Topic 48B – Romanticism in great britain: novel and poetry

Topic 48B – Romanticism in great britain: novel and poetry



2.1 Definition of Romanticism

2.2 Characteristics of Romanticism


3.1 The Gothic novel

3.2 Jane Austin and the novel of social manners

3.3 Walter Scott and the historical novel


4.1 Characteristics of the Romantic Poetry

4.2 William Blake

4.3 William Wordsworth

4.4 Samuel Taylor Coleridge

4.5 Lord Byron

4.6 Percy Bysshe Shelley

4.7 John Keats




Romanticism is an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated around the middle of the 18th century in Western Europe, and gained strength during the Industrial Revolution. It was partly a revolt against aristocratic, social, and political norms of the Enlightenment period and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature in art and literature. The movement stressed strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror, and the awe experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature. It elevated folk art, nature and custom, as well as arguing for an epistemology based on nature, which included human activity conditioned by nature in the form of language, custom and usage. It was influenced by ideas of the Enlightenment and elevated medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived to be from the medieval period. The name “romantic” itself comes from the term “romance” which is a prose or poetic heroic narrative originating in medieval literature and romantic literature. The ideologies and events of the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution are thought to have influenced the movement. Romanticism elevated the achievements of what it perceived as misunderstood heroic individuals and artists that altered society. It also legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority which permitted freedom from classical notions of form in art. There was a strong recourse to historical and natural inevitability in the representation of its ideas.

Many intellectual historians have seen Romanticism as a key movement in the Counter-Enlightenment, a reaction against the Age of Enlightenment. Whereas the thinkers of the Enlightenment emphasized the primacy of deductive reason, Romanticism emphasized intuition, imagination, and feeling, to a point that has led to some Romantic thinkers being accused of irrationalism.

The Romantic period saw the first flowering of the English novel. The Romantic and the Gothic novel are closely related; both imagined almost-supernatural forces operating in nature or directing human fate. Just as William Wordsworth and other poets were integral to the growth of English Romanticism, so Mary Shelley and Ann Radcliffe were key to the sudden popularity of the Gothic novel.

It is equally important to recognize, however, the role that the contemporary reader played in the history of the English novel. For many years, novels were considered light reading for young, single women. Novels written with this in mind often contained sometimes heavy moral instruction, and, like earlier English literature, attempted to provide an example of the correct kind of conduct. Jane Austen was a key novelist of this period.

The last quarter of the 18th century was a time of social and political turbulence, with revolutions in the United States, France, Ireland and elsewhere. In Great Britain, movement for social change and a more inclusive sharing of power was also growing. This was the backdrop against which the Romantic movement in English poetry emerged.

The main poets of this movement were William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Keats. The birth of English Romanticism is often dated to the publication in 1798 of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads. However, Blake had been publishing since the early 1780s. However, much of the focus on Blake only came about during the last century when Northrop Frye discussed his work in his book The Anatomy of Criticism.

In the following topic we will explain the meaning and historical background of Romanticism in Great Britain. Then, we will centre our study on the Romantic novel classifying this genre into three ones, that is to say, the Gothic novel, the social novel of manners and the historical novel. After that, we shall study the Romantic poetry and the most outstanding poets, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lord Byron, Shelley and Keats.


2.1 Definition of Romanticism

The Romantic movement appeared in Germany in the late 18th century, then it arrived in Britain and it finally spread to the rest of Europe. The term “romantic” has a complex origin. It comes from the French “romans”, that meant a vernacular language descended from Latin. From there it came to refer to vernacular literatures and then was used meaning something imaginative or extravagant, often with overtones of disapproval. In the 18th century it acquired a positive connotation, especially in descriptions of pleasing qualities in landscape. The Romantic period in literature is from 1780 to 1830, it coincided with the French Revolution, which was to some extent a political enactment of its ideas.

This was the end of the tradition from the Renaissance. The artistic consciousness broke away from classical Rome with the rediscovery of local culture and literary traditions.

In a letter to Byron in 1816, Percy Shelley declared that the French Revolution was “the master theme of the epoch in which we live” — a judgment with which many of Shelley’s contemporaries concurred. Intellectuals of the age were obsessed with the concept of violent and inclusive change in the human condition, and the writings of those we now consider the major Romantic poets cannot be understood, historically, without an awareness of the extent to which their distinctive concepts, plots, forms, and imagery were shaped first by the promise, then by the tragedy, of the great events in neighboring France. And for the young poets in the early years of 1789–93, the enthusiasm for the Revolution had the impetus and high excitement of a religious awakening, because they interpreted the events in France in accordance with the apocalyptic prophecies in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures; that is, they viewed these events as fulfilling the promise, guaranteed by an infallible text, that a short period of retributive and cleansing violence would usher in an age of universal peace and blessedness that would be the equivalent of a restored Paradise. Even after what they considered to be the failure of the revolutionary promise, these poets did not surrender their hope for a radical reformation of humankind and its social and political world; instead, they transferred the basis of that hope from violent political revolution to a quiet but drastic revolution in the moral and imaginative nature of the human race. The Romanticism meant also important changes in philosophy. The romantics reacted against the 18th century rationalistic view of the world increasingly dominated by science.

Furthermore, the romantics differed from their predecessors in their attitude to society. The 18th century regarded society as a great work of man, holding all ranks together. The romantics regarded it as dark and repressive, it was an evil force that constrained men.

