An anonymous poet once said ‘I believe that imagination is more important than knowledge’. This line may be argued upon by world’s famous technicians/scientists/scholars etc, but they still cannot deny the fact that it was the man’s desire to stimulate thinking by penning down ideas/views, no matter how weird they are into a form of readable and hence understandable matter. This was called literature, a form of art which is the force of mind when a human being tries to go out of the league to understand the nature, god, society and the reasons of their existence. Some have called it as an offspring of religion, and may be that is why most art forms across different ages were inspired and evolved by religion practices in that time.

Origin of Neoclassicism

Chronologically the period from 1660 to around 1800 (usual date is 1798, publication date of Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads) can be termed as neo classic age. Neoclassicism is a revival of the styles and spirit of classic antiquity inspired directly from the classical period, which coincided and reflected the developments in philosophy and other areas of the Age of Enlightenment, and was initially a reaction against the excesses of the preceding Rococo style. While the movement is often described as the opposed counterpart of Romanticism, this is a great over-simplification that tends not to be sustainable when specific artists or works are considered, the case of the supposed main champion of late Neoclassicism, Ingres, demonstrating this especially well. The revival can be traced to the establishment of formal archaeology. The writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann were important in shaping this movement in both architecture and the visual arts. His books, Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture (1750) and Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (“History of Ancient Art”, 1764) were the first to distinguish sharply between Ancient Greek and Roman art, and define periods within Greek art, tracing a trajectory from growth to maturity and then imitation or decadence that continues to have influence to the present day. Winckelmann believed that art should aim at “noble simplicity and calm grandeur”,and praised the idealism of Greek art, in which he said we find: “not only nature at its most beautiful but also something beyond nature, namely certain ideal forms of its beauty, which, as an ancient interpreter of Plato teaches us, come from images created by the mind alone.” The theory was very far from new in Western art, but his emphasis on close copying of Greek models was: “The only way for us to become great or, if this be possible, inimitable, is to imitate the ancients”.

It was a period where counterfeiting and façades were very important; in some ways the country was trying to act like the Interregnum and English civil wars had not happened, and there was both a willful suppression of the immediate past and a glorification of the more distant, classical Roman past–which is why it was called the Neoclassical period. It was also a period of conscious self-awareness—people looked at themselves and kept asking “Am I playing my role correctly?” After the Great Fire of London, too, they had the chance to totally reinvent their capital and did so in a way that let them mask their past. You need to understand the politics, sociology, and economics of the period if you want to understand its literature.

This was a time of civil profitability and military unrest. Britain was involved in a series of commercial wars against the Dutch, French, Austrians, Spanish, and eventually its own American colonists over the lucrative trade opportunities with the New World and with the South Seas. The Restoration is the time of the great privateer/pirate trade and the celebration of British naval supremacy. Like the boom of the late twentieth century, the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were a time of sudden new wealth based on the beginnings of the stock exchange, of pyramid investment schemes like the South Sea Bubble, and all the accompanying commercialism and materialism that accompany new-found affluence. It is the time of party politics: the Tories, representing old landed wealth, conservatism, and the House of Lords, vs. the Whigs, representing fortunes made in trade, the City, and expansionist beliefs. There were a few voices of social reform in the later parts of the period: John Wilkes, champion of voting rights for commoners and of abolition; Mary Wollstonecraft, an early advocate of the rights of women; John Cobbett, a proto-Marxist economic reformer; and John Wesley, supporter of evangelical Methodism. They attempted to question the moral complacency of the Whig age, but with inconsistent success.

Status of Women in 17th Century

Although obviously half of the population of Renaissance Europe was female, the role of women in the high culture, especially the Latin-based academic culture and humanist movement of the period, was very limited, a generalization which is also true of political life, large-scale business enterprise, the fine arts (both music and visual arts), and even vernacular literature. Continuing the misogynistic culture of medieval Europe, Renaissance society excluded women from any leading role in public life. One prominent student of the place of women during the period has stated flatly that for women, the Renaissance was not a renaissance at all, but a period of declining status, and while this conclusion has been challenged, there is considerable evidence that in at least some respects, the restrictions on women’s participation in society increased during the centuries (14th through 16th or early 17th) usually covered by the term “Renaissance.”

Women’s proper role in society, as defined by most opinion in that age, was largely limited to the domestic sphere, and even in family life, both legally and actually, women were always supposed to be under the control of some male authority: first by the father, then by the husband, and if the woman were widowed, in many regions finally by either male children or the male relatives of her deceased spouse. The course of a woman’s life was clearly defined: first as daughter and virgin, then as wife and mother, and finally as widow. Only a wealthy widow had any real chance of being more or less in-dependent and in charge of her own life. Even in that case, her independence in many regions was greatly restricted by the property rights of her sons and her husband’s kinsmen.

