The Romantic Period1785-1830Whitechapel High Street, ca. 1894
Alternative beginnings: Scholars haveargued for different dates.• 1780 so as to include the poet WilliamBlake’s work (lived 1757-1821)• 1789 beginning of the French Revolution• 1798 first publication of the Preface to TheLyrical Ballads (Wordsworth andColeridge). 2ndedition 1800; 3rdedition1802)• Broadly defined, the Romantic Period ranfrom 1785-1830.
The Romantic Period began in1785, the year William Blakeand Robert Burns publishedtheir first poems.It is usually said to have endedin 1830, by which time the majorwriters of the preceding centurywere either dead or no longerproductive.It was a turbulent time period,when England changed froma primarily agricultural society toa modern industrial nation.Wealth and power shifted fromthe landholding aristocracy tonew factory employers, whofound themselves up against alarge, restive working class.
From the 18thcentury emphasis onreason, sense, science, rationality,civility, and political notions ofliberty and property…....we move to the Romantic Period–a periodof Sensibility. Writers became much moreintrospective looking less at externalrealities and focusing much more oninternal sensation, feeling, and emotions.Henry Fuseli, “The Poet’s Vision,” unuseddesign for frontispiece to William Cowper’sPoems (1807).Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s History of the RoyalSociety; Wenceslaus Hollar, engraving, London,1667.
Richard Samuel, Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in theTemple of Apollo (The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain), 1778.The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, ca. 1783–91Move from 18thCentury’sdominant genre of Satire andits accompanying ironicdistance and focus on societyvs. the self to…..…the Romantic period’s fascination withthe lyrical, the morbid, the macabre, andthe Gothic.
But with the Romantic Period comes amuch more intense nostalgia for thepastoral. This played out in a fascinationwith “common” people and rural life. Theidealization of the pastoral was in part areaction to the rural and agriculturaldestruction wreaked by the IndustrialRevolution.Shared with the 18thcentury an interest inthe “picturesque”—natural landscape,gardens, parks.
REVOLUTIONImage memorializing the Peterloo Massacre. Detailfrom an illustration by George Cruikshank for WilliamHone’s A Slap at Slop and the Bridge-Street Gang(1821), a stinging attack on the conservative pressthat had attempted to justify the soldiers’ brutality.The French Revolution: 1789-1793The American Revolution:1774-1777
Eugene Delacroix: “Liberty Leading the People” 1830
Reaction to Revolution• In response to the French Revolution, the Englishgovernment prohibited public meetings,suspended habeas corpus (the release fromunlawful restraint), and advocates of evenmoderate political change were charged with hightreason.• Yet economic and socialchanges created adesperate need forcorresponding politicalchanges, andnew socialclasses were demandinga voice in government.Viaduct across the Great Northern Railway, 1851
The Industrial Revolution• Resulted from the invention of power-driven machineryreplacing hand labor.• Open fields and farms were enclosed into privately ownedagricultural holdings.• A new labor populationmassed in the sprawling milltowns that burgeoned incentral and northern England.• The new landless classmigrated to the industrialtowns or remained as farmlaborers, subsisting onstarvation wages.Meggs almshouses, 1800s
Results of the Industrial Revolution• The landscape began to take on its modern appearance,with rural areas divided into a checkerboard of fieldsenclosed by hedges and stone walls. (Enclosure)• Factories of the industrialand trading cities cast apall of smoke over vastareas of jerry-built housesand slum tenements.• The population polarizedinto two classes of capitallabor, the large owner or trader and theimpoverished wage-worker, the rich and the poor.
Further consequences of the IndustrialRevolution:• Strong Governmental response• A laissez-faire attitudeencouraged government not tointerfere.– Adam Smith The Wealth of Nations(1776)• The results were inadequatewages, long hours of work underharsh discipline in sordidconditions, and the large-scaleemployment of women andchildren for tasks that destroyedboth the body and the spirit.
Consequences Cont’• Colonialization– While the poor were suffering, the landed classes, theindustrialists, and many merchants prospered as theBritish Empire expanded aggressively both westwardand eastward.– During this time period, the British Empire became themost powerful colonial presence in the world.– The British East India Co.ruled the entire Indian sub-continent, and black slavelabor in the West Indiesgenerated great wealth forBritish plantationowners.
