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ROMANTIC PERIOD IN ENGLISH

LITERATURE: 1785-1830

A BRIEF OVERVIEW
SOCIAL & POLITICAL CONTEXT
 PERIOD OF GREAT CHANGE IN
ENGLAND:
 AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY W/ POWERFUL
LANDHOLDING ARISTOCRACY WAS GIV-
ING WAY TO MODERN INDUSTRIAL NA-
TION OF LARGE-SCALE EMPLOYERS & A
GROWING, RESTLESS MIDDLE CLASS.
PERIOD OF CHANGE (cont.)
 AMERICAN & FRENCH REVOLUTIONS
WERE HUGELY IMPORTANT ELEMENTS
OF THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE.
 THREATS TO EXISTING SOCIAL STRUC-
TURE WERE BEING POSED BY NEW,
REVOLUTIONARY IDEAS.
PERIOD OF CHANGE (cont.)

 A TIME OF HARSH POLITICAL REPRES-

SION IN ENGLAND, IN SPITE OF NEED

FOR CHANGES BROUGHT ABOUT BY

THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.


PERIOD OF CHANGE (cont.)

 MILL TOWNS GREW, THE LANDSCAPE


WAS INCREASINGLY SUBDIVIDED,
FACTORIES SPEWED POLLUTION OVER
SLUMS, & THE POPULATION WAS IN-
CREASINGLY DIVIDED INTO RICH &
POOR.
PERIOD OF CHANGE (cont.)

 REFORMS DID NOT OCCUR BECAUSE

THE PHILOSOPHY OF LAISSEZ-FAIRE

(“LET ALONE”) PREVAILED.


LACK OF REFORM (cont.)

 CONSEQUENCES WERE LOW WAGES,


HORRIBLE WORKING CONDITIONS,
LARGE-SCALE EMPLOYMENT OF
WOMEN & CHILDREN IN BRUTALLY
HARD OCCUPATIONS (SUCH AS COAL
MINING).
LACK OF REFORM (cont.)
 IN THE FACE OF TECHNOLOGICAL UN-
EMPLOYMENT & POVERTY, WORK-ERS
—WHO COULD NOT VOTE—HAD TO
RESORT TO PROTESTS & RIOTS,
INCURRING FURTHER REPRESSION.
 BUT WHILE THE POOR SUFFERED, THE
LEISURE CLASS PROSPERED.
PLIGHT OF WOMEN

 WOMEN OF ALL CLASSES WERE RE-


GARDED AS INFERIOR TO MEN, WERE
UNDEREDUCATED, HAD LIMITED VO-
CATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES, WERE SUB-
JECT TO A STRICT CODE OF SEXUAL BE-
HAVIOR, AND HAD ALMOST NO LEGAL
RIGHTS.
PLIGHT OF WOMEN (cont.)

 IN SPITE OF THE ABOVE, THE CAUSE

OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS WAS LARGELY

IGNORED.
ROMANTICISM

 TERM “ROMANTICISM” IS DIFFICULT TO

DEFINE B/C OF THE VARIETY OF

LITERARY ACHIEVEMENTS, AND

WRITERS OF THE PERIOD WERE ONLY

LATER LABELLED “ROMANTIC.”


ROMANTICISM (cont.)

 BUT MANY HAD A SENSE OF “THE


SPIRIT OF THE AGE”—THAT A GREAT
RELEASE OF CREATIVE ENERGY WAS
OCCURING AS ACCOMPANIMENT TO
POLITICAL & SOCIAL REVOLUTION. IT
WAS SEEN AS AN AGE OF NEW BEGIN-
INGS & LIMITLESS POSSIBILITIES.
POETIC THEORY & PRACTICE

 WORDSWORTH TRIED TO ARTICULATE

THE SPIRIT OF THE NEW POETRY IN

THE PREFACE TO LYRICAL BALLADS

(1800, 1802).
CONCEPT OF POETRY, THE POET

 POETRY WAS SEEN AS THE “SPONTA-


NEOUS OVERFLOW OF POWERFUL
FEELINGS”; THE ESSENCE OF POETRY
WAS THE MIND, EMOTIONS, & IMAGI-
NATION OF THE POET (NOT THE OUTER
WORLD).
POETRY & THE POET (cont.)

 FIRST-PERSON LYRIC POEM BECAME


THE MAJOR ROMANTIC LITERARY
FORM, WITH “I” OFTEN REFERRING
DIRECTLY TO THE POET.
 THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SELF BE-
CAME A MAJOR TOPIC OF ROMANTIC
POETRY.
POETRY & THE POET (cont.)