Until the ‘Reformation’ women theoretically had the option of continuing to live in a virginal state by entering the monastic life. Since, however, most female monasteries expected postulants to present a dowry upon entry, in practice only women from relatively prosperous families had the option of becoming nuns. In the 13th and 14th centuries, especially in urban areas, informal communities of single women sprang up outside the monastic orders, but since such groups did not have official approval and were not subject to super-vision and control by male clergy, they often faced suppression by authorities who feared that unsupervised communities of females ei-there would fall into heresy or would become prostitutes. After the Catholic Reformation became strong from about 1550, church authorities were even less tolerant of unofficial communities of unmarried females living together.

Despite their limited status in society, women did have some rights in theory and even in practice. The dowry that a woman brought into her marriage remained legally her property, and if the marriage were dissolved by annulment or the death of her husband, she had in theory a right to control that part of the total resources of her marital household. On the other hand, during the course of a marriage, actual administration of the dowry was in the hands of the husband, and if he dissipated it through ill fortune or bad management, the woman had no recourse. Women of the higher classes (royal, aristocratic, and bourgeois) were more closely controlled than peasant women or women of the poorer urban classes, because their marriages involved important political and economic relationships and valuable properties. While European brides were never purchased as was done in some cultures, the daughters of prominent families were married off by their parents (essentially, by their fathers), who used the marriages of daughters (and sons, too) in order to make political or business connections. Lower-class women, on the other hand, often had considerably more independence in choosing whom and when to marry, though the fundamental cause of this independence was that they were poor and hence their marriage did not involve the pursuit of extraneous material goals.

In the 17th century the professions (teacher, lawyer, doctor) were closed to women. However some women had jobs. Some of them worked spinning cloth. Women were also tailors, milliners, dyers, shoemakers and embroiderers. There were also washerwomen. Some women worked in food preparation such as brewers, bakers or confectioners. Women also sold foodstuffs in the streets. A very common job for women was domestic servant. Other women were midwives and apothecaries.

However most women were housewives and they were kept very busy. Most men could not run a farm or a business without their wife’s help. In those days most households in the countryside were largely self-sufficient. A housewife (assisted by her servants if she had any) had to bake her family’s bread and brew their beer (it was not safe to drink water). She was also responsible for curing bacon, salting meat and making pickles, jellies and preserves (all of which were essential in an age before fridges and freezers). Very often in the countryside the housewife also made the families candles and their soap. A housewife also spun wool and linen.

A farmer’s wife also milked cows, fed animals and grew herbs and vegetables. She often kept bees. She also took goods to market to sell. On top of that she had to cook, wash the families clothes and clean the house. The housewife was also supposed to have some knowledge of medicine and be able to treat her family’s illnesses. If she could not they would go to a wise woman. Only the wealthy could afford a doctor. Poor and middle class wives were kept very busy but rich women were not idle either. In a big house they had to organize and supervise the servants. Also if her husband was away the woman usually ran the estate. Very often a merchant’s wife did his accounts and if was travelling she looked after the business. Often when a merchant wrote his will he left his business to his wife – because she would be able to run it.

In the 16th century some upper class women were highly educated. (Elizabeth I was well educated and she liked reading). They learned music and dancing and needlework. They also learned to read and write and they learned languages like Greek and Latin, Spanish, Italian and French. However towards the end of the 16th century girls spent less time on academic subjects and more time on skills like music and embroidery. Moreover during the 17th century boarding schools for girls were founded in many towns. In them girls were taught subjects like writing, music and needlework. (It was considered more important for girls to learn ‘accomplishments’ than to study academic subjects).

Women in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries were challenged with expressing themselves in a patriarchal system that generally refused to grant merit to women’s views. Cultural and political events during these centuries increased attention to women’s issues such as education reform, and by the end of the eighteenth century, women were increasingly able to speak out against injustices. Though modern feminism was nonexistent, many women expressed themselves and exposed the conditions that they faced, albeit often indirectly, using a variety of subversive and creative methods.

