The Romantic Age - 1789 - 1832 - MODULE 3

Main Historical Facts Turner's Sunrise
Cultural  and political context
Origins of Romantic literature.
Influential Characteristics
Revision Questions
Main Historical Facts


The American Declaration of Independence. In the same year Adam Smith published his seminal book "The Wealth of Nations" in favour of the development of laissez-faire policies. It advocated no interference from the government in economic activities and supported the idea that efficiency and profit are absolute goods. The negative impact of the laissez-faire approach on the workers' social rights was to become pervasive as the industrial revolution progressed.
1780>>> Britain's Industrial Revolution began and brought about a radical change from an economy based on farms to one that relies on mechanisation and factories. The expansion of the industrial population brought with it the rise of the factory towns especially in northern areas.
1787>>> Catherine of Russia wages war against the Ottoman Empire.
1789>>>  The French Revolution breaks out.
1781>>> End of war between the American Colonies and Britain.  Victory for the United States which had been helped by French armies. At the peace treaty in Paris Britain recognized the independence of the United States of America.
1791>>> Anglo-American radical thinker Tom Paine publishes "The Rights of Man", a bitter criticism against the established institutions seen as corrupt and malign.
1793>>>  Britain begins wars against revolutionary  France
1795>>> France becomes a republic after the end of the Reign of Terror (following the revolution)
1811>>>  Some negative effects of the Industrial Revolution lead to the Luddite Riots, where textile workers attacked  the new mills and machinery which had caused them to lose their jobs.
1819>>> Peterloo Massacre: a meeting for Parliamentary Reform is dispersed in Manchester.
The Tory government acted brutally on radicals fighting for democracy, and in the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 15 people were killed when mounted troops charged a crowd of 60,000 people who had gathered in Manchester for a meeting on the need for electoral reforms. However, under a severe social pressure which could damage Britain’s economy, and under the pressure of philanthropists, men of letters and public opinions,  a series of social reforms were implemented.>>>>>The First Reform Act of 1832 extended the right to vote to the middle class men;   The Second Reform Bill of 1836 gave working class men resident in town the right to vote.
1815>>> The Duke of Wellington defeats Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and ends the war against Napoleon.
1824>>> Trade Unions are legalized in England
1837>>> Queen Victoria comes to the throne
Cultural and political Context                                                                    ^
Romanticism affected the whole of European culture in different ways and at different times. No other intellectual/artistic movement has had comparable variety, reach, and staying power since the end of the Middle Ages. The three main branches of the Romantic movement were German, English and French. Each had its individual development and quality and each was interrelated with the others. German Romanticism had a preparatory stage in the Sturm und Drang Movement of the 1770s and was philosophical. The German romantic ideas spread quickly through Europe by way of the journal "Athenaeum" of the Schlegel's brothers. The new romantic taste favored simplicity and naturalness, and these were thought to flow most clearly and abundantly from the "spontaneous" outpourings of the untutored common people. In Germany in particular, many thinkers and scholars started to celebrate and value the idea of the  collective Volk (people) creative mind.  Rather than paying attention to the individual authors of popular works, these scholars celebrated the anonymous masses who invented  these works as if from their very souls. All of this fantasizing about the creative folk process created as well an ideology of the essence of the German soul which was to be used to dire effect by the Nazis in the 20th century. The natural consequence of emphasizing the value of creative folk genius was  nationalism. Unlike the thinkers of the Enlightenment, who strongly believed in human rational thinking as the foundation of equality among men, the Romantic thinkers believe in the power of the individual's creative thinking, feelings, emotions, freedom of action and of thought. English Romanticism started in the 1780s and is best represented by its poetry. French Romanticism developed mainly in drama and literary criticism; its way was prepared by the general influence of Rousseau on French culture. Rousseau was immensely influential in Europe, particularly in his claim that man is good by nature but corrupted by society and in his conception of nature as a life-giving force. The Romantic movement cannot be explained without considering the great political changes brought about by the American and French Revolutions. Rousseau brought the concept of democracy home to the people. According to him the democratic government was the best government from the point of view of administration. He propounded the theory that the king was but an elected representative of the people and that he could only hold his status of sovereignty till the people had faith in his integrity; in his book Social Contract he gave the idea to the people of France that the French monarchs had dragged the subjects onto the brink of revolution by their arbitrary and tyrannical acts. Voltaire exposed the high-handedness of the upper classes and exploitation of the people by the nobles and the clergy of the higher order through his critical and satirical writings. Another great French thinker, Montesquieu  contributed  to the development of democratic thought by saying  that the king was to be chosen by the will of the people. Revolutionary French  radicalism was somewhat felt in England; however,  British Radicalism focused on the demand for radical reforms of the electoral system and for universal suffrage. Radicals believed that Parliament should represent the people and not the rich property-owners, as the Tory Party claimed. The Tory Government in power fought radicalism through restrictions on freedom of speech and association. British thinkers were divided over the approval or rejection of  the changes brought about by the French Revolution. Edmund Burke, a statesman, a thinker and prose writer, in his "Reflections on the Revolution in France" (1790) described the French Revolution as a plunge back into savagery and advocated reform other than revolution; on the other hand, Tom Paine in his "Rights of Man" (1791) glorified revolutionary France and independent America, alarming the British Tory Establishment. While the "Reflections" sold 19,000 copies in six months, the "Rights of Man" sold 200,000. In Italy the Romantic Movement officially started in 1816, it had a strong nationalistic component and found its best expression in poetry and in the novel.      ^


