Definition of Romanticism
Romanticism (also the Romantic era or the Romantic period) is an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850.
Romanticism is characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It is a reaction to the ideas of the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature.
The meaning of romanticism has changed with time. In the 17th century, "romantic" meant imaginative or fictitious due to the birth of a new literary genre : the novel. Novels, that is to say texts of fiction, were written in vernacular (romance languages), as opposed to religious texts written in Latin.
In the 18th century, romanticism is eclipsed by the Age of Enlightenment, where everything is perceived through the prism of science and reason.
In the 19th century, "romantic" means sentimental : lyricism and the expression of personal emotions are emphasized. Feelings and sentiments are very much present in romantic works.
Thus, so many things are called romantic that it is difficult to see the common points between the novels by Victor Hugo, the paintings by Eugène Delacroix or the music by Ludwig Von Beethoven.
The romantic international
Romanticism is not limited to one country, it was an international vision of the world.
The romantic international started in Germany at the end of the 18th century with "Storm and Stress". The two most famous poets are Goethe and Schiller and many philosophers such as Fichte, Schlegel, Schelling and Herder.
Romanticism was then adopted in England. Poets are divided in two generations :
- first generation : William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
- second generation : George Byron, Percy Shelley, John Keats.
Romanticism reached France at the beginning of the 19th century with François-René de Chateaubriand - Atala (1801), René (1802), Le Génie du Christianisme (1802) - and Germaine de Staël : De l'Allemagne (1813).
Romanticism was a renewal, a revolution is artistic forms in paintings, literature and theatre. In Germany and Russia, romanticism created the national literature. It influenced the whole vision of art.
It was also the origin of contemporary ideas : modern individualism, the vision of nature, the vision of the work of art as an isolated object.
Political dimension : the birth of Romanticism
Romanticism represents a break with the universalistic outlook of the Enlightenment. Reason is something universal and the Enlightenment found its models in classical France and Rome : all men are the same because there are all reasonable. Romanticism if a fragmentation of consciousness, with no universalistic ideas left.
The French Revolution was characterized by universalistic ideas such as all men are created equal. It corresponds to the philosophy of the Enlightenment. The nation is born out of a social contract : it means that you are free to choose to belong to one nation or another. It is different in Germany where you don't choose your country, that is where you were born (organic nation).
There's a difference between the first and second generation of poets. British poets were rather progressive and close to dissenters. The French Revolution was full of hope of equality but it quickly changed when in 1793, it gave way to the Terror and the beheading of the King.
The first generation of British romantic poets
Only William Blake remained a radical, unlike Wordsworth and Coleridge. There was an incredible pressure in England at the time. The Prime Minister, Pitts, suspended the Habeas Corpus and adopted the Sedition Act, which was meant to prevent the freedom of press. It turned away the first generation from their ideals.
Blake wrote a visionary, imaginary poetry, really difficult to understand. Wordsworth and Coleridge were reactionary to the French Revolution. Wordsworth turned away from the excesses of the revolution and wrote a simple poetry in a democratic style. Coleridge was inspired by the Middle Ages and German thought, and was a reactionary Christian nationalist.
The second generation of British romantic poets
The second generation remains more radical but the political climate was so oppressive that the radicals left England or made more indirect political comments.
The Mask of Anarchy by Shelley was inspired by the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. In Prometheus Unbound, a man fights against political and religious oppression.
Romanticism was connected with politics of the time. Romantic poets could be either conservative or progressive, depending on their vision of the world.