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The British Romantic Period (1785 - 1830).

H i s t o r i c a l  B a c k g r o u n d :

- revolutionary and Napoleonic period in Fr. (1789 – 1815)

- the storming of the Bastille (14th July), the Rev. begins (1789)

- King Louis XVI executed, En. joins the alliance against Fr. (1793)

- the Reign of Terror under Robespierre (1793 – 94)

- Napoleon crowned emperor (1804)

- Napoleon defeated at Waterloo (1815)

- Br. slave trade outlawed (1807); slavery abolished throughout the empire in 1833

- the Regency = George, Prince of Wales, acts as regent for George III (1811 – 20)

- accession of George IV (1820)


T h e  B r i t i s h  R o m a n t i c  P e r i o d :

- establ. the canonical figures of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord George Gordon Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and William Blake

- only G. G. Byron instantly famous x W. Wordsworth and S. T. Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1798) publ. anonym.

- the period marked by a multitude of political, social, and economic changes


T h e  R e v o l u t i o n  a n d  R e a c t i o n :

C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s :

- the Romantic period: 1785, W. Blake and Robert Burns publ. their 1st poems – 1830, major writers of the 18th c. dead or no longer productive

- change from an agricultural society with wealth and power concentrated in the landholding aristocracy to a modern industrial nation

- in the context of rev., 1st the Am. and then the much more radical Fr.

T h e  E a r l y  P e r i o d  o f  t h e  F r e n c h  R e v o l u t i o n   > Enthusiasm:

- the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” > the storming of the Bastille to release imprisoned political offenders

- radical pro-revolutionaries incl. Mary Wollstonecraft (A Vindication of the Rights of Men, 1790, justified the Fr. Rev.), Tom Paine (Rights of Men, 1790, advocated the rev. for En.), and William Godwin (Inquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793, foretold an inevitable x but: peaceful evolution of society to democracy > infl. Romantic poets)

T h e  L a t e r  P e r i o d  o f  t h e  F r e n c h  R e v o l u t i o n > Disenchantment:

- En. in war against Fr., the Reign of Terror under Robespierre, the emergence of Napoleon as a dictator and his defeat > a reactionary despotism throughout continental Eur.

- political changes in En.: harsh repressive measures

- social changes: Benjamin Disraeli’s Two Nations = the 2 classes of capital/the rich x labour/the poor

- economic changes: the Industrial Rev., incl. the power-driven machinery and Watt’s steam engine to replace hand labour; enclosing of open fields into privately owned agricultural holdings > a new landless class

T h e  F i r s t  M o d e r n  I n d u s t r i a l  D e p r e s s i o n     ( 1 8 1 5 ) :

- the social philos. of laissez-faire (= let alone) = the government left people to pursue their private interests > harsh working conditions, child labour, etc. > petitions, protest meetings, agitation, and hunger riots; dispossessed workers destroyed machines > more repressive measures

- the Peterloo Massacre (1819) = workers demanded a parliamentary reform, charged by troops: inspired P. B. Shelley’s poems for the working class, “England in 1819”, “A Song: ‘Men of England’”, and “To Sidmouth and Castlereagh”

- but: suffering confined to the poor x the Br. Empire expanded to become the most powerful colonial presence in the world

- the Regency Period = in London a time of lavish display and moral laxity for the leisure class, in provinces the gentry almost untouched by inter/national events: Jane Austen’s novels

- women = regarded as inferior to men > little opportunities for education and work, almost no legal rights: M. Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), advocated the equality of the sexes

- the 1st Reform Bill (1832): extended the vote; universal adult suffrage in 1928

T h e  ‘ S p i r i t  o f  t h e  A g e ’ :

- the term ‘Romantic’ applied to the writers of the period ½ a c. later by E historians x in their lifetime treated as individuals or grouped into separate schools:

(a) ‘The Lake School’: W. Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge, R. Southey (< settled in the Lake District)

(b) ‘The Cockney School’: Leigh Hunt, William Hazlitt, and associated writers incl. J. Keats (< settled in London)

(c) ‘The Satanic School’: G. G. Byron, P. B. Shelley

- the ‘spirit of the age’ = the writers’ sense of a distinctive intellectual and imaginative climate of their age marking a lit. renaissance:

< W. Hazlitt’s The Spirit of the Age, a coll. of essays conc. with the political, social and lit. rev.

> P. B. Shelley’s Defence of Poetry, the lit. spirit as an accompaniment of political and social rev.

- a general preocc. with the rev.

- older generation, incl. R. Burns, W. Blake, W. Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge, R. Southey, and M. Wollstonecraft: sympathetic

- younger generation, incl. W. Hazlitt, L. Hunt, P. B. Shelley, and G. G. Byron: disappointed x but: still for the rev. purged of its errors as humanity’s best hope

- the sense of limitless possibilities survived the shock of the 1st disappointment to 1798 (i.e. W. Wordsworth and S. T. Coleridge’s publ. of Lyrical Ballads, revolutionising the theory and practice of poetry)


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.


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