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IMPORTANT EVENTS
in Literature

1599Edmund Spenser, author of The Faerie Queene—an heroic work praising Protestantism and an ideal of chaste marriage—dies. The poet's brilliance will continue to produce many admirers and imitators during the early Stuart period.
1605In Spain, Miguel de Cervantes finishes his masterpiece, the picaresque novel Don Quixote.
François de Malherbe is appointed court poet in France. His disciplined use of twelve-syllable Alexandrian verse will help to establish its popularity among seventeenth-century French writers.
Shakespeare publishes his Sonnets in London, a collection of poetry that will continue to inspire writers for centuries to come.
1611In England, the Authorized Version of the Bible appears. Over the coming decades, the work will come to have a great impact on the development of the English language and its literature, and will become known affectionately as the "King James' Version" among English-speaking Protestants.
John Donne publishes his Anniversaries in London, the only collection of his accomplished poems that is to appear in print during his lifetime.
1614Sir Walter Raleigh completes his epic History of the World, a work that has taken him seven years to finish while a prisoner in the Tower of London on false charges of treason to James I's government.
1616William Shakespeare dies at his home in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England.
Miguel de Cervantes, the great Spanish novelist and dramatist, dies in Spain.
Ben Jonson is named Poet Laureate of England.
1617Theodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné completes his satirical novel The Adventures of the Baron de Faeneste in France. Once a supporter of the French king Henri IV, d'Aubigné will soon become an opponent of his son Louis XIII's government and will be persecuted as a result.
1620Thomas Campion, a great Elizabethan poet and lyricist, dies in England.
1623Jakob Böhme completes The Great Mystery, a work that makes use of latemedieval and sixteenth-century German mystical writings and which will help to establish the religious movement of Pietism later in the century. Böhme's mysterious prose will also inspire many seventeenth-century German authors in search of a style in which to compose their vernacular works.
1624Martin Opitz publishes his Book of German Poetics, a work that aims to create a cultivated German style through imitation of the rhetorical works of the later Italian Renaissance. This and other works by the accomplished author will have an enormous impact on German writers of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
1627Honoré d'Urfé completes his L'Astrée, a pastoral work inspired by the conventions of late sixteenth-century Italian literature.
1639The great German poet Martin Opitz dies.
1649In January, King Charles I of England is executed after a parliamentary trial, initiating the period of the Puritan Commonwealth. Over the coming decade literary enterprises in England will be very much shaped by the country's dominant Puritan reformers.
1655Cyrano de Bergerac, an accomplished master of French Baroque prose, dies after a brilliant career as a political and scientific literary figure.
1656In France, the last of Blaise Pascal's Provincial Letters are published. These satirical works poke fun at the Jesuits, particularly at their legalistic notions about morality, and become widely imitated works, helping to shape the French prose of the age.
1659In France, Paul Scarron completes The Comic Novel. The work is daring for the time because it pokes fun at heroic literary traditions.
1660Charles II is restored to the throne in England, sparking a bold new literature of dissent from oppressed Puritans. Supporters of the crown will also produce a number of brilliant works over the next 25 years of Charles' reign, an era that becomes known as the Restoration.
In London, the man of affairs, Samuel Pepys, begins keeping his famous diary, a work that provides unparalleled insight into Restoration-era events and manners as well as considerable psychological insight into the author's own character.
1665The publication of François de la Rochefoucauld's Maxims commences a distinguished lineage of French works that consider virtue in a genre of writing that debates the merits and makeup of the "honest man."
1667John Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic poem of redemption, is first published. The still-extant contract of Milton's negotiations with his printer is the first such English document to survive from the period.
1669Hans Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen completes his masterpiece, The Adventures of Simplicissimus, in Germany.
1670Blaise Pascal's Pensées or Thoughts are published posthumously for the first time in France. These reminiscences and short reflections are noted for the beauty and eloquence of the prose, as well as their revelation of the author's belief in justification by faith, a position that he could not articulate publicly while living.
1677Aphra Behn, Restoration England's first professional female playwright, completes her popular play The Rover, a work that helps to establish her career as a successful literary figure on the London scene. Until her death in 1689, she will be one of the most prolific dramatists and poets on the English scene.
1678John Bunyan writes Pilgrim's Progress, his masterful statement of his Puritan beliefs and a work that will continue to serve as a source of literary invention and creativity in England over the coming centuries.
Madame de La Fayette completes The Princess of Cleves in France. From the hand of one of the two great female literary figures of seventeenth-century France, the work is notable for its understated yet beautiful style.