“The Satanic”, another topic of this period, considers a cast of characters whose titanic ambition and outcast state made them important to the Romantic Age’s thinking about individualism, revolution, the relationship of the author—the author of genius especially—to society, and the relationship of poetical power to political power. The fallen archangel Satan, as depicted in Milton’s Paradise Lost; Napoleon Bonaparte, self-anointed Emperor of the French, Europe’s “greatest man” or perhaps, as Coleridge insisted, “the greatest proficient in human destruction that has ever lived”; Lord Byron, or at least Lord Byron in the disguised form in which he presented himself in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Manfred, and his Orientalist romances; these figures were consistently grouped together in the public imagination of the Romantic Age. Prompted by radical changes in their systems of political authority and by their experience of a long, drawn-out war in which many of the victories felt like pyrrhic ones, British people during this period felt compelled to rethink the nature of heroism. One way that they pursued this project was to ponder the powers of fascination exerted by these figures whose self-assertion and love of power could appear both demonic and heroic, and who managed both to incite beholders’ hatred and horror and to prompt their intense identifications. In the representations surveyed by this topic the ground is laid, as well, for the satanic strain of nineteenth-century literature and so for some of literary history’s most compelling protagonists.

2.2 Characteristics of Romanticism

Various themes were the main sources where Romantic writers looked for inspiration: love of nature; imagination and interest in the supernatural and exotic.

Love of nature. The romantics preferred the natural world to the cities, the typical theme of classical literature. Nature was a dominant subject and the major source of imagery. For them nature rather than society was man’s proper setting. They described many different kinds of natural scenes where life was more dangerous, man’s individuality more sharply defined and existence had a zest lacking in 19th century Britain. “Nature” meant many things to the Romantics. As suggested above, it was often presented as itself a work of art, constructed by a divine imagination, in emblematic language. While particular perspectives with regard to nature varied considerably–nature as a healing power, nature as a source of subject and image, nature as a refuge from the artificial constructs of civilization, including artificial language–the prevailing views accorded nature the status of an organically unified whole. It was viewed as “organic,” rather than, as in the scientific or rationalist view, as a system of “mechanical” laws, for Romanticism displaced the rationalist view of the universe as a machine (e.g., the deistic image of a clock) with the analogue of an “organic” image, a living tree or mankind itself. At the same time, Romantics gave greater attention both to describing natural phenomena accurately and to capturing “sensuous nuance”–and this is as true of Romantic landscape painting as of Romantic nature poetry. Accuracy of observation, however, was not sought for its own sake. Romantic nature poetry is essentially a poetry of meditation.

Importance of imagination. They moved away from the central role of rationality in the 18th century. They preferred eternal forces and the spiritual world and were fascinated by the limitless possibilities of the human mind, exploring subconscious levels through dreams, drugs, hypnosis or madness. The imagination was elevated to a position as the supreme faculty of the mind. This contrasted distinctly with the traditional arguments for the supremacy of reason. The Romantics tended to define and to present the imagination as our ultimate “shaping” or creative power, the approximate human equivalent of the creative powers of nature or even deity. It is dynamic, an active, rather than passive power, with many functions. Imagination is the primary faculty for creating all art. On a broader scale, it is also the faculty that helps humans to constitute reality, for (as Wordsworth suggested), we not only perceive the world around us, but also in part create it. Uniting both reason and feeling (Coleridge described it with the paradoxical phrase, “intellectual intuition”), imagination is extolled as the ultimate synthesizing faculty, enabling humans to reconcile differences and opposites in the world of appearance. The reconciliation of opposites is a central ideal for the Romantics. Finally, imagination is inextricably bound up with the other two major concepts, for it is presumed to be the faculty which enables us to “read” nature as a system of symbols.

Interest in the supernatural and exotic. Combining natural settings and the escape from rationality, they introduced non-rational elements such as witches, curses, visions or prophecies. The attitude of many of the Romantics to the everyday, social world around them was complex. It is true that they advanced certain realistic techniques, such as the use of “local colour” (through down-to-earth characters, like Wordsworth’s rustics, or through everyday language, as in Emily Bronte’s northern dialects or Whitman’s colloquialisms, or through popular literary forms, such as folk narratives). Yet social realism was usually subordinate to imaginative suggestion, and what was most important were the ideals suggested by the above examples, simplicity perhaps, or innocence. Earlier, the 18th-century cult of the noble savage had promoted similar ideals, but now artists often turned for their symbols to domestic rather than exotic sources–to folk legends and older, “unsophisticated” art forms, such as the ballad, to contemporary country folk who used “the language of common men,” not an artificial “poetic diction,” and to children (for the first time presented as individuals, and often idealized as sources of greater wisdom than adults). Simultaneously, as opposed to everyday subjects, various forms of the exotic in time and/or place also gained favour, for the Romantics were also fascinated with realms of existence that were, by definition, prior to or opposed to the ordered conceptions of “objective” reason. Often, both the everyday and the exotic appeared together in paradoxical combinations. In the Lyrical Ballads, for example, Wordsworth and Coleridge agreed to divide their labours according to two subject areas, the natural and the supernatural: Wordsworth would try to exhibit the novelty in what was all too familiar, while Coleridge would try to show in the supernatural what was psychologically real, both aiming to dislodge vision from the “lethargy of custom.” The concept of the beautiful soul in an ugly body, as characterized in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is another variant of the paradoxical combination.

Symbolism and Myth. Both concepts were given great prominence in the Romantic conception of art. In the Romantic view, symbols were the human aesthetic correlatives of nature’s emblematic language. They were valued too because they could simultaneously suggest many things, and were thus thought superior to the one-to-one communications of allegory. Partly, it may have been the desire to express the “inexpressible”–the infinite–through the available resources of language that led to symbol at one level and myth (as symbolic narrative) at another.

Emotion, Lyric Poetry, and the Self. Other aspects of Romanticism were intertwined with the above three concepts. Emphasis on the activity of the imagination was accompanied by greater emphasis on the importance of intuition, instincts, and feelings, and Romantics generally called for greater attention to the emotions as a necessary supplement to purely logical reason. When this emphasis was applied to the creation of poetry, a very important shift of focus occurred. Wordsworth’s definition of all good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” marks a turning point in literary history. By locating the ultimate source of poetry in the individual artist, the tradition, stretching back to the ancients, of valuing art primarily for its ability to imitate human life (that is, for its mimetic qualities) was reversed. In Romantic theory, art was valuable not so much as a mirror of the external world, but as a source of illumination of the world within. Among other things, this led to a prominence for first-person lyric poetry never accorded it in any previous period. The “poetic speaker” became less a persona and more the direct person of the poet. Wordsworth’s Prelude and Whitman’s “Song of Myself” are both paradigms of successful experiments to take the growth of the poet’s mind (the development of self) as subject for an “epic” enterprise made up of lyric components. Confessional prose narratives such as Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and Chateaubriand’s Rene (1801), as well as disguised autobiographical verse narratives such as Byron’s Childe Harold (1818), are related phenomena. The interior journey and the development of the self recurred everywhere as subject material for the Romantic artist. The artist-as-hero is a specifically Romantic type.

