Silje Somazzi

Dr. Morgan-Curtis

English 5330

December, 6, 2007


                               The relationship between the 18th and 21st century.


Many 21st century ideas, items and publications got their start in the 18th century. Three hundred years back, the people were doing the same things as us now, or thinking about things that nowadays is simply normal for us.

Indeed, the question about marriage was a big deal in the 18th century, women were all suppose to marry back then. However we can see an opposite idea in John Gay’s “ Beggar’s Opera” when Polly’s parents are telling her not to marry Macheath. We also notice that they are not even married. They explain to her that the good life they have is because they did not get marry. In fact, this shows a futuristic version of the idea of marriage. John Gay introduces the 21st century couple in some sort, saying that you don’t have to be married to the person you love to live a good life. This is the idea today in our century, people do not necessarily get married. Many just choose to live together without feeling the need to apply to marriage. It has become so common today that nobody won’t get shocked if  a couple decides not to marry. This is how it is like now and that is the idea Gay gives in his “opera”.

The 18th century saw the arising of a 2- party political system which still exists nowadays in England. The Whigs and the Tories were the world’s first political parties and had different ideas. The Whigs wanted the Parliament to be stronger than the King and the Tories were for the King and believed in Divine rights. Today, their name has changed, the Whigs are now called the Social Democratic Party and the Tories represent the Conservative Party. Even three hundred years later, they use the same political system in England that was used in the 18th century. This shows the great and important impact of 18th century’s ideas.

Another issue is that of women. In Lady Montagu’s letter to her daughter, she affirms that knowledge is very important and that her grand-daughter should begin reading books, learn mathematics because this is how she will get a good life. Knowledge is the key to success, without knowledge, the future of women is at home doing housework. She shows a more advanced vision of the condition of women that is unlike what people thought in the 18th century. They believed a woman had to be a good housewife, she was expected to marry and not to be intellectual. But Lady Montagu believed in women, that their condition had to change, that knowledge would become their delivery to get a better life and to prove that they can do it. Indeed, today, the majority of women all work, many are intellectual business women who have a good career and also a family life. Every girl goes to school to learn mathematics, to learn how to write and read, they go to college too and get degrees to then have a good job. What is happening today is the vision of Lady Montagu, she was right about knowledge, pushing her grand-daughter to study. Today women are almost as powerful as men.

In the 18th century, many people had to move to the cities. In fact, at that time, all members in a poor family had to work to provide food to survive. However, it soon became impossible to work in the same area because of “the surge of population” (Sherman 2132) that reduced the possibility for people to work. Furthermore, the enclosure laws encouraged the moving of the poor from their farms. As a consequence, they had to migrate to the cities in order to find work. This is still continuing today, many families have to move from their home in order to find an appropriate job. Besides, not all the members of one family can find work at the same place due to the locations of their different work. In our 21st century world, we can notice that just a few people still continue to work in farms, whereas the majority of the population works in the cities. The agricultural world does not attract people anymore; they want to make money, evolve in the business world and they mostly find that in urban areas. Moreover, with the growth of all kinds of new techniques, electronics and science, we are moving away from agriculture due to industrialization and urbanization.

The Age of Reason saw the arising of periodicals and newspapers which was a way of informing people about what was happening in the world. People became more curious about other people and aware that there were many cultures they did not know about. They liked to read the newspaper talking about what the upper classes persons did. They found it funny to chat about after reading the articles. The periodicals and newspapers became so popular because it was a new genre of writing, it was the discovering of new countries, the traveling of people, the stories about the rich and the famous. They influenced conversations between people. Furthermore, with the coffee-houses, people could gather and talk about the subjects. It was meant as a time of pleasure and the public life became fascinating: “Habits of social readings that would have been familiar to Chaucer and his audience contributed to sociable debate on the persons and personalities of public life, foreign potentates, military campaigns, theatrical rivalries, monsters and prodigies” (Sherman 2140). So many new things people could not wait to read about. Today, it is still going on; people in 2007 are interested about the riches and the famous’ life, what they do, who they date, hang out with and also what is happening in the world. It fascinates us so much because we do not have what they have nor cannot do what they do, most of the time. Even three hundred years later, people act the same as when they read an interesting article about somebody or something. Today almost everybody reads periodicals and newspapers because it is a good way to stay informed about things happening in the world or just things that are interesting people.

The society of consumption comes from the Age of Reason with “the advertising filling the pages and underwriting the costs of the daily, weekly, and monthly periodicals” (Sherman 2129). People became consumers of many different products and enjoyed it. They had “tea from China, coffee from the Caribbean, tobacco from Virginia” (Sherman 2129). They were drinking and smoking also, enjoying all the pleasures of this newly commercialized society. Then back to our time, in 2007, we are still in the society of consumption making us buy more and more products, sometimes unnecessarily. It is the power of money, we all need money in order to survive because everything is built around money. We need food, clothes, a place to live; all this you can have only if you got money and the society is making us buy many things letting us believe we really need them. Furthermore, still today people drink and smoke, it is very common.


The 18th century really is an important period because it is so close to ours, even three hundred years later. We did not change much from what people were back then, many things are so similar like the newspapers and the people chatting about it. It is exactly the same way today. It is really true that many ideas and thoughts, publications started in the Age of Reason. It is funny to think that what was new to them at that time is so common to us now that we do not even ask ourselves where it comes from, it’s just so normal to us.


                                        Work cited

Sherman, Stuart, ed.“ The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century”, The Longman Anthology of British literature.3.1C. New York; Pearson Education, Inc., 2006

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