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The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing$
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J. B. Bullen

Print publication date: 1994

Print ISBN-13: 9780198128885

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198128885.001.0001

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The Renaissance Revised England in the 1860s

The Renaissance Revised England in the 1860s

(p.239) 11 The Renaissance Revised England in the 1860s
The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing


Oxford University Press

The 1860s in England saw considerable developments in the Renaissance myth. The feelings of uncertainty about the moral basis of its achievements were swept away by a younger generation of writers who were attracted to its colour and to its individualism. John Ruskin’s antipathy, George Eliot’s picture of religious chaos, and even Robert Browning’s sense of moral ambiguity were replaced by John Addington Symonds’s celebration of Renaissance vigour and Walter Pater’s delight in its antinomianism. The Renaissance was discussed most publicly by Matthew Arnold, but ultimately his views were uncertain and wavering. Modification of the myth also took place privately. Algernon Charles Swinburne, reacting powerfully against the contemporary adulation of the Middle Ages for its piety and sanctity, espoused the fleshliness and the sinfulness of the Renaissance with outspoken pleasure. The year 1863 was a significant one in the British historiography of the Renaissance, because it brought together, in Oxford and London, members of the older generation who had helped shape the myth with those who were to be instrumental in its future development.

Keywords:   Renaissance, England, myth, John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Walter Pater, John Addington Symonds, historiography, Algernon Charles Swinburne

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