 POETS OFTEN SAW THEMSELVES AS

PROPHETS IN A TIME OF CRISIS, REVIS-

ING THE PROMISE OF DIVINE REDEMP-

TION IN TERMS OF A “HEAVEN” ON

EARTH.
POETIC SPONTANEITY, FREEDOM

 INITIAL ACT OF POETIC COMPOSITION

MUST ARISE FROM IMPULSE; BE FREE

FROM THE RULES INHERITED FROM

THE PAST; AND RELY ON INSTINCT,

INTUITION, & FEELING.


NATURE

 IMPORTANCE OF ACCURATE OBSERVA-

TION & DESCRIPTION OF WILD NATURE,

WHICH SERVES AS A STIMULUS TO

THINKING & TO THE RESOLUTION OF

PERSONAL PROBLEMS & CRISES.


NATURE (cont.)
 LANDSCAPE WAS OFTEN GIVEN HU-
MAN QUALITIES OR SEEN AS A SYS-
TEM OF SYMBOLS REVEALING THE
NATURE OF GOD.
 CLOSENESS W/ NATURE WAS SEEN AS
BRINGING OUT HUMANITY’S INNATE
GOODNESS.
GLORIFICATION OF THE COMMON-
PLACE

 HUMBLE, RUSTIC SUBJECT MATTER &

PLAIN STYLE BECAME THE PRINCIPAL

SUBJECT & MEDIUM OF POETRY.


THE COMMONPLACE (cont.)

 POETS SOUGHT TO REFRESH READERS’

SENSE OF WONDER ABOUT THE ORDI-

NARY THINGS OF EXISTENCE, TO MAKE

THE “OLD” WORLD SEEM NEW.


THE SUPERNATURAL & STRANGE

 MANY ROMANTIC POEMS EXPLORE


THE REALM OF MYSTERY & MAGIC;
INCORPORATE MATERIALS FROM
FOLKLORE, SUPERSTITION, ETC.; &
ARE OFTEN SET IN DISTANT OR
FARAWAY PLACES.
THE STRANGE (cont.)

 RELATED TO THIS WAS A RENEWED

INTEREST IN THE MIDDLE AGES (AND

THE BALLAD FORM) AS A BEAUTIFUL,

EXOTIC, MYSTERIOUS BYGONE ERA.


THE STRANGE (cont.)

 THERE WAS ALSO GREAT INTEREST IN

UNUSUAL MODES OF EXPERIENCE, SUCH

AS VISIONARY STATES OF CONSCIOUS-

NESS, HYPNOTISM, DREAMS, DRUG-

INDUCED STATES, AND SO FORTH.


INDIVIDUALISM & STRIVING

 HUMAN BEINGS WERE SEEN AS ESSEN-


TIALLY NOBLE & GOOD (THOUGH COR-
RUPTED BY SOCIETY), AND AS POSSESS-
ING GREAT POWER & POTENTIAL THAT
HAD FORMERLY BEEN ASCRIBED ONLY TO
GOD.
INDIVIDUALISM (cont.)

 THERE WAS A GREAT BELIEF IN DEMO-

CRATIC IDEALS, CONCERN FOR HUMAN

LIBERTY, & A GREAT OUTCRY AGAINST

VARIOUS FORMS OF TYRANNY.


INDIVIDUALISM (cont.)

 THE HUMAN MIND WAS SEEN AS CRE-

ATING (AT LEAST IN PART) THE WORLD

AROUND IT, AND AS HAVING ACCESS TO

THE INFINITE VIA THE FACULTY OF

IMAGINATION.
INDIVIDUALISM (cont.)

 REFUSING TO ACCEPT LIMITATIONS,

HUMAN BEINGS SET INFINITE, INAC-

CESSIBLE GOALS, THUS MAKING FAIL-

URE & IMPERFECTION GLORIOUS AC-

COMPLISHMENTS.
INDIVIDUALISM (cont.)