Individualism. The Romantics asserted the importance of the individual, the unique, even the eccentric. Consequently they opposed the character typology of neoclassical drama. In another way, of course, Romanticism created its own literary types. The hero-artist has already been mentioned; there were also heaven-storming types from Prometheus to Captain Ahab, outcasts from Cain to the Ancient Mariner and even Hester Prynne, and there was Faust, who wins salvation in Goethe’s great drama for the very reasons–his characteristic striving for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted and his insatiable thirst for activity–that earlier had been viewed as the components of his tragic sin. (It was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost.)

      In style, the Romantics preferred boldness over the preceding age’s desire for restraint, maximum suggestiveness over the neoclassical ideal of clarity, free experimentation over the “rules” of composition, genre, and decorum, and they promoted the conception of the artist as “inspired” creator over that of the artist as “maker” or technical master. Although in both Germany and England there was continued interest in the ancient classics, for the most part the Romantics allied themselves with the very periods of literature that the neoclassicists had dismissed, the Middle Ages and the Baroque, and they embraced the writer whom Voltaire had called a barbarian, Shakespeare. Although interest in religion and in the powers of faith were prominent during the Romantic period, the Romantics generally rejected absolute systems, whether of philosophy or religion, in favor of the idea that each person (and humankind collectively) must create the system by which to live.


With regards to prose works, three are the main types of novels at this time with a large readership devoted to them. They are often classified into three great blocks: the Gothic novel, the novel of social manners and the historical novel.

3.1 The Gothic novel

The first important manifestation of the Romanticism in the novel was the development of the novels of mystery and imagination known as Gothic novels. The term gothic made reference to the architectonic style of the Middle Ages. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole was a piece of nonsense which founded a new kind of fiction. In spite of its little literary quality, Walpole´s imagination created a literary fashion plenty of monsters, evil creatures and bloody effects that many writers were to follow. In this novel, the ominous hero-villain had embodied aspects of Satan, the fallen archangel in Milton’s Paradise Lost. This satanic strain was developed by later writers and achieved its apotheosis in the creation of a new and important cultural phenomenon, the compulsive, grandiose, heaven-and-hell-defying Byronic hero. In many of its literary products, the Gothic mode manifested the standard setting and events, creaky contrivances, and genteel aim of provoking no more than a pleasurable shudder — a convention Jane Austen satirized in Northanger Abbey. This kind of building suggested to the writers of fiction mystery, romance, revolt against classical order, wildness. The main representatives of this kind of novels are Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Gregory Lewis. The mode had originated in novels of the mid-eighteenth century that, in radical opposition to the Enlightenment ideals of order, decorum, and rational control, had opened to literary exploration the realm of nightmarish terror, violence, aberrant psychological states, and sexual rapacity. Literary Gothicism also, however, produced enduring classics that featured such demonic, driven, and imaginatively compelling protagonists as Byron’s Manfred, Frankenstein’s Creature in Mary Shelley’s novel, Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and, in America, Captain Ahab in Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Mrs. Radcliffe’s (1764-1822) novels are The Romance of the Forest, The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. They are to some extent terrifying stories,but her mysteries have a rational explanation at the end and she does not offend conventional morality.

Lewis’novel The Monk (1796) is different. Its emphasis on horror rather than romance, violence and eroticism made it avidly read, though universally condemned.

We also ought to mention in this context a work produced some time later, Frankenstein (1816) by Mary Shelley (1797-1851). It originated from a plan to write ghost stories in the group formed by Byron, Shelley and herself. Frankenstein is a scientist obsessed with creating life, and he achieves it, but he ends up being destroyed by his own creation. This novel, mainly through the Hollywood adaptations, has become a universal myth.

3.2 Jane Austin and the novel of social manners

If women took an active part in producing the novel of terror, they were even more prolific practitioners at the other end of the emotional scale, that is to say, the social novel of manners, which describes the behaviour of characters in a specific and limited social environment.

Fanny Burney had a remarkable success with her famous Evelina, but the greatest of all novelists of manners was Jane Austen.

English writer, who first gave the novel its modern character through the treatment of everyday life. Although Austen was widely read in her lifetime, she published her works anonymously. The most urgent preoccupation of her bright, young heroines is courtship and finally marriage. Austen herself never married.

Jane Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire, where her father, Rev. George Austen, was a rector. She was the second daughter and seventh child in a family of eight. The first 25 years of her life Jane spent in Hampshire.

Austen was mostly tutored at home, and irregularly at school, but she received a broader education than many women of her time. She started to write for family amusement as a child. Her parents were avid readers; Austen’s own favourite poet was Cowper. Her earliest-known writings date from about 1787. Very shy about her writing, she wrote on small pieces of paper that she slipped under the desk plotter if anyone came into the room. In her letters she observed the daily life of her family and friends in an intimate and gossipy manner.

Austen never married, she never had a room of her own, but her social life was active and she had suitors and romantic dreams. Jane Austen was well connected with the middling-rich landed gentry that she portrayed in her novels. She focused on this middle-class provincial life with humour and understanding. She depicted minor landed gentry, country clergymen and their families, in which marriage mainly determined women’s social status. Most important for her were those little matters, as Emma says, “on which the daily happiness of private life depends.” Although Austen restricted to family matters, and she passed the historical events of the Napoleonic wars, her wit and observant narrative touch has been inexhaustible delight to readers.

