Romanticism evolved in response to the French Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment that followed. Rather than focus on reason and rationality to explain man, romanticism focused more on emotions and feelings to explain nature and portray them.
Inspired by the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau romanticism emerged as a reaction to 18th-century values, asserting emotion and intuition over rationalism, the importance of the individual over social conformity, and the exploration of natural and psychic wildernesses over classical restraint. Major themes of Romantic art and literature include a love of atmospheric landscapes; nostalgia for the past, a love of the primitive, including folk traditions; cult of the individual hero figure, often an artist or political revolutionary; romantic passion; mysticism; and a fascination with death.
Jean Jacques Rousseau is of course mother of Romantic movement but we have seen many other sowing seeds of romanticism. Thomson, Collins, Gray, Richardson, and Prevost are those whose theology and art are the most marvelous romance of all.
Many other includes William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Walter Scott in Britain; and Victor Hugo, Alfonse de Lamar tine, George Sand, and Alexandre Dumas in France. Above all Rousseau matured the seeds of romanticism in the hothouse of his emotions and delivered its offspring’s, full grown and fertile from birth in his works which include Discourses, the Contrat social, Emile and the Confessions.
Romanticism is an important literary movement which began in Western Europe during 17th century and went on till the second half of 18th century. Romanticism is a movement that emerged as a reaction against Neoclassicism, the age preceding the Romantic Movement. The Neoclassical age was also called the ‘The age of Enlightenment’, which emphasized on reason and logic. The Romantic period wanted to break away from the traditions and conventions that were dear to the Neoclassical age and make way for individuality and experimentation. The Romantic movement is said to have emerged in Germany, which soon spread to England as well as France, however, the main source of inspiration for Romanticism came from the events and ideologies of the French Revolution.
To understand Romanticism better, it is very important to learn about the Romanticism characteristics which are as follows:
1. Love of Nature: The Romantics greatly emphasized on the importance of nature, and one of the main characteristics of Romanticism in poetry is the beauty of nature found in the country life. This was mainly because the industrial revolution had taken man from the peaceful country life towards the city life, transforming man’s natural order. Nature was not only appreciated for its physical beauty by the Romantics, but also for its ability to help the urban man find his true identity. Written in the first person were being accepted, as the poetic persona became one with the voice of the poet.
2. Nationalism: The Romantics borrowed heavily from the folklore and the popular art. During the earlier periods, literature and art were considered to belong to the high class educated people, and the country folks were not considered fit to enjoy them. Also, the languages used in these works were highly poetic, which was totally different from that which was spoken by people. However, Romanticism changed all this. Their works were influenced from the ballads and folklore that were created by the masses or the common people, rather than from the literary works that were popular. Apart from poetry, adopting from the folklore and ballads is also one of the very important characteristics of Romanticism in music. As the Romantics became interested and focused on developing the folklore, culture, language, customs and traditions of their own country, they developed a sense of Nationalism which reflected in their works. Also, the language used in Romantic poems was simple which was usually used in everyday life.
3. Supernatural: Another characteristic of Romanticism is the belief in the supernatural. The Romantics were interested in the supernatural and included it in their works. This fascination for the mysterious and the unreal also lead to the development of the Gothic romance which became popular during this period. Supernatural elements can be seen in Coleridge’s, ‘Kubla Khan’ and in Keats’ poem ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’.
What we mean by the Romantic Movement: It is the rebellion of feeling against reason, of instinct against intellect, of sentiment against judgment, of the subject against the object, of subjectivism against objectivity, of solitude against society, of imagination against reality, of myth and legend against history, of religion against science, of mysticism against ritual, of poetry and poetic prose against prose and prosaic poetry, of neo-Gothic against neoclassic art, of the feminine against the masculine, of romantic love against the marriage of convenience of nature and the natural against civilization and artifice, of emotional expression against conventional restraints, of individual freedom against social order, of youth against authority, of democracy against aristocracy, in short of man verses the state.
French Revolution The French Revolution (1789–1799) was a period of political and social upheaval in the history of France, during which the French governmental structure, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on Enlightenment principles of nationalism, citizenship, and inalienable rights. These changes were accompanied by violent turmoil, including the trial and execution of the king, vast bloodshed and repression during the Reign of Terror, and warfare involving every other major European power. Subsequent events that can be traced to the Revolution include the Napoleonic Wars, two separate restorations of the monarchy, and two additional revolutions as modern France took shape.
Influence of French revolution on Romanticism:
The French revolution that began in 1789 is an important event in our history and it had a great effect on Romanticism influencing romantic writers, inspiring them to address themes of democracy and human rights, which resulted in a complete transformation of society. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were the first important English Romantic poets. Whenever in history, human right is suppressed for long time, revolution started. The French king Louis XVI and the aristocrat class spent their life on pomp and lavishness. There was a gulf of difference between the court life and the life of common people.
