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Poetry and the Making of the English Literary Past1660-1781$
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Richard Terry

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780198186236

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186236.001.0001

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Dryden and the Idea of a Literary Tradition

Dryden and the Idea of a Literary Tradition

(p.142) 5 Dryden and the Idea of a Literary Tradition
Poetry and the Making of the English Literary Past

Richard Terry (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses two related conceits that express how literature is passed down between generations. In the first, tradition is viewed as a process of filiation: a great writer of an earlier time stands to one of a later era as a father to his son, and a great work of a previous age can be seen as a sort of familial heirloom passed down from one generation to the next. In the second, the later writer is linked to the former not through figurative parentage, but through the Pythagorean transmigration of souls. Specifically as regards English literature, an influential metaphor has long been one in which the unfolding of tradition is figured as a paternal-filial nexus: the earlier writer uses his influence, as it were, to sire the later one. The conceit of literary paternity has become a standard way of imagining the relations of influence and emulation obtaining between writers in the literary tradition. The popularity of the parental metaphor may still owe much to the particular use made of it by one writer alone: John Dryden.

Keywords:   literary tradition, English literature, John Dryden, metaphor, poetry, conceit, literary paternity, transmigration

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