Her first major work was Sense and Sensibility, the story of the impoverished Dashwood sisters, Marianne and Elinor, who try to find proper husbands to secure their social position. The novel was written in 1797 as the revision of a sketch called Elinor and Marianne, composed when the author was 20. Austen’s heroines are determined to marry wisely and well, but romantic Marianne of Sense and Sensibility is a character, who feels intensely about everything and loses her heart to an irresponsible seducer. Reasonable Elinor falls in love with a gentleman already engaged.

When Marianne likes to read and express her feelings, Elinor prefers to draw and design and be silent of his desires. They are the daughters of Henry Dashwood, whose son, John, from a former marriage. After his death, John inherits the Norland estate in Sussex, where the sisters live. John’s wife, the greedy and selfish Fanny, insists that they move to Norland. The impoverished widow and her daughters move to Barton Cottage in Devonshire. There Marianne is surrounded by a devious heartbreaker Willoughby, who has already loved another woman. Elinor becomes interested in Edward Ferrars, who is proud and ignorant. Colonel Brandon, an older gentleman, doesn’t attract Marianne. She is finally rejected by Willoughby.

In all of Austen’s novels her heroines are ultimately married. Pride and Prejudice described the clash between Elisabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman and an intelligent young woman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich aristocratic landowner. Their relationship starts from dislike, but Darcy becomes intrigued by her mind and spirit. At last they fall in love and are happily united.

Emma was written in comic tone. Austen begun the novel in January 1814 and completed it in March of the next year. The book was published in three volumes. It told the story of Emma Woodhouse, who finds her destiny in marriage. Emma is a wealthy, pretty, self-satisfied young woman. She is left alone with her hypochondriac father. Her governess, Miss Taylor, marries a neighbour, Mr. Weston. Emma has too much time and she spends it choosing proper partners for her friends and neighbours – blind to her own feelings. She makes a protégée of Harriet Smith, an illegitimate girl of no social status and tries to manipulate a marriage between Harriet and Mr. Elton, a young clergyman, who has set his sight on Emma. Emma has feelings about Mr. Weston’s son. When Harriet becomes interested in George Knightley, a neighbouring squire who has been her friend, Emma starts to understand her own limitations. He has been her moral adviser, and secretly loves her. Finally Emma finds her destiny in marriage with him. Harriet, who is left to decide for herself, marries Robert Martin, a young farmer.

Of her six great novels, four were published anonymously during her lifetime. Austen also had troubles with her publisher, who wanted to make alterations to her love scenes in Pride and Prejudice. At her death on July 18, 1817 in Winchester, at the age of forty-one, Austen was writing the unfinished Sanditon. She managed to write twelve chapters before stopping in March 18, due to her poor health.

3.3 Walter Scott and the historical novel

Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh, as the son of a solicitor Walter Scott and Anne, a daughter of professor of medicine. An early illness – polio – left him lame in the right leg. He attended Edinburgh High School (1779-1783) and studied at Edinburgh University arts and law (1783-86, 1789-92). At the age of sixteen he had already started to collect old ballads and later translated into English Gottfried Bürger’s ballads The Wild Huntsman and Lenore and Goetz of Berlichingen (1799) from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play. Scott married in 1797 Margaret Charlotte Charpentier and had five children.

In 1802-03 appeared Scott’s first major work, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. As a poet Scott rose into fame with the publication of The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) about an old border country legend. It was followed by Marmion (1808), a historical romance in tetrameter, set in 1513, and concerning the attempts of Lord Marmion to marry the rich Lady Clare.

In 1810 appeared The Lady in the Lake and in 1813 Rokeby. Scott’s last major poem, The Lord of the Isles, was published in 1815.

In the 1810s Scott published several novels anonymously or under the pseudonym Jebediah Cleisbotham or Author of Waverley. From this period date such works as Waverley (1814), dealing with the rebellion of 1745, which attempted to restore a Scottish family to the British throne. The book set the classic pattern of the historical novel. It had a hero, whose loyalty is split between two rulers and two ways of life. Scott continued with Guy Mannering (1815) and Tales of my Landlord (1816), consisting of The Black Dwarf and Old Mortality. Rob Roy (1817) was a portrait of one of Scotland’s greatest heroes – the novel sold out its edition of 10 000 copies in two weeks. The Heart of Midlothian (1818) was a story of Jeanie Deans’s journey to London to appeal on behalf of her sister who has been wrongfully charged with child murder. The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), was a novel of loss, love and vengeance, a venture into the gothic genre. In A Legend of Montrose (1819) Scott drew a picture of the campaigns of 1644.

Ivanhoe, (1819) was set in the reign of Richard I and depicted the rivalry between the King and his wicked brother John (King 1199-1216). It was a tale of chivalry and was set in the age of Richard the Lion-Hearted. Wilfred of Ivanhoe loves Rowena, but his father plans marry her to Athelstane of Coningsburgh. Ivanhoe serves with King Richard in the crusades. King’s brother John tries to usurp the throne with the help of Norman barons. Richard appears in disguise at the tournament at Ashby de la Zouch, where he helps Ivanhoe to defeat John’s knights. At the tournament Sir Brian falls in love with Rebecca, a beautiful Jewess. She is taken captive with her father Isaac, Rowena, Ivanhoe, and Cedric by the Norman barons and imprisoned in Torquilstone. The King and his band of outlaws, among them Robin Hood, release the prisoners. Rebecca is carried off by Bois-Guilbert and charged of witchcraft. Ivanhoe appears as her champion, opposing Bois-Guilbert, who dies. Rebecca, seeing Ivanhoe’s love for Rowena, leaves England with her father.

In the 1820s appeared Kenilworth (1821), The Fortunes of Nigel (1822), Peveril of the Peak (1823), Quentin Durward (1823), The Talisman (1825), Woodstock (1826), The Surgeon´s Daughter (1827), Anne of Geierstein (1829). After the financial crash of 1825-26 the author’s anonymity was destroyed, and he was exposed to the general public as Sir Walter Scott.