1.Folklore and Popular Art: Some of the earliest stirrings of the Romantic movement are conventionally traced back to the mid-18th-century interest in folklore which arose in Germany--with Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collecting popular fairy tales and other scholars like Johann Gottfried von Herder studying folk songs--and in England with Joseph Addison and Richard Steele treating old ballads as if they were high poetry. These activities set the tone for one aspect of Romanticism: the belief that products of the uncultivated popular imagination could equal or even surpass those of the educated court poets and composers who had previously monopolized the attentions of scholars and connoisseurs.

2.Shakespeare : One of the early effects of this interest in the folk arts was  the rise and spread of the reputation of William Shakespeare. Although he is regarded today as the epitome of the great writer, his reputation was at first very different. Shakespeare was a popular playwright who wrote for the commercial theater in London. He was not college-educated, and although his company had the sponsorship of King James, his work was not entirely "respectable." Academic critics at first scorned his indiscipline, his rejection of their concepts of drama which were derived in part from ancient Roman and Greek patterns. A good play should not mix comedy with tragedy, not proliferate plots and subplots, not ramble through a wide variety of settings or drag out its story over months or years of dramatic time; but Shakespeare's plays did all these things. A proper serious drama should always be divided neatly into five acts, but Shakespeare's plays simply flowed from one scene to the next, with no attention paid to the academic rules of dramatic architecture (the act divisions we are familiar with today were imposed on his plays by editors after his death). If the English romantics exalted Shakespeare's works as the greatest of their classics, his effect on the Germans was positively explosive. French classical theater had been the preeminent model for drama in much of Europe; but when the German Romantics began to explore and translate his works, they were overwhelmed. His disregard for the classical rules which they found so confining inspired them. Writers like Friedrich von Schiller and Goethe created their own dramas inspired by Shakespeare. Faust contains many Shakespearian allusions as well as imitating all of the nonclassical qualities enumerated above. Because Shakespeare was a popular rather than a courtly writer, the Romantics exaggerated his simple origins. To the Romantics he was the essence of folk poetry, the ultimate vindication of their faith in spontaneous creativity. Much of the drama of the European 19th century is influenced by him, painters illustrated scenes from his plays, and composers based orchestral tone poems and operas on his narratives.

3.The Gothic Romance. Another quite distinct contribution to the Romantic movement was the Gothic romance. Rejecting the Enlightenment ideal of balance and rationalism, readers eagerly sought out the hysterical, mystical, passionate adventures of terrified heroes and heroines in the clutches of frightening, mysterious forces. The modern horror novel and woman's romance are both descendants of the Gothic romance, as transmuted through such masterworks as Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and her sister Emily's Wuthering Heights. Another classic Gothic work, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, is often cited as a forerunner of modern science fiction.