1681Richard Baxter publishes his Breviate of the Life of Margaret Baxter, one of the great seventeenth-century spiritual biographies, which treats the life of his wife and provides a depth of psychological insight into the world of marriage and family life of the time.
1688Aphra Behn's Oroonoko is published in London; the work relies on the author's own experiences while a visitor in the Caribbean. It is noteworthy for its frank sexuality as well as its championship of the nobility of native peoples.
The "Battle between the Ancients and Moderns" begins in France with the publication of Charles Perrault's Parallels of the Ancients and Moderns. Over the next two decades French writers will debate the relative superiority of ancient versus modern literature, and eventually writers from other parts of the continent, including England, will enter into the debate.
1694George Fox's autobiographical Journal is first published at London. The work tells of the Quaker's persecution at the hands of intolerant state authorities as well as his quest for God; it is among the most important seventeenth-century spiritual autobiographies.
1700John Dryden completes his Fables, Ancient and Modern in the year of his death. The work is a collection of translations of ancient and medieval fables and ranks among as one of his most important literary creations.
1704The Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift's Battle of the Books defends those who have argued that modern literature is not the equal of the ancients.
1711Alexander Pope publishes his "Essay on Criticism," a poem that attempts to create harmony among supporters of ancient and modern literature. The work establishes its author as one of the brilliant literary figures of early eighteenth-century England.
Joseph Addison founds The Spectator, an important literary magazine on the London scene.
1715Alain-René Lesage's picaresque novel, History of Gils Bas, is first published in France.
1716Lady Mary Worthley Montagu publishes her Court Poems, a collection of works redolent with references to the ancients. The author's status as a member of the English aristocracy and as a figure of great erudition helps to establish her as a literary force in England.
1719Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is first published. It will rank as one of the great adventure stories of the century.
1721The Baron de Montesquieu finishes his Persian Letters, one of the first great works of the French Enlightenment. The work argues for tolerance and the acceptance of pluralistic opinions in society.
1722Defoe publishes The History and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, a work that will have an important influence on the development of the eighteenthcentury novel.
1726Jonathan Swift's political satire Gulliver's Travels appears in London.
The French playwright and literary figure Voltaire begins a two-year exile in London. His residency there will inspire the Philosophical Letters he publishes in 1734, a work that praises the greater liberty of English society as compared to that of contemporary France.
1731Antoine-François Prevost's novel Manon Lescaut appears in Paris. The work's tragic heroine will continue to inspire dramatic and musical creation over the next 150 years.
1740Samuel Richardson's Pamela, often cited as the first true English novel, is published at London.
1749Henry Fielding's masterpiece Tom Jones is printed. The work is a novel written as a comic epic and quickly becomes one of the most admired pieces of English fiction of the day.
1751Denis Diderot commences the massive project of the Encylopédie in Paris. When completed some two decades later, the work's many volumes will treat numerous issues in contemporary aesthetics and literature.
1755Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language is first published in London, the most comprehensive dictionary of the language to this time.
1759Voltaire's satirical Candide is first published. The work's savage mockery pokes fun at the philosophical optimism of the German philosopher Leibniz and argues instead that human beings must shape their own destiny and mold society to suit the demands of freedom.
1761Jean-Jacques Rousseau completes Julie, or the New Héloïse, a story that makes use of the medieval incident of Abelard and Heloise's ill-fated romance but which is set in the world of eighteenth-century France. The work's partially autobiographical strains initially cause its author some embarrassment.
1765Samuel Johnson edits and publishes The Works of William Shakespeare. His attention to Shakespeare's works is only one sign of a growing sense among contemporary literary figures of the formative role of the bard's works on English literature and the theater.
1766Oliver Goldsmith's masterpiece The Vicar of Wakefield, a work of gentle humor that treats the life of an impoverished clergyman, is printed in London. It will become one of the most successful of later eighteenth-century British novels.
1776Edward Gibbon's massive work, A History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, appears. Its anticlerical strains credit Rome's late antique troubles with the rise of Christianity.
1777Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther helps to establish the Sturm und Drang ("Storm and Stress") movement among writers in Germany. The work's vivid portrayal of the psychological torments attendant upon unrequited love make it a best-selling work in the generation that follows, both at home in Germany and also abroad.
1782In France, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's Les liaisons dangeureuses (Dangerous Liaisons) paints a picture of aristocratic sexual depravity and decadence that quickly makes it a best-seller.
1791The Marquise de Sade's Justine is published. The work's cruel imagery will help to establish the term "sadism" in modern European languages.

Important Events in Literature

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