3. The Romantic period.
3.1. Social and historical context.
It would be convenient to believe that the Romantic Movement in Literature began with the storming of the Bastille in Paris. What had been unorthodox became orthodox. Romanticism developed its own rules and standards, and the rebels became the lawful government.
When, however, we consider that the Romantics were really returning to the old way of writing (the Elizabethans and even of the ballad-poets), we can then see the classical age in truer perspective. It was Dryden and Pope who broke away from the great English tradition and joined, for a brief age of stability, the classical tradition of France.
2.2. Romantic poetry.
The key year for English Romanticism is not 1987, but 1798, when the Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge was published.
Wordsworth was against poetic diction. He wanted a return to imagination, legend, the human heart. He also conceived of poetry as more than the mere correct versification of philosophical truths: the poet was a prophet, not the transcriber of other mens truths but the initiator of truth itself. The poet had the key to the hidden mysteries of the heart, of life itself; the poet was not a mere embellisher of everyday life, but the man who gave life its meaning.
Wordsworths attitude to nature is original and remarkable. Nature is the great teacher of morals, and the primer bringer of happiness, but Nature is much more than that: in Nature resides God.
Wordsworth was to regard children as the real repositories of virtue and even wisdom, and his great Ode immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, states this belief most eloquently.
Coleridges contribution to the Romantic Movement lay in a return to the magical and mysterious. It was on this question of the introduction of the supernatural into poetry that Coleridge and Wordsworth could never see eye to eye. Coleridge wanted poetry to fly into the regions of the marvellous and choose themes that, though fantastic, should be acceptable through willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. Coleridges three great poems are The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan.
Byron became a legend. His poetry is essentially self-centred. He became the great sneerer at the laws and conventions of his country, and a spirit of satire which allies him to Pope. Don Juan is perhaps not strictly a Romantic poem at all: there is too much laughter in it, too much of the sharp edge of social criticism.
Percy B. Shelleys adolescence expresses itself in terms of Godwinian revolt against all existing laws, customs, and religion. Revolt was in his nature and his longer poems all take up the theme of revolt, of suffering humanity in chains. He also presents his positive philosophy of the indestructibility of beauty and of the power of love.
He is most famous for such classic anthology <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthology> verse works as Ozymandias <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias>, Ode to the West Wind <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ode_to_the_West_Wind>, To a Skylark <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_a_Skylark>, and The Masque of Anarchy <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Masque_of_Anarchy>, which are among the most popular and critically acclaimed poems in the English language. His major works, however, are long visionary poems which included Alastor <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alastor,_or_The_Spirit_of_Solitude>, Adonaïs <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adona%C3%AFs>, The Revolt of Islam <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Revolt_of_Islam>, and the unfinished work <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unfinished_work> The Triumph of Life. The Cenci <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cenci> and Prometheus Unbound <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus_Unbound_%28Shelley%29> were dramatic plays in five and four acts respectively. He wrote the Gothic novels Zastrozzi <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zastrozzi> and St. Irvyne <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Irvyne> and the short works The Assassins and The Coliseum.
The poems of John Keats that remain to us are models of the purely sensuous aspect of the Romantic Movement. His themes are simply enough: beauty in art and nature, the wish to die, happy and unhappy love, the glamour of the classical past. He is a pagan, and the gods of ancient Greece are enough for him. The Miltonic epic he left unfinished Hyperion was to tell of the downfall of the old gods and the rising of the new gods of strength and beauty. He also wrote The Eve of St. Agnes and The Odes, in which we can found the Ode to a Nightingale.
Mary Shelley was a British novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travel_literature>, best known for her Gothic novel <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_fiction> Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankenstein> (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romantic_poetry> and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Bysshe_Shelley>. Her father was the political philosopher <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_philosopher> William Godwin <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Godwin>, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist> Mary Wollstonecraft <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Wollstonecraft>.
Sir Walter Scott was both poet and novelist. He first established himself as a great writer of narrative verse. Poems which glorified Scotlands scenery and history made him wealthy and famous. He wrote too many novels and wrote them too carelessly. His Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Lady of The Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.
The reputation of Jane Austen has never been higher. She has not been dated: her novels have freshness and humour sadly lacking in Scott, a delicacy we can appreciate more than his big bow-wow style. She is unique. She attempts no more than to show a small corner of English society as it was in her day. Her famous works are Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.