THE STATUS OF WOMEN• Women of allclasses wereregarded asinferior to men,wereundereducated,had limitedvocationalopportunities,were subject to astrict code ofsexual behavior,and had almostno legal rights.• In spite of theabove, the causeof women’s rightswas largelyignored.Disappointed Love, Francis Danby, 1821
Republican Motherhood• French Revolution provoked English conservative anxieties about disruption of traditionalgender roles.– New emphasis on English virtues associated with “family” and “home”– Nationalist rhetoric circulates notion that the British military is protecting the domestichearth.• Conceptions of femininity altered—new idealization and nationalization of the home
Republican Motherhood cont’• Women were deluged bynationalist rhetoric disseminatedin the form of books, sermons,and magazine articles all ofwhich emphasized mental &physical differences betweenthe sexes.• Policing of women into thedomestic sphere—instructingwomen to remain within thehome as wives and caregivers• Tie forged between Britishdomesticity and nationalidentity: Women’s job to raisepatriotic sons. Women’s virtues(as culturally prescribed)presented as having publicrelevance.
The “Spirit of the Age”• Writers during this timeperiod did not think ofthemselves as “romantic.”• Many writers, however, feltthat there was somethingdistinctive about their time –a pervasive intellectual andimaginative climate whichthey called “the spirit of theage.”• They described it as arelease of energy,experimental boldness, andcreative power that marked aliterary renaissance, an ageof new beginnings when, bydiscarding traditionalprocedures and outworncustoms, everything andanything was possible.A Philosopher in a Moonlit Churchyard, Phillipe deLoutherbourg, 1790.
Poetic Theory and PracticeWordsworth tried to articulatethe spirit of the “new” poetry inhis famous Preface to TheLyrical Ballads (first published1798; again in 1800, 1802).
Wordsworth’s Concept of Poetry/thePoet• Poetry is the “spontaneous overflow of powerfulfeelings”; the essence of poetry was the mind, emotions,and the imagination of the poet (less interest in theexternal world and more interest in the Self and the rolesof memory and the imagination).
Poetry/the Poet cont’• FIRST-PERSON LYRIC POEM becamethe major Romantic literary form, with “I”often referring directly to the Poet. Thedevelopment of the Self became a majortopic of Romantic poetry.
Poetry/The Poet cont’• THE LYRIC: a brief subjectivepoem marked strongly byimagination, melody, andemotion, and creating for thereader a single, unifiedimpression. Subjectivity is keyto the form of the lyric which isthe personal expression of apersonal emotion imaginativelyphrased.• Poets often saw themselves asPROPHETS in a time of crisis,revising the promise of divineredemption in terms of“Heaven” here on Earth.
Characteristics of the RomanticPeriod• (1) Imagination, Emotions, and Intuition.Exaltation of intense feelings.• Descartes: I think, therefore I am.vs• Rousseau: I felt before I thought.• (2) Subjectivity of approach; the cult of theindividual; the absolute uniqueness ofevery individual.
Characteristics of Romanticismcont(3) Freedom of thought and expression.A revolt against authority, tyranny, andtradition, whether social, political, religious,or artistic.Thomas Paine: “The Rights of Man.”Mary Wollstonecraft: “A Vindication of theRights of Woman” (1792)Alienation and rebellion: Cult of Youth,Energy, and Idealism
Characteristics of Romanticism cont3) Freedom of thought and expression cont’– HUMAN BEINGS were seen as inherently noble & good (thougheasily corrupted by society), and as possessing great power andpotential that had formerly been ascribed only to God.– There was GREAT FAITH PLACED IN DEMOCRATIC IDEALS,concern for human liberty, & a great outcry against various fromsof tyranny.– THE HUMAN MIND was seen as creating (at least in part) theworld around it, and as having access to the infinite via thefaculty of the imagination. The Romantics believed thatCONSCIOUSNESS SHAPES PERCEPTION—so by extensionthis means that perception and experience are subjective. Themind has access to the infinite via the faculty of theIMAGINATION.
• 4) Idealization of NatureEngland’s LakeDistrictCharacteristics of Romanticism cont
Characteristics of Romanticism cont4) IDEALIZATION OF NATURE cont’• Embracing the uncivilized, the wild, the pre-civilized.• Rousseau: “Man is born free and everywhere heis in chains.” In other words, civilization is in partthe cause of our corruption.• The “noble savage”—closeness to nature seen asinvoking man’s innate goodness• Natural world as revealing the divine• Nature as mirroring subjective states.• Nature as revelatory/reflective of personal crisis.
4) IDEALIZATION OF NATURE CONT’Two Perspectives onNature–Edmund Burke’s “The Beautiful”: Thefirst perspective viewed nature aspeaceful, calm, nurturing, a source forspiritual renewal. It often showed aninnocent life of rural dwellers, a world ofpeace and harmony which nurtures andcomforts the human spirit. This is verymuch how Wordsworth viewed nature.
