The Romantic PeriodA time of tremendous change in Western EuropeBy Sonya Cline
A Time of OppositionThe Romantic Period was a time of reaction againstthe aristocratic social and political norms of the Ageof Enlightenment. It was also a movement thatopposed the scientific rationalization of nature. Theliterature, music, and other arts of the time becameavenues for individual expression and speaking out.In England, many literary thinkers wanted theopportunity to establish a harmonious socialstructure in the face of a rapidly changing society.
A little History• The Industrial Revolution, began 1760– New inventions meant mass production of goods could beproduced more efficiently– Rural workers in cottage businesses and agriculture hadlittle choice but to seek work in factories, mills, and mines– Women and children worked to help support the family– Cities became centers of“poverty and deprivation”(Oosthoek)– Building new physical andcommercial infrastructuretook priority over the individualand nature
A Little History• The American and French Revolutions, 1776 and 1789– public meetings, to prevent an uprising (Norton)– During the revolution, thousands people were killed in France, and fightingextended to neighboring countries, there was widespread political and socialinstability– It was during the French Revolution that Romantics clarified their oppositionto the Enlightenment age– Motivated by the desire to take political power from the land-owningaristocracy, with the goal of liberty, fraternity, and equality for all men– Loss of the American colonies caused a loss of prestige as well as economicloss for England– Englands literary thinkers saw revolution as an opportunity to establish abetter social structure– English conservatives feared the French Revolution ideals might spill over toEngland, so repressive measures were initiated, including a ban on collectivebargaining and public meetingsWilliam Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were among those who saw the FrenchRevolution as fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy.
A Little History• The Napoleonic Wars– Napoleon was initially considered a liberator, a symbol of change, andseveral Romantic writers were in support of revolution– Many saw the rise of Napoleon as a revolutionary figure and bringer ofa new freedom, others saw the violent excesses of the FrenchRevolution and Napoleonic War as signs of the apocalypse– Romantics became less enthusiastic over the course of the Napoleonicwars with Napoleon’s increasing cruelty and aggressive imperialism– It wasn’t until after 1815, when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo,that England started addressing social problemsAs a result of revolutions and war, there is an undercurrent of tragedy, death anddespair in much of the later Romantic literature.
A Little history• England’s laissez-faire(let it be) philosophy– Encouraged people to follow their interests and limited stateinvolvement in economic activity– Communal land was taken over by individuals, resulting in alarge number of displaced people– The gap widened between the very wealthy and the very poor,– Working conditions were terrible, with long hours, low wages,and child labor exploitation in factories, mills, and mines– Rapidly growing towns became polluted and overpopulated,disease was rampantFrustrated with the current political and social situation, Romanticpoets responded with poetry that was private, spontaneous andlyrical – a shift from earlier formal and more public poetry.
New Themes• Emotion and the individual experience– A new emphasis on the subjective human experience, withemotion, passion, and feeling, the scientific and objectiveexperience of the Enlightenment is rejected– Romantic poetry is intimate, individual, and original, concernedwith truth of the heart – previous poetry was written for thepublic– Romantics saw the individual human experience as influencedby their social setting and their time in history“all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” -William Wordsworth, from Preface to Lyrical Ballads
New Themes• The awesomeness of nature– By studying nature, men hoped to better understand the world andmankind– Writers of the Romantic Era had an increased interest in nature as apositive influence in an uncertain world– Many writers avoided the industrial scene of the cities, turning tonature to escape the trials of an unstable economy and politicalsystems– Nature was seen as powerful, awesome, and sometimes horrifying– Experiencing nature was believed to inspire human creativity and freethe spirit
New Themes• Creativity and imagination– Romanticism rejected the Enlightenment period’s ideals of rulesof order– It was a time of reaction and self-expression in all the arts– Poetry in particular became a tool for self expression, oftenusing subjects that were not believable– Imagination was believed to be the power behind creativity – ahuman version of God’s power to create– Imagination was needed to cope with (and escape from) thepolitical, economic and social problems during this time
Romantic Era Writers• Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1934– Smart and enthusiastic as a child– He co-wrote Lyrical Ballads with Wordsworth, which manysay marked the literary beginning of the Romantic Period– Coleridge had an alcohol and opium addiction, and hispoetry often expressed emotions associated with sin– Using everyday language he often created strange ordream-like imagery– Unlike other writers of the Romantic era, he retained hisreligion and most of his beliefs– Coleridge was accused of plagiarism– Best known for his long and narrative poetry…like “Rime ofthe Ancient Mariner”
Rime of the Ancient Marinerlines 68-82And a good south wind sprung up behind;The Albatross did follow,And every day, for food or play,Came to the mariners hollo!In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,It perched for vespers nine;Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,Glimmered the white Moon-shine.God save thee, ancient Mariner!From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—Why lookst thou so?—With my cross-bowI shot the Albatross.-Samuel Taylor ColeridgeA crop of Gustave Doré’s illustration for TheRime of the Ancient Mariner (1876 edition)by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Romantic Era Writers• William Blake, 1757-1827– Blake was a painter and engraver– He used Christian symbols but didn’t ascribe to Christian theology– He was a radical and non-conformist, his artwork and poetry reflectedhis belief that “ideal forms should be constructed not fromobservations of nature but from inner visions” (American Academy ofPoets)– Believed poetry could be read and understood by common people(American Academy of Poets)– “I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man’s” Herejected the ideals of the past and found his own way of doing thingsSongs of Innocence and Experience are collections of Blake’s poetry thatcontrasts the blossoming of the human spirit when it is allowed to befree with it’s withering when constrained by rules.
