The Romantic Period 1785-1830 Whitechapel High Street, ca. 1894
The Romantic Period• Began in 1785, the year Blake and Burns published their first poems.• Ended in 1830, by which time the major writers of the preceding century were either dead or no longer productive.• It was a turbulent time period, when England changed from a primarily agricultural society to a modern industrial nation.• Wealth and power shifted from the landholding aristo- cracy to large-scale employers, who found themselves against a large, restive working class.
Reaction to Revolution• In response to the French Revolution, the English government prohibited public meetings, suspended habeas corpus (the release from unlawful restraint), and advocates of even moderate political change were charged with high treason.• Yet economic and social changes created a desperate need for corresponding political changes, and new social classes were demanding Viaduct across the Great Northern Railway, 1851 a voice in government.
The Industrial Revolution• Resulted from the invention of power-driven machinery replacing hand labor.• Open fields and farms were enclosed into privately owned agricultural holdings.• A new labor population massed in the sprawling mill towns that burgeoned in central and northern England.• The new landless class migrated to the industrial towns or remained as farm laborers, subsisting on Meggs almshouses, 1800s starvation wages.
Results of the Industrial Revolution• The landscape began to take on its modern appearance, with rural areas divided into a checkerboard of fields enclosed by hedges and stone walls.• Factories of the industrial and trading cities cast a pall of smoke over vast areas of jerry-built houses and slum tenements.• The population polarized into two classes of capital labor, the large owner or trader and the possessionless wage-worker, the rich and the poor.
Governmental response to the Industrial Revolution• A laisses-faire attitude encouraged government to not interfere• The results were inadequate wages, long hours of work under harsh discipline in sordid conditions, and the large-scale employment of women and children for tasks that destroyed both the body and the spirit.
Colonialization• While the poor were suffering, the landed classes, the industrialists, and many merchants prospered as the British Empire expanded aggressively both westward and eastward.• During this time period, the British Empire became the most powerful colonial presence in the world.• The British East India Co. ruled the entire Indian sub- continent, and black slave labor in the West Indies generated great wealth for British plantation owners.
The “Spirit of the Age”• Writers during this time period did not think of themselves as “romantic.”• Many writers, however, felt that there was something distinctive about their time – a pervasive intellectual and imaginative climate which they called “the spirit of the age.”• They described it as a release of energy, experimental boldness, and creative power that marked a literary renaissance, an age of new beginnings when, by discarding traditional procedures and outworn customs, everything was possible.
Poetry• Wordsworth described all good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”• He believed that the source of all poetry was not in external things, but in the individual poet.• The lyric poem, expressing the poet’s own feelings and temperament, became a major Romantic form.• The natural scene became a primary poetic subject, and poets described natural phenomena with an accuracy of observation that had no earlier match.• Poets bestowed attitudes and sentiments on the landscape that earlier writers had felt only for God, parents or a beloved.• Humble, rustic life and plain style were elevated and the wonder of ordinary things was exalted.
Themes in Literature• Nature• Isolationism• Exile – especially of a disinherited mind that cannot find a spiritual home in its native land England’s Lake District• Fascination with the outlaws of myth, legend, or history• Mysticism• Results of the industrial revolution
Authors from the Romantic Period William Blake • Poetical Sketches • Songs of Innocence and Experience • The Book of Thel • The Marriage of Heaven and Hell • Jerusalem
Robert Burns• Tam o’ Shanter• Various songs and poemsWilliam Wordsworth• Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems• The Prelude
Samuel Taylor Coleridge• The Rime of the Ancient Mariner• Dejection: An Ode• Kubla Khan• ChristabelGeorge Gordon, Lord Byron• Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage• Don Juan• Various poems
Percy Bysshe Shelley• Alastor• Prometheus Unbound• Adonais• Various poemsJohn Keats• Endymion• The Eve of St. Agnes• Various poems