Amazon has the preposterously expensive The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power , and HBO has the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon , all of which have their charms, but none have quite caught the wildfire -in-a-bottle of the original.

It is with great joy, however, that I can report an heir is finally here. The wannabes prove it wasn’t the wizards and winged beasts that ignited our collective passions: It was the palette of complex characters at cross purposes, the knotty alliances, and the inscrutable schemes that conquered our imaginations. Shogun , based on James Clavell’s bestselling 1975 doorstopper—which was previously adapted for television in 1980—is a fictionalized version of a power struggle in early 17th-century Japan, in which five regional lords vie for control after the death of a leader who maintained stability but whose son is too young to rule. Adding spice to the stew are Portuguese Jesuits (whose black ships are building a secret base in Macao) and the arrival of a crafty English pilot sailing under the Dutch flag with a secret mission to destabilize Portugal’s foothold in the region—but maybe to also make a buck or two. That’s the very shortened version, anyway, but hopefully enough to hook you.

Shogun is that rare television series that demands extra mental effort but truly rewards for the work. (Blessedly, FX has created a thorough study guide to help you keep all the characters straight.) Moreover, its roots in history and genuine customs lend it a great deal of gravitas. Truth, as we know, is often stranger than fiction.

But “strangeness” is a wobbly term these days, particularly for a Hollywood-based production about another nation’s history. As soon as the series was announced in August 2018 , producers made it clear it would deviate from the earlier, NBC television event. The 1980 iteration of Shogun , which featured Richard Chamberlain, the legendary Toshiro Mifune, Welsh character actor John Rhys-Davies chomping it up as a strapping Spaniard, and narration from Orson Welles, was arguably the apogee of the big-budget miniseries trend that included Roots , Jesus of Nazareth , The Winds of War , and North and South and was a ratings juggernaut perfectly timed for a growing American interest in all things Japanese . And it was very much told from the perspective of its Western protagonist, deploying a classic white savior trope.

Richard Chamberlain as John Blackthorne acts opposite Nobuo Kaneko as Lord Ishido Kazunari, in a scene from the 1980 NBC series Shogun . Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

That storyline—loosely based on the real life of William Adams, the first Englishman to navigate to Japan—is still core to Shogun , but the new series, developed by the husband-and-wife team of Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo, takes what Clavell wrote and broadens it. The Adams character, John Blackthorne, played by Cosmo Jarvis, is now one of three equally important main characters, including Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai). Indeed, it is Sanada who gets top billing in the opening credits.

One indicator of the new telling is this: In the 1980 version, when characters spoke Japanese, it went untranslated. “The viewer will be in the same situation as Blackthorne and will learn what is going on just as he does,” a producer boasted of this creative choice at the time. In the current version, spoken Japanese has subtitles; it is text, not ornamentation. What’s more, while I didn’t use a stopwatch, I’d say about three-quarters of the show is in Japanese.

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While some of the producers are Japanese, the writers are not (though some are of Japanese heritage), so the dialogue was written in English , then rigidly translated into Japanese, then handed off to a Japanese playwright who spoke no English but had expertise in this time period, and then translated back for subtitles. Many of the scenes involve tense conferences in which language is translated on the spot, which is incredibly fertile soil for a brilliant performer like Sawai to say one thing with her voice but mean something else with her expression. (Not to make this too complicated, but within the story, no one is speaking English; however, some characters do speak Portuguese, which we at home hear as English—trust me, this makes sense when you watch it.)

This is just one reason why Shogun is not passive viewing. Those who watch television with one eye on Instagram are going to have problems with this one. (And they should—put down the damn phone!) Not only is there a cascade of characters with different shifting alignments, but one of the central themes is deception and delayed revelation. This is a story in which not really knowing what the hell anyone is thinking is central to its success. This is symbolized by the “ eightfold fence ,” a Japanese philosophy of isolation that has played into its political maneuvers over the years but in a rich drama like Shogun means that when a woman is professing her undying love to her husband, she may secretly wish nothing more than to be dead.

Anna Sawai (center) as Toda Mariko in Shogun . FX photo

The new series’ decision to broaden the perspective (and also beef up the women’s roles) may have been a red flag for some worried that it would sand down some of the material that, let’s face it, makes 17th-century Japanese culture look a little, well, intense. To put it bluntly: Could a series for our overly sensitive age show a character boiling a prisoner alive just so he can zone out to the sound of his anguished screams in a prurient haze? The answer is yes. And while that sadistic character isn’t exactly a good guy, you kind of end up liking him a little bit by the end.

Even more extreme (and also in the first episode) is when a character accepts that an underling, who spoke in his defense but did it in a way that defied protocol, must not only commit ritual suicide but also have his infant child killed so as to ensure his family line is obliterated. What’s more, the guy who approves of this is our hero, Sanada’s Toranaga.

