The Romantic Period 1798-1832

The Romantic Period
The Beginning
The beginning of the Romantic Period
in England was marked by the
publication of Lyrical Ballads with a
Few Other Poems by Samuel Taylor
Coleridge and William Wordsworth (it
contained the poems Rime of the
Ancient Mariner and “Tintern Abbey”)
Turbulent Times
A major economic change occurred in England during this time:
transition from an agricultural society to industrial nation,
with a restless working class centered in mill towns
When England lost America, it lost prestige & confidence (as
well as money)
The French revolution represented the English ruling classes’
worst fears: overthrow of the king by democratic “rabble,”
the triumph of radical principles
However, the French revolution made the democratic idealists
feel exhilarated!
During the “September massacre,” hundreds of French
aristocrats (even those with a slight connection to Louis XVI)
were executed by guillotine
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French officer turned emperor and
totally ruthless dictator (name synonymous with “tyrant” now)
By defeating Napoleon, the English conservatives felt they had
saved their country from a tyrant (via rigid social ideas)
Napoleon’s defeat meant idealists like Wordsworth felt
betrayed. It was the defeat of one tyrant by another
The Tyranny of Laissez Faire
The increase in city populations was caused by the
Industrial Revolution (more people lived by the
factories); It led to desperate/terrible living conditions
Communal land shared by small farmers taken over by
individual owners caused people to be “landless.” They
then migrated to the city in search of work or went on
A “laissez faire” policy “let (people) do (as they
please);” economic forces operate freely without
government interference
This policy resulted in the rich growing richer. The poor
suffered more, and children suffered the most (used for
The Romantics changed poetry by turning from the
formal, public verse (of the 18th century Augustans) to
more private, spontaneous, lyric poetry
The Romantics’ lyrics expressed their belief that
imagination, rather than reason, was the best response
to the forces of change
What Does “Romantic” Mean?
The romance genre allows writers to explore new,
more psychological and mysterious aspects of the
human experience
Firstly, the word romantic signifies fascination with
youth and innocence, with “growing up” by
exploring and learning to trust emotions
Secondly: a stage in a cyclical development of
societies; when people need to question
tradition/authority in order to imagine better
(happier, fairer, healthier), ways to live; associated
with idealism
Thirdly: Western societies reached conditions
necessary for industrialization and demanded that
people acquire a stronger awareness of change & try
to find ways to adapt to it
Poetry, Nature, and Imagination
Wordsworth’s definition of “good poetry”: a
“spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”
He said this type of poetry should use simple,
unadorned language to deal with commonplace
subjects for a particular purpose; often a lyric that lends
itself to spontaneity, immediacy, a quick burst of
emotion and self-revelation
The Romantic poets were called “nature poets” because
they focused on natural life rather than city life
(“beautiful and permanent forms of nature”), prized
experiences of beauty and majesty of nature, not hostile,
but full of mysterious forces, and were intrigued by way
the human mind and nature act upon each other
Wordsworth believe that the mind is a “mirror” of
nature. Imagination moves the mind in mysterious ways
to imitate (without being sacrilegious) the power of its
Maker and create new realities in the mind and in poetry
The Idea of the Poet
What was Wordsworth’s definition of a poet: “He is a
man speaking to men.” Speaker (not the poet)
speaking to something else, makes us consider not
only the speaking itself, but also the kind of
speaking taking place
Lyric poetry is different from Augustan poetry since it
is more emotional, passionate, speaking from the
heart; we don’t hear it, we overhear it—like
eavesdropping on a private conversation (private,
NOT public expression)
The Romantic poets were deeply concerned with
truths of the heart and the imagination
This “democratic definition” of poetry resulted in
poetry about the ordinary human experience,
relationship between mind and other people/things,
speaking should be convincing and seems a
genuine and sincere account of an experience
The Romantic Poet
Wordsworth believed that the poet was a special person,
“endowed with more lively sensibility, more
enthusiasm and tenderness…a greater knowledge of
human nature, and a more comprehensive soul,
than are supposed to be common among mankind.”
William Blake believed that the poet was a
bard: an inspired revealer and teacher
Samuel Taylor Coleridge believed that the
poet “brings the whole soul of man into
activity,” employing “that synthetic and
magical power…the imagination.”
Percy Shelley
believed that the
poets were the
legislators of the
John Keats believed that
the poet was
“physician” to all
humanity and “pours
out a balm upon the
The Byronic Hero
Characteristics of a Byronic hero:
rash rebels, hailed or resurrected in
reaction to neoclassical world of restraint
reckless, wounded manhood
“proud, moody, cynical, defiance on his
brow, and misery in his heart, implacable in
revenge, yet capable of deep and strong
devastatingly attractive, yet flawed
passionate individuals, intellectually
incapable of compromise, forever
brooding over some past sin, painfully yet
definitely alone
The appeal of these characters was that
they embodied the pessimism of the age
(there was no other outlet for creative
young men--like Byron); they “beckon
admirers to explore personal freedoms
and to reject confining conventions,”
and appeal to those lonely and
misunderstood. Basically, people love the
“bad boy”
Lord Byron
The Lure of the Gothic
• Gothic literature filled with
examples of the eerie and
supernatural, terror, and
gloomy, medieval castles
• Gothic architecture reflected
rustic irregularity, glorious
imperfection; the wild,
unpredictable aspects of
nature; ruins reflect human
aspirations and failures. It
enhanced spiritual awareness