1. Emotion Versus Reasons
The period from the Declaration of American Independence from 1716 to 1830 was marked by great revolutions: the Industrial Revolution and French Revolution.
In the last thirty years of the 18th century a new sensibility became dominant and it came to be known in literature as ‘Romanticism’. It contained elements of introspection, nostalgia, emotionalism, individualism and led to a new way of the role of man in the universe.
The rediscovery of the art and popular traditions of the Middle-Ages manifested itself in the ‘Gothic vogue’ which was the interest in what was wild, irrational, supernatural, horrific.
The concept of Nature was submitted to revolution. Nature was no longer seen as a philosophical idea: something which man could rule by reason.
Imagination and childhood had a new importance. Imagination gave expression to emotional experience not strictly accountable to reason. The willingness was accompanied by a concern about childhood.
In the Romantic mind, a child was pure and his sensitiveness brought him closer to God.
The Romantics saw the individual essentially in the solitary state, they exalted the atypical, the outcast and the rebel.
2. Romantic Poetry
English romanticism saw the prevalence of poetry, which best suited the need to give expression to emotional experience and individual feelings.
Towards the end of the 18th century there had been a growing appreciation of the power of the imagination,it gained a primary role in the process of poetic composition.
The eye of imagination allowed the Romantic poets to see beyond reality.
The poet became ‘a visionary prophet’ or ‘a teacher’, whose task was to mediate between man and nature, to point out the evils of society, to give voice to the ideals of beauty, truth and freedom.
The Romantic poets continued to appreciate natural elements and landscapes seen as a reflection of the poet’s mood and feelings.
There are some features that can be found in most Romantic poems:
- presence of the Lyrical I;
- language of sense impressions;
- nature as a living force;
- freedom from models and rules;
- symbols as vehicles of visionary perception;
- search for a new language and subject;
- return to past forms which achieved more flexibility.
The great English Romantic poets are grouped into two generations: the first is the Lake poets (such as Wordsworth or Coleridge). The poets of the second generation were Byron, Shelley and Keats.
3. The Gothic Novel
The end of the 18th century brought the ‘Gothic Novel’ to popularity. The Gothic influence didn’t cease after this period. The adjective ‘gothic’ was first applied to architecture long before it connoted literature. The Gothic Novel was really a development of the sentimental novel whose most remarkable feature was emotionalism. The Gothic novelists added the use of fear, suspense and supernatural with an emphasis on romantic settings.
Gothic novels followed the same pattern with few alterations.
Here’s the most common features:
- importance given to terror and horror;
- darkness as the favorite setting in time;
- characters dominated by exaggerated reactions;
- heroines running in terror from villains;
- sensitive heroes who save heroines;
- supernatural beings, like ghosts, vampires, monsters;
- catholic countries, as the setting of terrible crimes;
- ancient settings, like isolated castles.
The first novel of this kind, ‘The Castle of Otranto’ was followed by The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe, ‘The Monk’ (1796) by Matthew Lewis and ‘Frankenstein’ (1818) by Mary Shelley.
4. The Novel of Manners
At the beginning of the 19th century the tone of society had changed: the common life of the time was still hard but sentiment had become more refined. The realism of Defoe and Fielding was becoming less interesting. There was room for a new kind of fiction: the novel of manners.
There are a lot of important features:
- set in upper-and middle-class society;
- influence of class distinctions on character;
- visits, balls and teas as occasions for meeting;
- main themes: marriage, the complications of love and friendship;
- third-person narrator;
- dialogue: the main narrative mode;
- passions and emotions not expressed directly;
- use of irony.
Jane Austen’s novels of manners are based on the premise that there is a vital relationship between manners, social behavior and character.
5. The Historical Novel
The reason why the historical novel appeared at the beginning of the 19th century has been widely discussed by critics and some of them considered the Napoleonic Wars the most important cause.
These wars brought together men from different nations, awakened national feelings and the search for a national identity even among people like Italians and Germans.
Here are the main features of the historical novel:
- historical context;
- fictional and real characters;
- detailed description of manners, buildings, institutions;
- sense of historical verisimilitude;
- third-persons narrator;
- flashbacks and time shifts;
- writer’s aim: to show the closeness of the past to the present.