Hiroto Kanai (foreground) as Kashigi Omi in Shogun . FX photo

Indeed, the frequent act of seppuku is just one of the Japanese customs that is baffling to Blackthorne’s Western eyes, and his character remains a stand-in for the audience in that regard. (Far more benign is the belief that it is disrespectful to step on moss —OK, note taken!) But an important change from Chamberlain’s Blackthorne is that Jarvis’s version is frequently a whiny, nasty jerk. Jarvis’s performance, which owes a bit to Tom Hardy at his most energetic, is a spitting, cursing blowhard with a short fuse who would probably have a much easier go of things at first if he would just chill out. (It is, at times, meant to be funny, and it is.) The Japanese call him “The Barbarian,” and given English attitudes at the time toward bathing compared with the much tidier Japanese, you can see why. One of the best compliments I can give Shogun is that, periodically, you will think, “Wait, why am I rooting for any of these people?!” but still feel a lot is at stake in the drama.

While there is a great deal of gore in the series (now I know what a computer-generated horse looks like when hit by a cannonball), there is an overwhelming amount of beauty. The kimono budget must have been through the roof on this thing. Even scenes that clearly include additional greenscreen are lit with care. This is key for a culture that, despite some shocking violence, places importance on order and grace. With 10 one-hour episodes, there is time to linger on how tea is properly served, how sake is poured, or how a geisha who takes pride in her trade can elevate it to artistry.

Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige and Nestor Carbonell as Vasco Rodrigues in Shogun . FX photo

But none of that would matter if the storyline weren’t compelling, and I suppose Clavell would not have sold 21 million books if he wasn’t on to something. Shogun is probably his most famous, but I recall seeing his name on covers everywhere as a Gen X kid. My own mother dragged around the enormous Noble House , split into two volumes in hardcover, for what seemed like months. Most of his work fits into a larger “Asian Saga,” though he had enough clout in the early 1980s to direct a television special based on a dystopian short story ( The Children’s Story ) and get parodied on Late Night With David Letterman .

For all the exoticism and complicated history, however, it’s the inner hopes and desires of these characters that will linger. “Flowers are only flowers because they fall” might seem like a corny line out of context, but in the delicate world of Shogun , it is a moment of perfection and one of several in this extraordinary series.

Jordan Hoffman is a film critic and entertainment journalist living in Queens, New York.

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  1. The Greatest 17th Century Writers

    Died: December 15, 1683. One of the greatest biographers of the 17th century, Izaak Walton was also a lover of fishing and had penned one of the most detailed treatises on fishing, The Compleat Angler. His notable works also include his biographies on John Donne and Henry Wotton. He was also a staunch Royalist.

  2. Best Books of the 17th Century (318 books)

    The best books published during the 17th century (January 1st, 1601 through December 31st 1700). See also Most Rated Book By Year Best Books By Century: 21st, 20th, 19th, 18th, 17th, 16th, 15th,14th, 13th, 12th, 11th, 10th, 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th Lists for all books by Number of Ratings:

  3. 17th century in literature

    1605-1615 - Miguel de Cervantes writes the two parts of Don Quixote. 1616: April - Death of both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. 1630-1651: William Bradford writes Of Plymouth Plantation, journals that are considered the most authoritative account of the Pilgrims and their government.

  4. Category:17th-century English writers

    17th-century English non-fiction writers‎ (4 C, 8 P) 17th-century English novelists‎ (13 P) P. 17th-century English poets‎ (185 P) T. 17th-century English theologians‎ (1 C, 72 P) 17th-century English translators‎ (91 P) Pages in category "17th-century English writers"

  5. 10 Best 17th Century Authors

    Here Are The 10 Best 17th Century Authors 1. John Locke, 1632-1704 John Locke via Wikipedia, Public Domain. John Locke was an author, philosopher, and physician known today as the father of liberalism.An Enlightenment thinker, many today believe that Locke's psychological theories on the ideas of identity and self were heavily influential in the development of the idea of consciousness.

  6. The Greatest 17th Century British Writers

    He was a forerunner of business journalism, too, and also traded in hosiery, woollen goods, and wine. 7. John Donne. (17th Century English Poet Who is Considered the Preeminent Representative of the Metaphysical Poets) 36. 7. Birthdate: January 22, 1572. Sun Sign: Aquarius. Birthplace: London, England.

  7. Western literature

    The 17th century Challenging the accepted. The 17th century was a period of unceasing disturbance and violent storms, no less in literature than in politics and society. The Renaissance had prepared a receptive environment essential to the dissemination of the ideas of the new science and philosophy. The great question of the century, which confronted serious writers from Donne to Dryden, was ...