The social structure of sixteenth century Europe allowed women limited opportunities for involvement; they served largely as managers of their households. Women were expected to focus on practical domestic pursuits and activities that encouraged the betterment of their families, and more particularly, their husbands. In most cases education for women was not advocated—it was thought to be detrimental to the traditional female virtues of innocence and morality. Women who spoke out against the patriarchal system of gender roles, or any injustice, ran the risk of being exiled from their communities, or worse; vocal unmarried women in particular were the targets of witch-hunts. Anne Hutchinson, who challenged the authority of Puritan clergy, was excommunicated for her outspoken views and controversial actions. Anne Askew, a well-educated, out-spoken English Protestant, was tried for heresy in 1545; her denial of transubstantiation was grounds for her imprisonment. She was eventually burned at the stake for her refusal to incriminate other Protestant court ladies. Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558, a woman who contradicted many of the gender roles of the age. She was well educated, having studied a variety of subjects including mathematics, foreign language, politics, and history. Elizabeth was an outspoken but widely respected leader, known for her oratory skills as well as her patronage of the arts. Despite the advent of the age of print, the literacy rate during this period remained low, though the Bible became more readily available to the lower classes. Religious study, though restricted to “personal introspection,” was considered an acceptable pursuit for women, and provided them with another context within which they could communicate their individual ideas and sentiments. In addition to religious material, women of this period often expressed themselves through the ostensibly private forms of letters and autobiographies.

The seventeenth century was not an era of drastic changes in the status or conditions of women. Women continued to play a significant, though not acknowledged, role in economic and political structures through their primarily domestic activities. They often acted as counselors in the home, “tempering” their husbands’ words and actions. Though not directly involved in politics, women’s roles within the family and local community allowed them to influence the political system. Women were discouraged from directly expressing political views counter to their husbands’ or to broadly condemn established systems; nevertheless, many women were able to make public their private views through the veil of personal, religious writings. Again, women who challenged societal norms and prejudices risked their lives—Mary Dyer was hanged for repeatedly challenging the Massachusetts law that banished Quakers from the colony. Though their influence was often denigrated, women participated in various community activities. For example, women were full members of English guilds; guild records include references to “brethern and sistern” and “freemen and freewomen.” During the seventeenth century, women’s writings continued to focus on largely religious concerns, but increasingly, women found a creative and intellectual outlet in private journal- and letter-writing. Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, published in 1682, is a famous narrative written ostensibly for personal use that was made public and became a popular success.

The eighteenth century brought the beginning of the British cultural revolution. With the increasing power of the middle class and an expansion in consumerism, women’s roles began to evolve. The economic changes brought by the new middle class provided women with the opportunity to be more directly involved in commerce. Lower-to middle-class women often assisted their husbands in work outside the home. It was still thought unseemly for a lady to be knowledgeable of business so, though some class distinctions were blurring, the upper class was able to distinguish themselves from the rest of society. The rise in consumerism allowed the gentry to place a greater emphasis on changing fashion and “display,” further distancing them from the middleclass. With the advent of changes in rules of fashion and acceptable mores within society, some women established a literary niche writing etiquette guides. Also due to the cultural revolution, mounting literacy rates among the lower classes caused an increase in publishing, including the rise of the periodical. Men and women of all classes found new means to express ideas in the wider publishing community. Though women’s writing during this period continued largely to be an extension of domesticity, and focused mainly on pragmatic, practical issues, women found a wider market for publication. The act of professional writing, however, was still considered “vulgar” among the aristocracy. Significant colonial expansion during this period provided would-be writers with unique subject matter—letters written by women abroad discussed foreign issues and culture, and offered a detailed view of far-off lands. These letters were often circulated among members of an extended family, as well as in the larger community. In defiance of social strictures, women such as Mary Wollstonecraft began to speak out publicly on women’s rights, including education and marriage laws. Though women had better access to education, the goal of women’s education was to attain an ideal “womanhood”—a “proper education” was viewed as one that supported domestic and social activities but disregarded more academic pursuits. Women such as Wollstonecraft advocated access to education for women that was equal to that of their male counterparts. Marriage laws, which overwhelmingly favored men, also spurred public debate, though little was accomplished to reform laws during this period.

Throughout the world, women took action to advance their political and social rights. Catherine the Great of Russia devised a coup d’etat to take the throne in 1762, an aggressive act to prevent her son’s disinheritance. Catherine continued to rule in an unconventional, independent manner, withdrawing from the men who made her ascension possible and remaining unmarried to ensure her power. Catherine was a shrewd politician, and used wide public support to enact laws that significantly altered the Russian political system. In France, Olympe de Gouges demanded equal rights for women in the new French Republic, and was eventually executed by guillotine in 1793. Madame Roland, who also met an untimely death in 1793, influenced revolutionary politicians and thinkers during the French Revolution through her famous salon. She, too, was an activist for women’s social and political rights and was executed for treason, largely due to her outspoken feminist ideas. Phillis Wheatley, an African-American slave, examined slavery and British imperialism in her poetry, and became a notable figure among abolitionists in America and abroad. Increasingly, women rebuked traditional roles and spoke out against the social and political inequalities they faced. The century closed with the deaths of visionaries such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Catherine the Great, and the births of a new breed of female writers and scholars. The political and social changes that took place in the eighteenth century paved the way for these future writers and activists to advance the cause of women’s rights.