Scott’s historical novels fall into three groups; those set in the background of Scottish history, from Waverly to A Legend of Montrose; a group which takes up themes from the Middle Ages and Reformation times, from Ivanhoe to Talisman, and his remaining books, from Woodstock onwards. Scott’s dramatic work include Halidon Hill (1922), Macduff´s Cross (1823), The Doom of Devorgoil, A Melodrama (1830), and Auchindrane (1830).

Scott visited France in 1826 to collect material for his Life of Napoleon, which was published in 9 volumes in 1827. After return to England in 1832, he died on September 21.

Scott’s influence as a novelist was profound. He established the form of the historical novel and his work inspired such writers as Bulwer-Lytton, G. Eliot, and the Brontës. In the 1930s European Marxist critics found Scott again, and interpreted his novels in term of historicism. The most prominent admirer of Scott was the Hungarian philosopher and aesthetician György Lucács. Modernist taste classified Scott to the category of the subliterary or juvenile.


In English literature there are two generations of romantic poets. Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge, who were young in 1789, the year of the French Revolution, belong to the older generation. They were fired with revolutionary ideals, but they became disillusioned with the period of Terror and the rise of Napoleon. The younger generation, Byron, Shelley and Keats, grew up in a society dominated by repression of revolutionary ideals and of freedom.

4.1 Characteristics of the Romantic Poetry

In poetry, the Romantic movement emphasized the creative expression of the individual and the need to find and formulate new forms of expression. The Romantics, with the partial exception of Byron, rejected the poetic ideals of the eighteenth century, and each of them returned to Milton for inspiration, though each drew something different from Milton. They also put a good deal of stress on their own originality. To the Romantics, the moment of creation was the most important in poetic expression and could not be repeated once it passed. Because of this new emphasis, poems that were not complete were nonetheless included in a poet’s body of work (such as Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and Christabel).

Additionally, the Romantic movement marked a shift in the use of language. Attempting to express the “language of the common man”, Wordsworth and his fellow Romantic poets focused on employing poetic language for a wider audience, countering the mimetic, tightly constrained Neo-Classic poems (although it’s important to note that the poet wrote first and foremost for his own creative, expression). In Shelley’s Defense of Poetry, he contends that poets are the “creators of language” and that the poet’s job is to refresh language for their society.

4.2 William Blake

William Blake was born in London, where he spent most of his life. His father was a successful London hosier and attracted by the doctrines of Emmanuel Swedenborg. Blake was first educated at home, chiefly by his mother. His parents encouraged him to collect prints of the Italian masters, and in 1767 sent him to Henry Pars’ drawing school. From his early years, he experienced visions of angels and ghostly monks, he saw and conversed with the angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary, and various historical figures. He was a traditional poet until his twenties but violently he broke away from the cultural patterns of his age and turned into the occultist traditions of European thought- the Jewish cabalistic ideas, the German mysticism, the esoteric doctrine of Rosicrucianism. For him the evil was inherent to the natural world, it was a result of the confinement of man in his five senses, which limit his perception. So, man can only be freed by the Poetic Genius or Imagination, the capacity to apprehend realities beyond the prison of the senses.

Gothic art and architecture influenced him deeply. After studies at the Royal Academy School, Blake started to produce watercolors and engrave illustrations for magazines. In 1783 he married Catherine Boucher, the daughter of a market gardener. Blake taught her to draw and paint and she assisted him devoutly.

His early poems Blake wrote at the age of 12. However, being early apprenticed to a manual occupation, journalistic-social career was not open to him. His first book of poems, Poetical Sketches, appeared in 1783 and was followed by Songs of Innocence (1789), and Songs of Experience (1794). The first one was an evocation of that paradise which Milton had declared lost. Blake was the first poet to locate innocence not in the childhood of humanity, but in the childhood of the individual. In his early works he was inspired by current affairs, but in his later works such references are less frequent, presenting his beliefs about the world and his hopes for its regeneration in prophetic works with his own mythology. In Songs of Experience (1794) he introduced the distinction between a distant creator God, that he called Urizen, and the figure of Jesus, called the Lamb or the Divine Humanity, which is the regenerative figure of later poems. His most famous poem, The Tiger, was part of this Songs of Experience. Typical for Blake’s poems were long, flowing lines and violent energy, combined with aphoristic clarity and moments of lyric tenderness. Blake was not blinded by conventions, but approached his subjects sincerely with a mind unclouded by current opinions. On the other hand this made him also an outsider. He approved of free love, and sympathized with the actions of the French revolutionaries but the Reign of Terror sickened him.

In 1790 Blake engraved The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a book of paradoxical aphorisms and his principal prose work. Radically he sided with the Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost and attacked the conventional religious views in a series of aphorisms. Some of Blake’s contemporaries called him a harmless lunatic.

The Blakes moved south of the Thames to Lambeth in 1790. During this time Blake began to work on his ‘prophetic books’, where he expressed his lifelong concern with the struggle of the soul to free its natural energies from reason and organized religion. Although Blake first accepted Swedenborg’s ideas, he eventually rejected him. He wrote The Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), America: A Prophecy (1793), The Book of Urizen (1794) which was Blake’s own version of Genesis (in Christianity the Creation is an act of heroic power, for Blake it is a wilful and tragic mistake of a tragic God), and The Song of Los (1795). Blake hated the effects of the Industrial Revolution in England and looked forward to the establishment of a New Jerusalem “in England’s green and pleasant land.” Between 1804 and 1818 he produced an edition of his own poem Jerusalem with 100 engravings.

Blake’s last years were passed in obscurity, quarrelling even with some of the circle of friends who supported him. His influence grew through Pre-Raphealites and W.B. Yeats especially in Britain. His interest in legend was revived with the Romantics’ rediscovery of the past, especially the Gothic and medieval. In the 1960s Blake’s work was acclaimed by the Underground movement.