  8. Category:17th-century writers

    This category has the following 17 subcategories, out of 17 total. 17th-century calligraphers ‎ (4 C, 13 P) 17th-century dramatists and playwrights ‎ (14 C, 4 P) 17th-century non-fiction writers ‎ (6 C, 2 P) 17th-century novelists ‎ (1 C, 5 P) 17th-century poets ‎ (4 C, 9 P) 17th-century theologians ‎ (11 C, 1 P)

  9. Introduction to 17th & 18th-Century Literature: Major Authors and Works

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  10. English Literature in the Early Seventeenth Century

    English Literature in the Early Seventeenth CenturyA Century of Greatness.At the beginning of the sixteenth century as the New Learning of the Renaissance made inroads into England, few signs were present of the enormous flowering that was soon to occur in the country's language and literature. Source for information on English Literature in the Early Seventeenth Century: Arts and Humanities ...

  11. English literature

    English literature - Renaissance, Poetry, Drama: In a tradition of literature remarkable for its exacting and brilliant achievements, the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods have been said to represent the most brilliant century of all. (The reign of Elizabeth I began in 1558 and ended with her death in 1603; she was succeeded by the Stuart king James VI of Scotland, who took the title James ...

  12. Seventeenth Century

    The 17th century was one that started with the glory of the court of Elizabeth I and ended with the monarchy stripped of all its power except for ceremony. As the famous bard who ushered in the 17th century once wrote: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

  13. American literature

    The utilitarian writings of the 17th century included biographies, treatises, accounts of voyages, and sermons.There were few achievements in drama or fiction, since there was a widespread prejudice against these forms. Bad but popular poetry appeared in the Bay Psalm Book of 1640 and in Michael Wigglesworth's summary in doggerel verse of Calvinistic belief, The Day of Doom (1662).

  14. French Literature in the Seventeenth Century

    French Literature in the Seventeenth CenturyIncreasing Refinement.In France, the beginning of the seventeenth century marked a distinctive break from the legacy of warfare and domestic religious violence that had punctuated the concluding forty years of the sixteenth century. Source for information on French Literature in the Seventeenth Century: Arts and Humanities Through the Eras dictionary.

  15. Anglo-American Literature of the 17th-20th Centuries

    The Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections has considerable holdings in Anglo-American literature from the 17th century onward, with notable strengths in the 18th century, Romanticism, and the Victorian and modern periods. Among the seventeenth-century holdings is a complete set of the Shakespeare folios, and works by John Milton and his ...

  16. English literature

    An important group of 17th-century writers were the metaphysical poets. Metaphysical poetry makes use of conceits—that is, of farfetched similes and metaphors intended to startle the reader into an awareness of the relationships among things ordinarily not associated. ... His most famous novel, The Cloister and the Hearth (1861), however, is ...

  17. Women's History Month: Female Authors Of The 17th Century

    To celebrate Women's History Month we're taking a look at some female authors of the 17th century who left their indelible mark on history. Savannah Swanson - March 11th, 2022. Book Culture Classics Female Authors. We're continuing our celebration of Women's History Month by looking at some amazing female authors throughout history.

  18. The Greatest 17th Century Poets

    John Milton's works have influenced other prominent writers, such as Thomas Hardy and George Eliot. John Donne. (17th Century English Poet Who is Considered the Preeminent Representative of the Metaphysical Poets) 38. 7. Birthdate: January 22, 1572. Sun Sign: Aquarius. Birthplace: London, England.

  19. French literature

    French literature - Baroque, Neo-Classicism, Enlightenment: At the beginning of the 17th century the full flowering of the Classical manner was still remote, but various signs of a tendency toward order, stability, and refinement can be seen. A widespread desire for cultural self-improvement, which is also a sign of the pressures to conformity in a society constructing itself around the king ...

  20. Women Writers-17th and 18th Centuries

    Elizabeth Carter, 1717-1806. Carter, known for her translations, poetry, essays, and letter writing, was fortunate enough to be educated by her father, the Perpetual Curate in Deal, England. Learning alongside her brothers, she received a well-rounded education, which included knowledge of several languages.

  21. 17th-century French literature

    17th-century French literature was written throughout the Grand Siècle of France, spanning the reigns of Henry IV of France, the Regency of Marie de Medici, Louis XIII of France, the Regency of Anne of Austria (and the civil war called the Fronde) and the reign of Louis XIV of France.The literature of this period is often equated with the Classicism of Louis XIV's long reign, during which ...

  22. Women's Literature in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries: Introduction

    The most famous early book was the Gutenberg Bible of 1456, and twenty years later, William Caxton effectively originated print in England when he set up his press at Westminster. Source for information on Women's Literature in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries: Introduction: Feminism in Literature: A Gale Critical Companion dictionary.

  23. TV's New 'Game of Thrones' Is Set in 17th-Century Japan

    TV's New 'Game of Thrones' Is Set in 17th-Century Japan "Shogun" is an update of a 44-year-old series perfectly suited to today's tastes. March 30, 2024, 7:00 AM

  24. List of 17th-century dramatists and playwrights

    0 0. rank #3 · WDW 1. Colley Cibber (6 November 1671 - 11 December 1757) was an English actor-manager, playwright and Poet Laureate. His colourful memoir Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber (1740) describes his life in a personal, anecdotal and even rambling style.