Status of women as woven in an artistic fashion in Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat

Formalistic Approach to Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat (Favorite) Formal analysis of poetry helps to unfold the underlying meaning of a poem. This technique does not focus on the author of the poem, or what was happening in history during the time when the poem was written, but instead puts emphasis on the actual mean of the work. Formal analysis breaths life into the literary work and allows the poem to speak for itself. For example, in Thomas Grays’ poem “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes,” paying close attention to word choice, structure, and rhyme scheme illuminates the actions of the prowling cat.

It is very difficult to understand what a writer mean when they write a poem, because you have to get in to a frame of mind that you think the writer was in when they composed the poem. In the Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes, Thomas Gray uses a cat and fish to teach a moral. In the Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes the setting was set in the first stanza. The poem gave you an idea that it took place in a very nice house that had a large china vase, that held water, also it give the allusion that in this vase were flowers and fish. It describes beautiful blue tinted flowers in bloom and the fish as angel like Beta fish, which had a coat of amour made in gold with the hint of royal purple. When Gray went into describing a fluffy black and white tabby cat with deep green eyes.

The cat’s name is Selima and she is perched at the top of the vase watching the fish glide through the water. Selima was planning to eat the fish as soon as she could catch them. So she slowly reached with her paw to nab one of the fishes, her first attempt fails so she thinks again of how she can reach them. Eventually she falls in and tries to get out eight times while crying for help from a forgiving soul. No one seems to hear her and she drowns in the water where the fish swam.

Thomas Gray asks two questions “What female heart can gold despise? What cat’s averse to fish?” (lines 23 and 24) the meaning of those questions are that some gold is not meant for women and these fishes were not meant to be eaten by Selima. Also the “female” could reflect the cat since cats are generalized has feminine and “gold” referring to the fish. Gray also states “Malignant fate sat by, and smiled” (line 28) which leads me to believe that fate was laughing at the cat and not helping it cause fate knew what was going to happen. In line twenty-nine “The slippery verge her feet beguiled” is an illusion to that the cat thinks it has balance and yet she does not cause she falls into the fish bowl. In the second to last stanzas it talks about how she cried out to a “watery God” to send aid to her. “No dolphins came, no Nereid stirred: Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard” which in my opinion means that no one heard Selima not even another cat, servant or even her owner came to help her in her dismay.

The cat in the poem represents the human female. Throughout the poem it is referred to as a “she”, and identified with similar, sexist traits that women have. These traits are laziness, the need for shiny, pretty objects, and an unquenchable desire for material goods. Just as the cat is drawn by the gold fish so is a woman’s attention drawn to this glimmering metal. Just as line 24 says “What female heart can gold despise.” The cat’s desire for the glistening fish ultimately ends in its death. This is similar to what will happen to a woman if left to her desires unchecked. This cat has nothing in its life to prevent it from its folly. A woman needs a man to set her on the right path. If left to her own devices it will mean her end, or so that’s what the poem implies of women. I the end a universal moral is introduced that can be applied to the human world, “Not all that tempts your wandering eyes, and heedless hearts is lawful prize, nor all that glisters gold.” (40-42). This leads into a perfect comparison of women and men as two psychological entities, the id and superego. Since the cat in the poem is so consumed by its desire that it impulsively acts on its greed and is a representation of the human female then obviously women can be considered representations of the Id. They impulsively act on their desires and ultimately, like the cat, are consumed by these desires if left unchecked. This is where man comes in. Men must be there and act as the superego holding back a woman’s natural desire for material gain. Since both represent a different entity respectively then obviously the union of man and woman must be the ego. A balance between the two. A woman’s desire for material gains and a man’s natural inclination for law and order. This then does bring in the idea that certain human traits can be identified not only as manlike and womanlike but also things that are naturally inclined towards the superego and the id. Using common religious thought, women as themselves are sinful. They are lazy, greedy, crave their material goods, and are sexually driven. Thus identifying these traits not only as part of the id but as feminine. Conversely traits of the superego, the need for a structured society and law and order, are also considered ideas that are masculine. The need to order society and create law and order in society are commonly held as masculine ideas. This, of course, are considered Christian and sexist ideas, but given the time period that Thomas Gray exists and the society he lives in these are certainly ideas he probably shared, and if not him then most of the society. A woman cannot be left to run her life because she can never hope to manage it like a man so she must have a husband to curtail her desires.

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