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Transcript of romanticism
Romanticism is filled with emotional extremes:
Ranging from Gothic mystery and the supernatural to the cool contemplation of beauty in nature
From optimism and revolutionary zeal in a time of political turmoil to the stark realizations of human mortality.
Preferred literary expression was poetry:
Rigid Neoclassical conventions that dictated poetic expression during the Enlightenment were displaced.
The speaker in the poems is presumably the poet and the poem itself the expression of the poet's specific experience.
Wordsworth’s poetry and his "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads call for this identification.
Byron's Don Juan questions it allowing for ironic distance
Wordsworth redefines both the poet, as someone who speaks "the real language of the common man," and poetry, as
“the spontaneous overflow of powerful
feelings… [that] takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility”
A break away from the poetic tradition was initiated by the Romantics in their use of lyric forms:
Neoclassicism insisted on the canonical hierarchy of verse genres, placing epic and heroic poetry at the top.
Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads make the common lyric such as ballad, sonnet or ode the preferred genres of the time.
The French Revolution (1789)
OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book XI
The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, Caspar David Friedrich,
1818, Kunsthalle, Hamburg
In a letter to Byron in 1816, Shelley declared that the French Revolution was
"the master theme of the epoch in which we live"
judgment shared by
For Wordsworth, belief in a political change was replaced by belief in a quiet, but just as dramatic, inner change of both moral and imaginative nature.
Although the writing of the Romantics was deeply inspired by the storming of the Bastille, the greatest poetry of the period was written in the mood of revolutionary disenchantment that followed it.
The French Revolution promised both political transformation and the transformation of intellectual, imaginative and spiritual life as well.
In order to re-enchant what science and knowledge had disenchanted during the Enlightenment, the Romantics turned to history and to medieval Gothic.
The ideals of order, of decorum and rational control, had given way to literary explorations of the irrational realm of nightmarish terror, violence and desire.
Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764) established the genre conventions
Terrifying experiences in ancient castles with subterranean dungeons and secret passageways, lit by flickering candle lights and haunted by ghosts from neighboring graveyards.
The Gothic includes the macabre, the mysterious and the fantastic, the supernatural and the terrifying — especially the pleasurably terrifying.
The best-selling author of the genre (Ann Radcliffe), the author of its most enduring novel (Mary Shelley), and the author of its most effective parody (Jane Austen) were all women.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) is the single most important novel of the Gothic tradition
Romantic Landscape and Nature
If anything characterizes Romantic literature it is the imaginative use of nature and landscape.
Tintern Abbey, written in 1798, is one of Wordsworth's first great poems that contemplates the beauty of nature, recollecting the poet's communion with it and tracing its impact on the poet's mind.
Contemplation of natural beauty is also an
encounter between subject and object,
mind and nature, where the speaker seeks to identify with the natural world which the onset of modernity has displaced.
The identification with the world outside is made possible through imagination and through metaphoric or figurative language.
Wide and deep prospects, rugged scenery, grandeur of the mountain range, blurring mists in the distance, classical and medieval ruins are all settings where romantic imagination is moved to awe and to the sublime.
Nature serves as a dramatic backdrop that inspires moving meditations on the human condition, such as the inevitable experience of aging and loss.
Poems are usually about nature and philosophical reflection on time and mortality, on memory, imagination and society.
The Satanic and Byronic Hero
Intriguing figures exiled from society,
usually haunted by guilt over past transgressions, and defined by them.
Part of the Romantic emphasis on individualism, rebellion and the notion of the author seen as a solitary genius.
Inspired by the fallen archangel Satan, as depicted in Milton's Paradise Lost
The hero is both demonic and heroic, like the arch rebel who had taken on no less an antagonist than Omnipotence itself
The Byronic hero is a figure of heroic aspiration and at the same time someone who has been shamefully mastered by his own passions
The Byronic hero is in open rebellion against society and its conventions, a social outcast:
Byron's social disgrace following the breakup of his marriage in 1816 was seen by his contemporaries as the poet himself succumbing to the myth of his own creation.
Orientalism as foreignness or otherness in Romantic Literature
The recurrence of recognizable elements of Asian and African place names etc.
E.g., an Arab maiden, Safie, is one of the most liberated characters in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Often associated with exotic settings, supernatural happenings, and deliberate extravagance of event, character, behavior, emotion, and speech, what can be called “ethnographic exoticism."
But because of the East being associated with irrational forces, it is also where the fascination with “the Orient” begins blending cruelty and terror with eroticism.
The Orient in Romantic literature was more than mere escapism
The Romantic period was a time of global exploration and the accession of colonies all over the world, as well as of the development of imperialist ideologies that justified the British colonial aggression and cultural hegemony.
The European Romantic imagination was saturated with Orientalism, but it reflected persistent ambivalence concerning the East complicated by colonial anxiety and imperial guilt.
The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey,
Looking towards the East Window,
J. M. W. Turner, 1794, Tate Britain
Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix, 1830, Louvre
Thomas Cole, Romantic Landscape with Ruined Tower (1830s)
''An Egyptian Pottery Seller Near Giza,'' by Elisabet Jerichau-Baumann (1876)
And behold, thrones were kingless, and men walked
One with the other even as spirits do--
None fawned, none trampled; hate, disdain, or fear,
Self-love or self-contempt, on human brows
No more inscribed, as o'er the gate of hell,
'All hope abandon, ye who enter here.'
None frowned, none trembled, none with eager fear
Gazed on another's eye of cold command,
Until the subject of a tyrant's will
Became, worse fate, the abject of his own,
Which spurred him, like an outspent horse, to death.
Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, Act III, Scene IV, 131-41