Edmund Burke, in A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin ofour Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1756) definedthese two views of nature as:• The beautiful• The sublime—Burke’s doctrine of the sublimewas powerfully influential on 18thand 19thcenturywriters. He believed that a painful idea creates asublime passion and thus concentrates the mindon that single facet of experience and producesa momentary suspension of rational activity,uncertainty, and self-consciousness. If the painproducing the effect is IMAGINARY rather thanreal, a great aesthetic object is achieved.
The sublime cont’• Characterized by nobility and grandeur,impressive, exalted, terror/horror, raisedabove ordinary human qualities.• Great mountains, storms at sea, ruinedabbeys, crumbling houses, charnelhouses are appropriate subjects toproduce the sublime.• Percy Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” will be ourexample of a poet contemplating thesublime
Characteristics of Romantacismcont.• 5) an obsession with theSupernatural, the otherworldly, and the strange
THE SUPERNATURAL & STRANGE• Many Romantic poemsexplore the realm ofmystery & magic;incorporate materialsfrom folklore,superstition, etc; areoften set in distant orfaraway places• There was also a greatinterest in unusualmodes of experiencesuch as visionary statesof consciousness,hypnotism, dreams,drug-induced states,etc.
Glad Day, or The Dance of Albion, WilliamBlake, ca. 1793. Blake kept returning tothis image of liberation. He first designedit in 1780, shortly after finishing hisapprenticeship as an engraver, when thevision of a rising sun and a radianthuman body may have expressed hisown youthful sense of freedom. Butlater, in an age of revolution, heidentified the figure as Albion—“Albionrose from where he labourd at the Millwith Slaves.” For Blake the giant Albionrepresents the ancient form of Britain, auniversal man who has fallen on evil,repressive times but is destined to awakeand to unite all people in a dance ofliberty, both political and spiritual.Eventually, in Jerusalem (ca. 1820),Blake’s last great prophetic work, thefigure of Albion merged with Jesus, risenfrom the tomb as an embodiment of “thehuman form divine”—immortal andperpetually creative
Robert Burns• Tam o’ Shanter• Auld Lang SyneWilliam Wordsworth• Lyrical Ballads, with aFew Other Poems• The Prelude• “Lines Composed aFew Miles aboveTintern Abbey”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge• The Rime of the AncientMariner• Dejection: An Ode• Kubla Khan• The Eolian HarpGeorge Gordon, LordByron• Childe Harold’sPilgrimage• Don Juan• “Darkness”Lord Byron, Thomas Phillips, 1835(after an original of 1813)
Percy Bysshe Shelley• Alastor• PrometheusUnbound• Adonais• Mont BlancJohn Keats• Endymion• The Eve of St.Agnes• Ode to a Nightingale
WERE THERE NO WOMEN POETS?• Anna Barbauld– “A Summer’s Evening’sMeditation”– “The Rights of Woman”• Charlotte Smith– Elegiac Sonnets• Mary Robinson (whoWordsworth and Coleridgecredit as their mentor in craft)– “January, 1795”– “The Haunted Beach”– “To the Poet Coleridge”
The Essay• Charles Lamb• William Hazlitt• Thomas DeQuincey• Essays• Reviews• Political pamphlets• Eclectic range oftopics from writer’sprivate meditationsto politics, socialphenomenon/events
The Novel. Illustration from 1787 by James Northcote of a scene in William Hayley’sdidactic poem The Triumphs of Temper (1781): the heroine’s maiden aunt has justcaught her in possession of a novel and seized the book as “filthy trash”—whilesecretly intending to keep it for herself.1814 marked change• Shape of thenovel changingradically• Novel replacingpoetry aspreferred genreTHE NOVEL
The Novel cont’• Jane Austen(1775-1817)publishes her first novelin 1811– Emma (1816) “anew style of novel”• Focused on lives ofthe landed gentry• Particularlyinterested in femaleheroinesWilliam Godwin-Caleb Williamspolitical novels• Sir Walter Scott– Waverly series
The Gothic Novel• Gloomy castles• Deviouspriests/monks• Ghosts/nightmares– Ann Radcliffe– Clara Reeve– Sophia Lee
The Gothic cont’• Whereas the 18thcentury writers haddisparaged the gothicas “barbaric” theRomanticists weredrawn to whateverwas– Medieval; natural;primitive; wild; free;authentic; occult;para-normal; themacabre