4.3 William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth started with Samuel Taylor Coleridge the English Romantic movement with their collection Lyrical Ballads in 1798.When many poets still wrote about ancient heroes in grandiloquent style, Wordsworth focused on the nature, children, the poor, common people, and used ordinary words to express his personal feelings. His definition of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings arising from “emotion recollected in tranquillity” was shared by a number of his followers.

“Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science.” (from Lyrical Ballads, 2nd ed., 1800)

William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, in the Lake District. The magnificent landscape deeply affected Wordsworth’s imagination and gave him a love of nature. He lost his mother when he was eight and five years later his father. The domestic problems separated Wordsworth from his beloved and neurotic sister Dorothy, who was a very important person in his life. Dorothy had especially fresh contact to nature from a very early age. Her thoughts and impression were a valuable source of inspiration for her brother, who also introduced himself as Nature’s child.

Wordsworth entered a local school and continued his studies at Cambridge University. As a writer Wordsworth made his debut in 1787, when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine. During a summer vacation in 1790, Wordsworth went on a walking tour through revolutionary France. He also travelled in Switzerland.

Encouraged by Coleridge and stimulated by the close contact with nature, Wordsworth composed his first masterwork, Lyrical Ballads, which opened with Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. About 1798 he started to write a large and philosophical autobiographical poem, completed in 1805, and published posthumously in 1850 under the title The Prelude. It consisted of an exposition of the principles of the new poetry, that is to say, a simple linguistic diction based on traditional forms (ballads, stanzas, simple rimes); new sources of inspiration such as intuition, feeling and nature; nature is seen as the right place to look for inspiration, this place is seen as the full manifestation of God – a pantheistic concept of life-. Wordsworth intended to avoid traditional practises to show elemental human emotions and to substitute the artificial literary tradition for a new poetic with contemporary speech patterns. He would supply poems on ordinary life while Coleridge would deal with the supernatural. Some of his poems are The Idiot Boy, We are Seven and Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey. The latter is concerned with the poet’s own development through the ministry of Nature. Tintern Abbey, written in 1798, is Wordsworth’s initial attempt, in the short compass of a lyric poem, at a form he later expanded into the epic-length narrative of The Prelude. However innovative, in historical retrospect, the content and organization of Tintern Abbey may be, a contemporary reader would have approached it as simply one of a great number of descriptive poems that, in the 1790s, undertook to record a tour of picturesque scenes and ruins. Some critics read it as a great and moving meditation on the human condition and its inescapable experience of aging, loss, and suffering. Others, however, contend that in the poem, Wordsworth suppresses any reference to his earlier enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and also that — by locating his vantage point in the pristine upper reaches of the Wye and out of sight of the abbey — he avoids acknowledging the spoliation of the environment by industry, and evades a concern with the social realities of unemployment, homelessness, and destitution.

Another remarkable poem is Michael. A Pastoral Poem. It defied the tradition of pastoral poetry, since pastoral poems consisted of an artificial representation of shepherds, while he presented the tragic suffering of actual shepherds and real country life.

Wordsworth’s second collection, Poems in Two Volumes, appeared in 1807. These poems written during middle and late years have not gained similar critical approval. He spent some time in France with his sister and at the end of his stay in France he wrote Descriptive Sketches defending the cause of the French Revolution and idealises Swiss republicanism. Back in England he published An Evening Walk, a poem describing the Lake District from noon to night still in the pre-romantic tradition of nature verse.

Wordsworth died on April 23, 1850. The second generation of Romantics, Byron and Shelley, considered him ‘dull.

4.4 Samuel Taylor Coleridge

English lyrical poet, critic, and philosopher, whose Lyrical Ballads, written with William Wordsworth, started the English Romantic movement. Although Coleridge’s poetic achievement was small in quantity, his metaphysical anxiety, anticipating modern existentialism, has gained him reputation as an authentic visionary. Shelley called him “hooded eagle among blinking owls.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire, as the youngest son of the vicar of Ottery St Mary. He was the youngest of ten children, adored by his parents. His father, the Reverend John Coleridge, was already fifty-three years old. Ann Bowdon, the daughter of a farmer, his second wife, was forty-five at that time.

After his father’s death, Coleridge was sent away to Christ’s Hospital School in London. Coleridge studied at Jesus College. He joined in the reformist movement stimulated by the French Revolution, and abandoned his studies in 1793.

Coleridge’s collection Poems on Various Subjects was published in 1796, and in 1797 appeared Poems. It consisted of verses composed before his collaboration with Wordsworth. They are related to pre-romantic poetry, but they introduce the blank verse, the vivid imagery and the mysticism which would characterise him. The Eolian Harp presents a struggle within the poet between the pagan and conventional orthodoxy. The wind plays its natural music on the harp, a favourite symbol of art for the romantics. The poem suggests the existence of an intellectual breeze which identifies God, man and nature as one. Religious Musing presents his radicalism, supporting the ideals of the French Revolution and the intuitive faith rather than a rational one.

In the same year he began the publication of a short-lived liberal political periodical The Watchman. He started a close friendship with Dorothy and William Wordsworth, one of the most fruitful creative relationships in English literature. From it resulted Lyrical Ballads, which opened with Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner and ended with Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey. These poems set a new style by using everyday language and fresh ways of looking at nature. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a 625-line ballad, is among his essential works. The mastery of its form is in the use of the devices from popular ballads such as alliteration, internal rhyme or repetition. It tells of a sailor who kills an albatross and for that crime against nature endures terrible punishments. The ship upon which the Mariner serves is trapped in a frozen sea. An albatross comes to the aid of the ship, it saves everyone, and stays with the ship until the Mariner shoots it with his crossbow. The motiveless malignity leads to punishment.

The brothers Josiah and Thomas Wedgewood granted Coleridge an annuity of 150 pounds, thus enabling him to pursue his literary career. Disenchanted with political developments in France, Coleridge visited Germany in 1798-99 with Dorothy and William Wordsworth, and became interested in the works of Immanuel Kant. He studied philosophy at Göttingen University and mastered the German language. However, he considered his translations of Friedrich von Schiller‘s plays from the trilogy Wallenstein distasteful. At the end of 1799 Coleridge fell in love with Sara Hutchinson, the sister of Wordsworth’s future wife, to whom he devoted his work Dejection: an Ode (1802). During these years Coleridge also began to compile his Notebooks, daily meditations of his life.