A Poison Tree, from Songs of Experience• I was angry with my friend:I told my wrath, my wrath did end.I was angry with my foe:I told it not, my wrath did grow.And I watered it in fears,Night and morning with my tears;And I sunned it with smiles,And with soft deceitful wiles.And it grew both day and nightTill it bore an apple bright;And my foe beheld it shine,And he knew that it was mine,And into my garden stoleWhen the night had veiled the pole:In the morning glad I seeMy foe outstretched beneath the tree.-William Blake
Romantic Era Writers• Mary Shelley, 1797-1851– Born to radical and influentialparents: Mary Wollstonecraftwho was a feminist writer, andWilliam Godwin who was anatheist and former minister– She married Percey BlysseShelley, they eloped after Perceyabandons his wife– Strongly influenced by events ofthe French Revolution– In 1818 her book Frankenstein was published anonymously, the book waswritten in a response to a dream and discussion about a ghost story contestMary Shelley uses contrasting elements in Frankenstein that mirror the experience oflife in Europe at her time in history: justice and injustice, light and dark, nature andnurture…
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, final paragraph chapter 4Winter, spring, and summer passed away during my labours; but I did notwatch the blossom or the expanding leaves--sights which before alwaysyielded me supreme delight--so deeply was I engrossed in my occupation. Theleaves of that year had withered before my work drew near to a close; andnow every day showed me more plainly how well I had succeeded. But myenthusiasm was checked by my anxiety, and I appeared rather like onedoomed by slavery to toil in the mines, or any other unwholesome trade,than an artist occupied by his favourite employment. Every night I wasoppressed by a slow fever, and I became nervous to a most painful degree;the fall of a leaf startled me, and I shunned my fellow-creatures as if I hadbeen guilty of a crime. Sometimes I grew alarmed at the wreck I perceivedthat I had become; the energy of my purpose alone sustained me: my labourswould soon end, and I believed that exercise and amusement would thendrive away incipient disease; and I promised myself both of these when mycreation should be complete.
Romantic Era Writers• Percy Blythe Shelley, 1792-1822– Came from a strong conservative family, yet loved freedom– He was bullied in school and said he “saw the petty tyranny ofschoolmasters and schoolmates as representative of man’sinhumanity to man, and dedicated his life to a war againstinjustice and oppression” (Norton)– Published several political pamphlets in support of Ireland’sindependence, and a pamphlet “The Necessity of Atheism”,believing that religion was an instrument of oppression– Believed language can be used to create and protect moral andcivil law.
A Defense of Poetry, written by Percey Blysse Shelley in 1821“Sorrow, terror, anguish, despair itself are often the chosenexpressions of an approximation to the highest good. Oursympathy in tragic fiction depends on this principle; tragedydelights by affording a shadow of the pleasure which exists inpain. This is the source also of the melancholy which isinseparable from the sweetest melody. The pleasure that is insorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself.”-Percy Blysse Shelley
Romantic Era Writers• Lord Byron, 1788-1824– Byron was a nobleman by birth, spoiled by his mother– He was born with a foot deformity causing a limp and self-consciousness, but he was also his own best promoter– A “Byronic Hero” – a flawed but idealized character, who isrebellious, avoids society, seductive, arrogant, much likeLord Byron and the character in several of his writings– He had trouble exercising moderation, with exercise, food,money, and women (maybe men also)– He was an advocate for social reform, seeing industrialmachines as producing inferior goods and taking away jobs– A master at using metaphor, his best known work might beDon Juan, which related to the social, ideological andpolitical issues of the Romantic Era
So We’ll Go No More RovingSo, well go no more a rovingSo late into the night,Though the heart be still as loving,And the moon be still as bright.For the sword outwears its sheath,And the soul wears out the breast,And the heart must pause to breathe,And love itself have rest.Though the night was made for loving,And the day returns too soon,Yet well go no more a rovingBy the light of the moon.-George Gordon, Lord Byron
How Do You See The Romantic Era?• Can you see the influence of modern politicalideals, economic hardships, or war in the arts andliterature of today?• If you were to write poetry, or fiction, what wouldyou write?• We often don’t see how the bigger picturepermeates and shapes everything we do andunderstand. What do you imagine our bigger tolook like? Does it look similar to that of theRomantic Era?
Works CitedAcademy of American Poets. Poets.org. 2013. Electronic. 2 June 2013.deidre Shauna Lynch, Jack Stillinger. "The Romantic Period." The Norton Anthology of English Literature.New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. 1363-1884. Print.History.com. "Industrial Revolution." 2013. History.com. Electronic. 30 May 2013.Oosthoek, Jan. "Romantic movement, late 18th and early 19th century." 2013. Environmental HistoryResources. Electronic. 2 June 2013.The Monster. Dir. James Whale. Perf. Boris karloff. 1931. photo.Young, Molly. "A Defence of Poetry By Percey Blysse Shelley." 13 October 2009. Poetry Foundation.Electronic. 30 May 2013.