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Defining the Romantics HUM 2212: British and American Literature I Fall 2012 Dr. Perdigao August 22-24, 2012
Periodization • 1785-1832 • “Elizabethan” and “Victorian” ages, named for monarchs versus markers of centuries; here, for attitudes and ideas • Ending in 1832 reflecting first major reform of British Parliament • 1776 as beginning with American independence; 1789 with French Revolution (Greenblatt 4) • Politics defining the genre but named for a literary genre, the romance • Resuscitation of medieval romances • Don Quixote in the Renaissance • William Godwin’s line “Things as They Are” versus what imagination could bring into being (4) • Political changes framing the period and its literature raise questions about the relationship between art and activism, aesthetics and politics (4)
Changing Landscape • England’s shift from agricultural society to a modern industrial nation (7) • “Progress” in terms of industry; inventions of the steam engine, spinning jenny, cotton gin (7) • Result of the Industrial Revolution is urbanization—move to cities • Class divisions, spirit of revolution • Effects of Enclosure, redefining the landscape and lives of workers and owners • “laissez-faire” system of government in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776) (7) • May have helped bring an end to slavery in 1833 but laboring class in England suffered (7-8)
Social Divisions • Ideas about relations between the classes and between genders (8) • Defining what is “proper” (8) • Codes of behavior for women but changing role in new society • Legal reforms for women
Ideological Shifts • Individualism: Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) questions “power of reason to provide the most significant forms of knowledge,” emphasizing reason as guide • Self vs. society • Civilization as “agent of corruption” • Social protest extends to writing, to poetry • Emotion and experience privileged (Goethe) • Reason: feeling
Characteristics of Romanticism • sacredness of the individual • suspicion of social institutions • belief in expressed feeling as the sign of authenticity • nostalgia for simpler ways of being • faith in genius • valuing of originality and imagination • an ambivalent relation to science (Lawall 492)
Romantic Legacies • Claim of poetic authority • Imagined landscape, implicitly sexual paradise • Allusion, influence, intertextuality, intratextuality • Intertextuality—influence on other works • Role of women in Romanticism—with Bloom’s “strong” poets? • Gilbert and Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic
Defining Romanticism • “In a Romantic poem the realm of the ideal is always observed as precarious—liable to vanish or move beyond one’s reach at any time . . . In short, Romantic poems take up transcendent and ideal subjects because these subjects occupy areas of critical uncertainty. The aim of the Romantic poem . . . is to rediscover the ground of stability in these situations” (McGann 72-73). • “Romanticism’s changing forms are figures of imaginative desire; for to be romantic is to exist under the sign of longing . . . Romanticism is doubled and involuted—not so much passion and desire, which one gets in the generous excesses of Burns and Blake, as a second-order quest for desire itself. Indeed, the romantic experience finally suffocates and implodes when it discovers that very bourne from which no romantic traveller ever returned” (McGann, The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse xix).
Constructing Romanticism Three generations: • Blake and lyrical ballads • Wordsworth and Coleridge • Byron, Shelley, and Keats Where are the women? (Emily Brontë, Christina Rossetti, Rosalía de Castro, Anna Petrovna Bunina, Emily Dickinson) • Truth associated with act of creation, not object • Romanticism—dissolution of boundaries between humans and humans and God • For classical and modern philosophers—fear of this dissolution—pushing to limit but not beyond • Classical aesthetics: edifying tales for morals, imitates virtue, moral things (like in Plato); truth, nature are imitated • Romantic aesthetics: less discovery of pre-formed world but generates its own world—autogenetic • Imitation: Creation
William Blake (1757-1827) • Father a London tradesman • Formal education in art; studied at the school of the Royal Academy of Arts • Apprenticeship at age 14 to engraver James Basire • Charges of sedition against private in the Royal Dragoons, John Schofield • Acquittal but influence on Blake’s politics • Recovery of the past as central to the future of British culture (113) • Poetic inspiration in archaic native tradition that was lost to new tradition of French court culture, manners, and morals (113) • Relief etching—“illuminated printing” (113), link to Middle Age manuscripts • Copper plate, pens, brushes, acid-resistant medium, drawn illustrations (113) • Importance of pictures to the poems (113) • http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/blke/hd_blke.htm
William Blake • Blake’s mythology • In his sixties, gave up poetry and devoted self to pictorial art (114) • At the time of his death, Blake as little known artist and unknown as a poet (114) • Mid-nineteenth century discovery (rediscovery) by Pre-Raphaelite writers that claimed him within the tradition (114) • Influence on W. B. Yeats, Allen Ginsberg and other Beat writers, and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, graphic novels (it’s true, Angelina!) (114) • Poetry as prophecy • Visionary, imaginative work • Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789, 1794)
William Blake “The Tyger” (1794) • Creation, Destruction • Presence of evil in the world, source of creation • Craftsmanship, blacksmith • Role of art, shaping, making • Contrast to “The Lamb” (120) “My Pretty Rose Tree” (1794) • http://vimeo.com/37408954 “London” (1794) • From pastoral setting to the city • Suffering, death, decay, and destruction