4.Medievalism : Whereas classical art looked back constantly to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Romantics celebrated for the first time since the Renaissance the wilder aspects of the creativity of Western Europeans from the 12th through the 14th centuries: stained glass in soaring cathedrals, tales of Robin Hood and his merry men, and--above all--the old tales of King Arthur and the knights of the round table.  Fairies, witches, angels--all the fantastic creatures of the Medieval popular imagination came flooding back into the European arts in the Romantic period (and all are present in Faust). The longing for "simpler" eras not freighted with the weight of the Classical world gave rise to a new form: the historical novel. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was by far its most successful practitioner. Although credit for writing the first historical novel should probably go to Madame de Lafayette for her La Princess de Clèves (1678), Scott is generally considered to have developed the form as we know it today. Almost forgotten now, his novels like The Bride of Lammermoor and Ivanhoe nevertheless inspired writers, painters, and composers in Germany, France, Italy, Russia and many other lands ^

Influential Characteristics

1.Emotion  The other influential characteristic of the Gothic romance was its evocation of strong, irrational emotions--particularly horror. Whereas Voltaire had abhorred "enthusiasm" and strove to dispel the mists of superstition; the Gothic writers evoked all manner of irrational scenes designed to horrify and amaze. Romantic writers generally also prized the more tender sentiments of affection, sorrow, and romantic longing. Of all the emotions celebrated by the Romantics, the most popular was love. Although the great Romantic works often center on terror or rage, the motive force behind these passions is most often a relationship between a pair of lovers. In the classical world love had been more or less identical with sex, the Romans treating it in a particularly cynical manner. The Medieval troubadours had celebrated courtly adultery according to a highly artificial code that little reflected the lives of real men and women while agreeing with physicians that romantic passion was a potentially fatal disease. It was the romantics who first celebrated romantic love as the natural birthright of every human being, the most exalted of human sentiments, and the necessary foundation of a successful marriage.

^  2. Exoticism: Another important aspect of Romanticism is the exotic. Just as Romantics responded to the longing of people for a distant past, so they provided images of distant places. The distances need not be terribly great: Spain was a favorite "exotic" setting for French Romantics, for instance. North Africa and the Middle East provided images of "Asia" to Europeans. Generally anywhere south of the country where one was resided was considered more relaxed, more colorful, more sensual.  Such exoticism consisted largely of simple stereotypes endlessly repeated, but the Romantic age was also a period in which Europeans traveled more than ever to examine at first hand the far-off lands of which they had read. Much of this tourism was heavily freighted with the attitudes fostered by European colonialism, which flourished during this period. Most "natives" were depicted as inevitably lazy, unable to govern themselves while those who aspired to European sophistication were often derided as "spoiled." Many male travelers viewed the women of almost any foreign land one could name as more sexually desirable and available than the women at home, and so they are depicted in fiction, drama, art, and opera.

^  3.Religion: One of the most complex developments during this period is the transformation of religion into a subject for artistic treatment far removed from traditional religious art. During the Romantic era many artists and writers  were drawn to religious imagery in the same way they were drawn to Arthurian or other ancient traditions in which they no longer believed. Religion was estheticized, and writers felt free to draw on Biblical themes with the same freedom as their predecessors had drawn on classical mythology. Faust begins and ends in Heaven, has God and the devil as major characters, angels and demons as supporting players, and draws on wide variety of Christian materials, but it is not a Christian play. The mixture of disbelief in and fascination with religion evident in such works illustrates a general principle of intellectual history: artistic and social movements almost never behave like rigid clock pendlums, swinging all the way from one direction to another. A better metaphor for social change is the movement of waves on a beach, in which an early wave is receding while another advances over it, and elements of both become mixed together. For all that many of its features were reactions against the rationalist Enlightenment, Romanticism also incorporated much from the earlier movement, or coexisted with the changes it had brought about.

^  4.Individualism: One of the most important developments of this period is the rise in the importance of individualism. Before the 18th Century, few Europeans concerned themselves with discovering their own individual identities. They were what they had been born: nobles, peasants, or merchants. As capitalism gradually transformed Europe, however, it destablized the old patterns. The new industrialists naturally liked to credit themselves for having built their large fortunes and rejected the right of society to regulate and tax their enterprises. It was in the Romantic period--not coincidentally also the period of the industrial revolution--that such concern with individualism became much more widespread. Byron in literature and Beethoven in music are both examples of romantic individualism taken to extremes. But the most influential exemplar of individualism for the 19th century was not a creative artist at all, but a military man: Napoleon Bonaparte. The dramatic way in which he rose to the head of France in the chaotic wake of its bloody revolution, led his army to a series of triumphs in Europe to build a brief but influential Empire, and created new styles, tastes, and even laws with disregard for public opinion fascinated the people of the time. He was both loved and hated; and even fifty years after his death he was still stimulating authors like Dostoyevsky, who saw in him the ultimate corrosive force which celebrated individual striving and freedom at the expense of responsibility and tradition. We call the reckless character who seeks to shape the world to his own desires with little regard for morality or tradition "Faustian," after Goethe's character, but he might as well be called "Napoleonic." The modern fascination with self-definition and self-invention, the notion that adolescence is naturally a time of rebellion in which one "finds oneself," the idea that the best path to faith is through individual choice, the idea that government exists to serve the individuals who have created it: all of these are products of the romantic celebration of the individual at the expense of society and tradition.

