British Literature

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The Romantic Movement

  • starting around 1770

  • in England with the publication of Lyrical Ballads (1798, 1800, 1803) by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  • a reaction against the eighteenth century and the Age of Reason.

Romanticism vs. Classicism

  • the Classical age (the age of Pope and Dryden) adored the ancient civilisations of Greek and Roman times, believed in reason and that the passions should be controlled. It trusted reason, intellect and the head.

  • Romanticism was an open revolt against accepted social conventions and glorified political revolutions,

  • man is considered as an individual and not merely as a member of society. He was seen as essentially good, but later on often corrupted by civilisation.

  • nature was supposed to reveal beauty, basic truths and even the hand of God, the creator or the guiding spirit of the Universe.

  • Romantics were open to transcendental experience, they trusted instincts, the emotions and the heart.

“The Noble Savage”

  • A Romantic believes that man in his primitive state is in a higher state of purity than civilised, urban man. The savage has an instinctive knowledge of himself and the world which is often superior to that gained by civilised man (e.g. Rene Chateaubriand, Atala).

  • For the classical thinker the savage is a human being in a savage state who should be civilised. He is a denial of all progress in humanity; he is sad and regrettable and should be brought up the scale of evolution.


  • To the Romantic a child is holier and purer than an adult. He is unspoilt by civilization, uncorrupted, and closer to God and the source of his creation than are the adults (cf. Rousseau, Emile). Childhood is a state to be envied, cultivated and admired; and children are symbols of the essential goodness of humanity.

  • For the classical thinker a child is important only in as much as he will become adult, and a civilized being. A child is valued only for its adult features. He is the raw, unrefined material that can be turned, with time and effort, into the sophisticated and civilized human being, in control of his instincts.

Characteristic attitudes of Romanticism

  • a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature;

  • a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect;

  • a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities;

  • a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles;

  • a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures;

  • an emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth;

  • an obsessive interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins, and the medieval era;

  • a predilection for the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased, and even the satanic

Early Phase

  • in English literature: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Blake.

  • In German literature: Friedrich Hölderlin, the early Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Jean Paul, Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, A.W. and Friedrich Schlegel, Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, and Friedrich Schelling.

  • In Revolutionary France: the Vicomte de Chateaubriand and Mme de Staël.

The Second Phase of Romanticism

  • the period from about 1805 to the 1830s;

  • marked by cultural nationalism and revived historical appreciation

  • In Britain: Sir Walter Scott, the Brontë sisters, John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley (Gothic literature: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein).

  • Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred de Musset, Stendhal, Prosper Mérimée, Alexandre Dumas, and Théophile Gautier in France; Alessandro Manzoni and Giacomo Leopardi in Italy; Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov in Russia; and almost all of the important writers in pre-Civil War America.


William Blake (1757-1827)

  • one of the most individual poets of any age

  • belongs to no school of poetry.

  • engraver by profession and a well-known eccentric (reading Paradise Lost naked).

  • mystical experiences from his early youth and kept talking to angels up to his death.

  • Not famous during his own lifetime, Blake has come to be hailed as a genius in the 20th century.

Songs of Innocence and Experience


  • He wrote in and thorough symbols.

  • He saw humanity as virtuous and innocent but held tyrannically in chains and destroyed by society, the Church and its own ignorance.

  • Innocence is in particular symbolised by children; tyranny by priests, urban industrial landscape or those in authority. The tiger, for example, is used as a symbol of admirable and earth-moving energy.

  • Blake is often called a “prophetic” and “mystic visionary”, i.e. he yearned for a perfect world, and considered human past innocent and future glorious. He condemned the evils of his own world, its attack on human freedom, its denial of basic liberties and the life of the imagination.

William Wordsworth

  • 1770-1850

  • born in the Lake District, the second of five children of a modestly prosperous estate manager.

  • lost his mother when he was 7 and his father when he was 13,

  • Sent off to a grammar school at Hawkshead

  • Cambridge, not interested in academic career.

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