The common people did not get enough to meet their basic needs whereas the upper-class people led a life of luxury. To equalize this difference the people got together and revolted against the king and beheaded him. The slogan of the French revolution was “Equality, liberty, fraternity”. The spirit of the French revolution spread all over Europe, particularly in England. The theme of revolution, human existence on earth, liberty of human mind – all these aspects influenced the romantic poets like Shelley, Wordsworth very much.
The period before the beginning of French revolution was a period of monarchy. The revolution began as an attempt to create a constitutional monarchy, where the powers of the king would be limited by a parliament. And now as the revolution had begun the absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapses just in three years which brings a great transition all over France as the old feudal, aristocratic and religious privileges gets evaporated under a sustained assault from liberal political groups and the masses on the streets.
Old ideas about hierarchy and tradition succumbed to new Enlightenment principles of citizenship and inalienable rights. Of this whole inferno of French revolution there is a great influence on literature in which most prominent effect is found on Romanticism as then romanticism changes the whole thinking of man reliving him from the restrains of material world and relaxing him by taking him into a world of imagination which never had any harm on him which not only calm down his mind but also his soul, setting him free from an invisible prison that not even was factual but still it was.
A majority of the population was greatly in favor of romantic movement as they had been suffering oppression for many years. The French Revolution came, bringing with it the promise of brighter days. William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley all shared the same view of the French Revolution as it being the beginning of a change in the current ways of society and helping to better the lives of the oppressed. Literature began to take a new turn; it got molded and took new better shapes when the revolution engulfed the whole nation, turning things in a whole new direction and above all providing freedom.
The newly acquired freedom of the common people did not only bring about just laws and living but ordinary people also had the freedom to think for themselves, and in turn the freedom to express themselves. Enkindled by the revolutionary spirit, the writers of the time were full of creative ideas and were waiting for a chance to unleash them. Under the new laws writers and artists were given a considerable amount of freedom to express themselves which did well to pave the way to set a high standard for literature.
Although the poets mentioned earlier (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, and Shelley) all share the common theme of approving the French Revolution, they each have their own unique ideas regarding the Revolution itself that have greatly shaped their work. This can be seen by analyzing some of each of their works. Shelley
Ever since he was young, Percy Shelley was very nontraditional, in fact he is said to have been opposed to tradition. He was born a freethinker and “in spite of all his lovable and generous traits he was a born disturber of the public peace”. At school he was known as “Mad Shelley, the Atheist”. According to Hancock, “The Goddess of Revolution rocked his cradle.” Throughout his life Shelley’s opposition toward religion grew less violent, however he never professed a belief in immortality or religion of any sort. His poems declare a belief in the permanence of things that are true and beautiful. Common themes that Shelley incorporated into his works include the hatred of kings, faith in the natural goodness of man, the belief in the corruption of present society, the power of reason, the rights of natural impulse, the desire for a revolution, and liberty, equality and fraternity. These are all clearly shaped by the French Revolution.
Byron While Shelley had faith that was founded upon modern ideas, Byron has faith in nothing. He stands for only destruction. Because of this he was not a true revolutionist and was rather “the arch-apostle of revolt, of rebellion against constituted authority.” This statement is easily defended as Byron admits that he resists authority, but offers no substitute. This is supported by what Byron once wrote, “I deny nothing… but I doubt everything.” He then said later in life, “I have simplified politics into an utter detestation of all existing governments.” Byron believes neither in democracy nor in equality, but opposes all forms of tyranny and all attempts of rulers to control man. In Byron’s poetry, he incorporates deep feeling, rather than deep thinking, to make his characters strong. Often, Byron portrays his characters as being in complete harmony with nature, causing the character to lose himself in the immensity of the world. The French Revolution played a huge role in shaping Byron’s beliefs and opposition to monarchy. Wordsworth
While Shelley and Byron both proved to support the revolution to the end, both Wordsworth and Coleridge joined the aristocrats in fighting it. Wordsworth, however is the Romantic poet who has most profoundly felt and expressed the connection of the soul with nature. He saw great value in the immediate contact with nature. The French Revolution helped to humanize Wordsworth as his works transitioned from extremely natural experiences to facing the realities and ills of life, including society and the Revolution. From then on, his focus became the interests of man rather than the power and innocence of nature. Coleridge
Unlike Wordsworth, Coleridge was more open and receptive to the social and political world around him. He was a very versatile man and he lead a life that covered many fields and his work displayed this. He was a poet of nature, romance, and the Revolution. He was a philosopher, a historian, and a political figure. The French Revolution played a great role in shaping Coleridge into each of these things. According to Albert Hancock, Coleridge tended to focus his life on two things. The first, being to separate himself from the surrounding world and to submerge himself in thought, as a poet. The second, to play a role in the world’s affairs, as a philosopher, historian, and politician, as mentioned earlier.