Suffering from neuralgic and rheumatic pains, Coleridge had became addicted to opium, freely prescribed by physicians. In 1804 he sailed to Malta in search of better health.

Christabel and Kubla Khan circulated many years in oral form before publication, and especially Christabel influenced later the works of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. In the summer of 1797 the author had retired to a lonely farm-house between Porlock and Linton. He had taken anodyne and after three hours sleep he woke up with a clear image of the poem. Disturbed by a visitor, he lost the vision, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images. Modern scholarship is skeptical of this story, but it reveals Coleridge’s interest in the workings of the subconscious. Kubla Khan is both a great achievement of romantic poetry and of romantic theory. He composed this poem during a dream under the influence of opium, and when he woke up he started writing it, but he was interrupted and could not finish it. It deals with imagination versus rationality. The sacred river is imagination, but Kubla Kahn has attempted in his pleasure dome to create a conscious world of art. Disdainful of such attempts, the river goes upward from its subterranean sources and follows its natural course dropping again into the unconscious from where it came.

In 1810 Coleridge’s friendship with Wordsworth came to crisis, and the two poets never fully returned to the relationship they had earlier. During the following years, Coleridge lived in London, on the verge of suicide. Remorse, a play which he had written many years earlier, was successfully produced at the Drury Lane theatre in 1813. After a physical and spiritual crisis at Greyhound Inn, Bath, he submitted himself to a series of medical régimes to free himself from opium.

In 1816 the unfinished poems Christabel and Kubla Khan were published, and next year appeared Sibylline Leaves. After 1817 Coleridge devoted himself to theological and politico-sociological works – his final position was that of a Romantic conservative and Christian radical. Coleridge contributed to several magazines, among them Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. In 1824 Coleridge was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He died in Highgate, near London on July 25, 1834.

4.5 Lord Byron

George Gordon, Lord Byron, was the son of Captain John Byron, and Catherine Gordon of Gight, a self-indulgent, somewhat hysterical woman, who was his second wife. He was born with a club-foot and became extreme sensitivity about his lameness. His life did not become easier when he received painful treatments for his foot by a quack practitioner in 1799. Eventually he got a corrective boot. At home Byron’s alcoholic governess made sexual advances when he was nine. According to some sources, Byron was also seduced by the lord who rented his mansion before he inherited it.

In his works short and stout Byron glorified proud heroes, who overcome hardships. The poet himself was only 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall and his widely varying weight ranged from 137 to 202 pounds – he once said that everything he swallowed was instantly converted to tallow and deposited on his ribs. One of his friends noted that at the age of about 30 he looked 40 and “the knuckles of his hands were lost in fat.”

Byron spent his early childhood years in poor surroundings in Aberdeen, where he was educated until he was ten. His father died in 1791, and the fifth baron’s grandson was killed in 1794. After he inherited the title and property of his great-uncle in 1798, he went on to Dulwich, Harrow, where he excelled in swimming, and Cambridge, where he piled up depths and aroused alarm with bisexual love affairs. Staying at Newstead in 1802, he probably first met his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. At the age of fifteen he fell in love with Mary Chaworth, his distant cousin, whom he wrote the poem To Emma.

In 1807 appeared Byron’s first collection of poetry, Hours of Idleness. It received bad reviews. The poet answered his critics with satire English Bards and Scotch Reviews in 1808. Next year he took his seat in the House of Lords, and set out on his grand tour, visiting Spain, Albania, Greece, and the Aegean. In Malta, where he stayed for a brief period, he received treatments for gonorrhea.

Success came in 1812 when Byron published the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818). The work introduced the “Byronic hero”. It is an impassioned account of the wanderings of a restless man amid the splendours of European civilisation. The public had not accepted the poetry of the early romantics and were still used to the moral rectitude of 18th century poetry. The passionate language, the gorgeous imagery and the new hero resulted an immediate success. This is the prototype of the romantic hero: proud, moody, cynical, implacable in revenge yet capable of deep strong affection. He is torn by remorse but he remains an unrepentant sinner. His contemporaries identified this character with Byron himself, but this was a deliberate fabrication of the poet.

During the summer of 1813 Byron apparently entered into a more than brotherly relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh, who was a mother of three daughters. In 1814 Augusta gave birth to Elizabeth Medora, who was generally supposed to be Byron’s. In the same year he wrote Lara, a poem about a mystical hero, aloof and alien, whose identity is gradually revealed and who dies after a feud in the arms of his page.

In the following years he produced the three oriental tales The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos and The Corsair of mysterious adventure, sentimental love and exoticism. Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke in 1815, and their daughter Ada was born in the same year. The marriage was unhappy, and they obtained legal separation next year. When the rumors started to rise of his incest and debts were accumulating, Byron left England in 1816, never to return.

Byron settled in Geneva with Mary Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Claire Clairmont, who became his mistress. There he wrote the two cantos of Childe Harold and The Prisioner of Chillon. At the end of the summer Byron continued his travels, spending two years in Italy. During the years in Italy, Byron wrote Lament of Tasso, inspired by his visit in Tasso’s cell in Rome, Mazeppa, The Prophecy of Dante, and started Don Juan, his satiric masterpiece. It is a picture of life in many lands through the wanderings of the protagonist. It combines cynicism and tenderness, of the serious and the burlesque, making fun of everyone and everything.

Byron lived with Teresa, Countess Guiccioli, in Venice, and followed her household to Ravenna. Teresa left her husband for Byron, and Shelley rented houses in Pisa both for Byron and for the Gambas, Teresa’s family. While in Ravenna and Pisa, Byron became deeply interested in drama, and wrote among others The Two Foscari, Sardanapalus, Cain, and the unfinished Heaven and Earth.

