British Literature

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He spent his summer vacation in 1790 in revolutionary France and became an ardent republican sympathizer.

  • Upon taking his Cambridge degree, he returned to France.

  • a passionate attachment to a Frenchwoman. Before their child was born, he had to return to England and was cut off there by the outbreak of war between England and France. He was not to see his daughter Caroline until she was nine.

    • When the French Revolution turned towards tyranny and England declared war on France, Wordsworth suffered mental anguish (he was torn between England and France, the collapse of a revolution that had seemed to noble tormented him, his child and its mother were beyond his reach in France).

    • Guilt

    • he was helped to recovery by his sister Dorothy.

    Lyrical Ballads

    • Stimulated by Coleridge and under the healing influences of nature and his sister, Wordsworth began in 1797-98 to compose the short lyrical poems.

    • They appeared in 1798 in a slim, anonymously authored volume entitled Lyrical Ballads, which opened with Coleridge's long poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and closed with Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey." All but three of the intervening poems were Wordsworth's. The manifesto and the accompanying poems thus set forth a new style, a new vocabulary, and new subjects for poetry, all of them foreshadowing 20th-century developments.

    Willliam Wordswoth

    • In 1802, during the short-lived Peace of Amiens, Wordsworth returned briefly to France, where he met his daughter and made his peace with Annette.

    • He returned to England to marry Mary Hutchinson, a childhood friend, and start an English family, which had grown to three sons and two daughters by 1810.

    • His political views changed: the young Romantic revolutionary turned into the aging Tory humanist.

    • Little of Wordsworth's later verse matches the best of his earlier years.

    Issues in Wordworth’s Poetry

    Simplicity and Style

    • His poetic philosophy is expressed in the various prefaces to his Lyrical Ballads (1798), written in the company with Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

    • The main idea: the language and the subject of poetry should move away from the clichés and stylised, elaborate fashion of the eighteenth century and move towards the language of everyday speech and the life of ordinary people.


    • His poetry shows what happens when the innate power of Nature meets the power of perception of a human mind.

    • More than Nature itself, it is the individual’s perception of Nature, its awe, power and capacity to teach what matters most.

    • Nature is a store of truths about human nature, the world and God, but that truth lies inert until a human being conjoins with Nature and draws that truth out.

    The Sublime Egotist

    • Keats “egotistical sublime”;

    • “sublime” because he was searching for a moment of transcendental insight and perception;

    • “egotistical” because everything he wrote was based directly on his own personal experience and observation of life, or that of his sister.

    • Wordworth’s poetry is profoundly personal; however, the poet manages to persuade the reader that what he sees has a universal significance.

    The Romantic Poets

    Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats

    Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

    • Educated in Cambridge, never took his degree;

    • Encouraged by the French revolution, Coleridge and the poet Robert Southey, set up a community organised according to different, better principles than the society around them;

    • with William Wordsworth - Lyrical Ballads (1798);

    • Unhappily married, dependent on opium;

    • In 1804 a post in Malta, journeying across Italy.

    • In 1806 he returned to England, where he separated from his wife.

    • In the Regency period, Coleridge became fashionable (a volume of poems called Christabel, Kubla Khan, A Vision: The Pains of Sleep (1816))

    • Biographia Literaria (1817), the most important work of Romantic literary criticism - the essential element of literature was a union of emotion and thought that he described as imagination.

    • After 1816 he finds an inner balance in Christianity.

    • “Kubla Khan” (1797, published 1816), opened a new vein of exotic writing and supernaturalism.

    • “Kubla Khan” composed under the influence of laudanum – the poet was interrupted by a visitor when he was writing it.

    • The poem focuses on the nature of human genius (its creativity in time of peace and its destructive force in time of turbulence).

    • “absolute genius” has the creative power of a sun god and subdues all around him to harmony.

    Lord George Gordon Byron

    • born with a clubfoot;

    • When he was 10 he unexpectedly inherited the title and estates of his great-uncle, the 5th Baron Byron;

    • Cambridge where he became a partisan of liberal Whiggism;

    • Although at time strongly attached to boys, throughout his life he also manifested a strong heterosexual drive which often got him into trouble;

    • Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage (1811) – he is only 18.

    • numerous love affairs, rumours of his bisexuality and incestual relationship with his half-sister - general moral indignation, Byron left England for good in 1816.

    • His greatest poem, Don Juan, a satirical and picaresque verse tale about an innocent young man who is pursued by beautiful women.

    • “Byronic hero” – a morose, enigmatic, cultured, bitter figure; a man who may be outwardly devil-may-care but is inside full of dark secrets.

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