^  5.Nature:The attitudes toward nature common in the Western world today emerged mostly during the Romantic period. The Enlightenment had talked of "natural law" as the source of truth, but such law was manifest in human society and related principally to civic behavior. Unlike the Chinese and Japanese, Europeans had traditionally had little interest in natural landscapes for their own sake. Paintings of rural settings were usually extremely idealized: either well-tended gardens or tidy versions of the Arcadian myth of ancient Greece and Rome. Here again, Rousseau is an important figure. He loved to go for long walks, climb mountains, and generally "commune with nature." His last work is called Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire (Reveries of a Solitary Walker). Europe had become more civilized, safer, and its citizens now felt freer to travel for the simple pleasure of it. The violence of ocean storms came to be appreciated as an esthetic object in any number of paintings, musical tone poems, and written descriptions, as in the opening of Goethe's Faust. The Romantics cultivated sensitivity to nature just as they cultivated sensitivity to emotion. Musing  by a stream,  viewing a thundering waterfall or even confronting a desert could be morally improving. Much of the nature writing of the 19th century has a religious quality to it absent in any other period.

It may seem paradoxical that it was just at the moment when the industrial revolution was destroying large tracts of woods and fields and creating an unprecedentedly artificial environment in Europe that this sensitivity to nature arose; in fact,  it is  people in urban environments aware of the  contrast between their daily lives and the existence of the inhabitants of the wild who romanticise nature. They are attracted to it precisely because they are no longer  part of it. Faust, for instance, is powerfully drawn to the moonlit landscape outside his study at the beginning of Goethe's play largely because he is so discontented with the artificial world of learning in which he has so far lived.
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Revision Questions
1. Why is the Romantic Age called "The Age of Revolutions"?
2. Can you briefly list the main historical facts that took place in the Romantic period?
3. In what way was England politically different from France ?
4. How did the Industrial Revolution radically change Britain's economy?
5. In what way are The American Independence and Adam Smith's theory of Laissez-faire linked?
6. In what way would the laissez-faire policy bring about social unrest?
7. What is the Peterloo Massacre? What are the Luddite riots?
8. What are the first important social reforms implemented in Britain in the first 40 years of the 1800s?
9. How did the Romantic movement developed in Europe?
10. Can you briefly sum up the characteristics of German Romanticism?
11. When did English Romanticism start? Which genre did it develop best?
12. What impact did Rousseau's theory have on French romanticism?
13. How did Rousseu help to bring democracy home to the people?
14. Sum up Voltaire's and Montesquieu's ideas on the role of the King and the nobles.
15. How was the French revolution considered by British thinkers?
16. When did the Romantic movement start in Italy? what connotation did it mostly have?
17. What are the origins of Romanticism in literature?
18. Why did Shakespeare appeal so much to the Romantics?
19. In what way was Shakespeare 's theatre very different from Classical theatre?
20. Explain what the Gothic novel is.
21. How differently did Classicist and Romantic artists and thinkers look upon the Middle Ages?
22.What is the historical novel?
23.Why did the historical novel emerge in the Romantic period?
24. Can you mention at least 3 titles of historical novel?
25. List the influential characteristics of the Romantic period.
26. Explain how the Romantics  were attracted to exoticism-
27. Explain how the Romantics were attracted to religion.
28. Exlain how the political, historical and social changes resulted in a growth of individualism as from the Romantic Age.
29. Explain how the Romantics were attracted to Nature, compared to the previous age.
30. Explain why the sensitivity to Nature arose in the period of the Industrial revolution.