San Diego Jewish Academy
10th Grade Humanities
Romanticism as a Period and a
Concept in Literature

  • spans first half of 19th century and continues in some forms into the 20th
  • European, not just English
  • name "Romantic" derived from medieval romance (highly imaginative, magical, idealized tales of knights and ladies written in French derivative of Latin, a "romance" language)
  • vast increase in reading public who began to buy books and attend public lectures
  • The 18th century had been a time of great prosperity for upper and middle classes.
  • Two major political revolutions disturbed English sense of security:
    • Colonies in America
    • French Revolution (overthrow from within of major European power)
  • Contrasts between 18th century and 19th century Romanticism

(These are ideals not unvarying standards.)

18th Century

19th Century

Writers stressed reason and judgement

Writers emphasized imagination and emotion

Concern with general or universal experience

Concerned with particular

Asserted values of society as a whole

Championed value of individual

(Dignity and rights same as original idea of the French Revolution)

Followed rules and authority

Strove for freedom

Inspired by classical Greek and Roman

Showed interest in medieval subjects and settings

(Also loved natural, unspoiled world, a reaction against urbanization and exploitation of working class)

Tried to imitate the "real language of men"

Believed writers must be free to explore their own imaginative worlds

Most saw themselves reacting against thought and practice of the 18th century

  • The French Revolution at first enthusiastically supported by Romantics until it turned violent and repressive, the Reign of Terror and Napoleon on throne as tyrannical despot which caused disillusion
  • The Industrial Revolution was less sudden and obvious than the other two, and yet in its way more violent in its impact on human life.
  • existing social and economic structures were unable to deal with the mass urbanization and reorganization of people
  • dirty, industrial poor working conditions, workers without right to vote or organize unions divided England sharply into poor wage earners and power-holding wealthy who had lavish, wealthy displays
  • laissez-faire policy squelched reformers' and workers' demands for social change
  • 1832 in some ways was the beginning of the end of the Romantic period as the First Reform Bill which extended voting rights and voice in parliament was passed

Damrosch, Leopold, Leonard Dean, William Keach, and Gerald Levin. Adventures in English Literature. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985.

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