 THIS REFUSAL TO ACCEPT LIMITA-

TIONS FOUND EXPRESSION IN BOLD

POETIC EXPERIMENTATION.
INDIVIDUALISM (cont.)
 MANY WRITERS DELIBERATELY ISO-
LATED THEMSELVES FROM SOCIETY
TO FOCUS ON THEIR INDIVIDUAL
VISION.
 THEME OF EXILE WAS COMMON, W/ THE
ROMANTIC NON-CONFORMIST OFTEN
SEEN AS A GREAT SINNER OR OUTLAW.
A Definition of “Romanticism”
 “A literary movement, and profound shift in sensibility,
which took place in Britain and throughout Europe roughly
between 1770 and 1848. Intellectually it marked a violent
reaction to the Enlightenment. Politically it was inspired by
the revolutions in America and France…Emotionally it
expressed an extreme assertion of the self and the value of
individual experience…together with the sense of the infinite
and the transcendental. Socially it championed progressive
causes…The stylistic keynote of Romanticism is intensity,
and its watchword is ‘Imagination’” (Drabble 842-843 [The
Oxford Companion to English Literature])
Put It In Context
 Before  After
 Restoration (or  The Victorian Age
Neoclassicism)  1833 – 1901
 1660-1798  Depicting realism and
 Order, reason, clarity, naturalism (detail-
logic, scientific, loaded), optimism
universal experiences education, morality
 Gulliver’s Travels  A Tale of Two Cities
Restoration versus Romanticism
 Scientific observation of  Examine inner feelings,
outer world; logic emotions, imagination
 Pragmatic (practical)  Idealistic (optimistic)
 Science, technology  Mysterious, supernatural
 General, universal  Concerned with the
experiences particular (very specific)
 Optimistic about present  Romanticizing the past
 Moderation, self-restraint  Excess, spontaneity
 Aristocratic; society as  Concerned with common
whole people and individuals
 Nature controlled by  Felt nature should be
humans untamed
Important Dates
 1775-1783: American
Revolution (fighting
ended in 1781)
 1789-1815: French
Revolution
 1798: Publication of
Lyrical Ballads
 1798-1832: Romantic
Period
“The Big Six” Romantic Poets
 William Blake
 William Wordsworth
 Samuel Taylor
Coleridge
 Percy Bysshe Shelley
 John Keats

 George Gordon, Lord


Byron
Other Romantic Writers
 Jane Austen
 Leigh Hunt
 Mary Shelley
 Mary Wollstonecraft
 Sir Walter Scott
 Robert Southey
Notable Romantic Painters
 John Constable
(painting of “Flatford
Mill” [1817] to the
right)
 J.M.W. Turner
 William Blake
 Claude Monet
 Eugene Delacroix
Notable Romantic Musicians
 Beethoven
 Franz Schubert
 Claude Debussy
 Verdi
 Chopin
 Franz Josef Haydn
 Mozart
Lyrical Ballads
 First published anonymously in
1798 as Lyrical Ballads, with a
Few Other Poems
 by Wordsworth and Coleridge
 Includes “Tintern Abbey” and
“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
 In the Preface, Wordsworth
writes that good poetry is the
“spontaneous overflow of
powerful feelings”
Key Romantic Themes
 Imagination  Irrational experiences
 Egotism (dreams and drugs)
 The particular  Awareness of process and
current conceptions of art
 The remote
and introspection
 The primitive  Longing for the infinite
 The medieval encounter through intense
 The East experiences of sublime
 The sublime nature (storms, mountains,
 Nature oceans)
Key Events of Romantic Age
 1798: Lyrical Ballads published
 1812: Byron publishes Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
 1813: Jane Austen publishes Pride and Prejudice
 1818: Mary Shelley publishes Frankenstein
 1819: Percy Bysshe Shelley publishes “Ode to the West
Wind”
 1820: John Keats publishes “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
 1832: First Reform Act extends voting rights and end of the
Romantic Age
Elegy
 Definition: “An elegy is a lament setting out the
circumstances and character of a loss. It mourns for
a dead person, lists his or her virtues, and seeks
consolation beyond the momentary event. It is not
associated with any required pattern, cadence, or
repetition.”
 Examples: “Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard”
by Thomas Gray and “Adonais” by Percy Bysshe
Shelley
Pastoral
 Definition: “The pastoral is a mode of poetry
that sought to imitate and celebrate the virtues
of rural life (a nature poem).”
 Examples: “To My Sister” by William
Wordsworth and “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by
John Keats
Ode
 Definition: “An ode is a formal address to an
event, a person, or a thing not present. There
are three types: Pindaric, Horatian, and
Irregular.”
 Examples: “Ode to the West Wind” by Percy
Bysshe Shelley and “To Autumn” by John
Keats
Lyric
 Definition: “An ancient subdivision of poetry.
One of poetry’s three categories, the others
being narrative and dramatic. The poet
addresses the reader directly and states his
own feelings.”
 Examples: “Frost at Midnight” by Samuel
Taylor Coleridge and “To Spring” by William
Blake
Sonnet
 Definition: “A sonnet is a poem of fourteen
lines, usually iambic. There are two
prominent types: the Petrarchan and the
Shakespearean.”
 Examples: “Composed upon Westminster
Bridge, September 3, 1802” by William
Wordsworth and “Ozymandias” by Percy
Bysshe Shelley