This MLA-style comparative essay compares three major works of British literary canon and their social and feminist themes. It compares three timeless classics and their impact on social change in their corresponding era of British literature. It was written at an undergraduate level to serve as a sample for the Ultius blog.
Works of the British Literary Canon
Works within the British canon have always told a corresponding story of overarching and predominant social and intellectual themes of western culture. Three literary works standing as primary examples within the canon of British Literature include Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe,” Margret Cavendish’s “The Blazing World” and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.” All three of these literary works demonstrate social change and defiance of preceding tradition.
Love British history? Check out this biographical essay on Henry VIII and his six wives.
British literature and modern feminism
“Mrs. Dalloway” is a perfect example of modern literature, reflecting post WWI social attitudes. Traditions were being questioned after WWI, and mainstream art and culture reflected this. The fragmented non-linear literary style in which “Mrs. Dalloway” is written reflects this cultural rejection of traditional methodology (Woolf 1925). Since Mrs. Dalloway so prominently and uniquely reflects western cultural themes of it’s time, it has been noted as a classic within the canon. Additionally, “Mrs. Dalloway” is reflective of postmodern and feminist themes, both of which were rising during the early 1900s as women’s roles in society began to shift.
British literature and early feminism
In contrast, “The Blazing World” by Cavendish was published over 200 years prior in 1668, and is thematically quite different. Cavendish’s work is considered one of the first science fiction novels published (another defiance of tradition), and although thematically different from Woolf’s work, it also is uniquely representational of predominant social themes during its time that questioned mainstream approaches, as well as seemingly timeless societal dreams of “Utopia” and a “perfect world” (Cavendish 1668), not to mention its author was a woman, an uncommon occurrence within the 1600s, lending to its feminist tones.
Lastly, Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” originally published in 1719 is a narrative describing adventure at sea during a time when Europeans were beginning to further explore the western world (Defoe 1995). Again, this literary work reflects overarching societal exploration themes of its time, in addition to exemplifying innovative content, placing it within the British literary canon alongside Cavendish’s and Woolf’s works.
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Cavendish, Margaret. The Blazing World. London: Printed by A. Maxwell 1668. [email protected] Web. 2 May 2017. https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cavendish/margaret/blazing_world/
Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Dover Publications, 1995.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt Ink, 1925.