After Byron started to support the Italian insurrectionist Carbonari movement against Austrian rule, the Austrian secret police started to follow his movements. With the Gambas, Byron left Pisa for Leghorn, where the journalist and editor Leigh Hunt joined them. He cooperated with Hunt in the production of The Liberal magazine. After a long creative period, Byron had come to feel that action was more important than poetry. With good wishes from Goethe, Byron armed a brig, the Hercules, and sailed to Greece to aid the Greek’s, who had risen against their Ottoman overlords. He worked ceaselessly and joined Alexander Mavrocordato on the north shore of the Gulf of Patras. However, before Byron saw any serious military action, he contracted the fever from which he died in Missolonghi on 19 April 1824. The Greeks wished to bury him in Athens, but only his heart stayed in the country. Part of his skull and his internal organs had been removed for souvenirs. Byron’s body was returned to England but refused by the deans of both Westminister and St Paul’s. Finally Byron’s coffin was placed in the family vault at Hucknall Torkard, near Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire.

4.6 Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley was the heir of a rich estate acquired by his grandfather. He was born at Field Place, near Horsham in Sussex, into an aristocratic family. His father, Timothy Shelley, was a Sussex squire and a member of Parliament. Shelley attended Syon House Academy and Eton and in 1810 he entered the Oxford University College. He drew no essential distinction between poetry and politics, and his work reflected the radical ideas and revolutionary optimism of the era. Like many poets of his day, Shelley employed mythological themes and figures from Greek poetry that gave an exalted tone for his visions.

In 1811 Shelley was expelled from the college for publishing The Necessity of Atheism, which he wrote with Thomas Jefferson Hogg. They both refused to answer any questions about the pamphlet, which had been sent to the heads of the colleges and a number of bishops. Shelley’s father renounced his inheritance in favour of a small annuity, after he had eloped with the 16-year old Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a London tavern owner. The pair spent the following two years travelling in England and Ireland, distributing pamphlets and speaking against political injustice. Shelley tried to set up a small community of free spirits at Lynmouth in Devon. He moved to Wales after finding out, that he was watched by Home Office spies because of his radical activities and writings. While living at Tanyrallt in Carnarvonshire he was attacked by a shepherd who fired three shots at him. Shelley continued his nomadic living and published in 1813 his first important poem, the visionary Queen Mab, which later became known as the “Chartist’s Bible”. The fairy Mab reveals visions of the dreadful present and predicts a utopian future. She blames institutional religion and morality as the causes of evil that have to disappear for man to return to his natural state of felicity. In its prose notes Shelley dealt with such subjects as free love, atheism, Christianity, and vegetarianism. In his essay A Vindication of Natural Diet (1813), partly inspired by Plutarch’s Peri sarkofagias, Shelley mentioned that he has been a vegetarian for a period. At least George Bernard Shaw and Gandhi knew Shelley’s defence of vegetarianism.

The poet’s first marriage turned to be failure. In 1814 Shelley travelled abroad with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the daughter of the philosopher and anarchist William Godwin (1756-1836). Also Mary’s young stepsister Jane (Claire) Clairmont was in the company. During this journey Shelley wrote an unfinished novella, The Assassins(1814). The combined journal, Six Week´s Tour, reworked by Mary Shelley, appeared in 1817. After their return to London, Shelley came into an annual income under his grandfather’s will. Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine in 1816. Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft and his favourite son William was born in 1816 . William died a few years later in Rome.

The summer of 1816 Shelley spent with Lord Byron at Lake Geneva, where Byron had an affair with Clairmont. Shelley composed Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and Mont Blanc. Mary Wollstonecraft started her famous novel Frankenstein. In 1817 Shelley published his political pamphlet The Revolt of Islam, a poem, where the principal characters, originally brother and sister, become lovers. Cynthna, a maiden, joins forces with revolutionary Laon. They are burned alive as a sacrifice to the famine and pestilence which follows the people’s revolt. In the poem Ozymandias (1818) Shelley commented the fleeting nature of fame and power. Ozymandias is the Greek name for Ramses II of Egyp. His ruined statue is in the desert.

The Shelleys and Clairmount moved in 1818 to Italy, where Byron was residing. In 1819 they went to Rome and in 1820 to Pisa. Already in Italy he wrote Alastor or The Spirit of Solitude, a spiritual autobiography where he describes the idealist frustrated by reality. Shelley’s works from this period include Julian and Maddalo, an exploration of his relations with Byron, Prometheus Unbound, a lyrical drama drawn from Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. This deeply personal work about Titan Prometheus who brings fire to humanity is often considered Shelley’s greatest lyrical drama. The Cenci was a five-act tragedy based on the history of a 16th-century Roman family. In this period he composed his most famous lyrical poems, such as The Ode to the West Wind, where he expresses pessimism and hope at the same time, and The Ode to the Skylark, a song to his ideals of beauty and freedom. He also dedicated an elegy to Keats’ death, Adonais, expounding his ideas about death and immortality.The Mask of Anarchy was another work of this period which suggested a political protest which was written after the Peterloo massacre.

In 1822 the Shelley household, which now included Jane and Edward Williams, moved to the Bay of Lerici. There Shelley began to write The Triumph of Life. To welcome his friend Leigh Hunt, he sailed to Leghorn. As much as he was near and on the water Shelley never learned to swim or navigate. He also forecasted many times his death by drowning. During the stormy return voyage to Lerici, his small schooner the Ariel sank and Shelley drowned with Edward Williams on July 8, 1822. The fisheaten bodies were washed ashore at Viareggio, where, in the presence of Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt, they were burned on the beach – his heart was given to his wife, who carried it with her in a silken shroud everywhere she went for the rest of her life. Shelley’s ashes was later buried in Rome. There is a rumour that an old Italian seaman confessed on his deathbed that he had been a crewmember on a boat that collided intentionally with Shelley’s ship in order to steal money hidden on board.

4.7 John Keats

English lyric poet, the archetype of the Romantic writer. While still in good health, Keats was ambitious of doing the world some good, instead of focusing on his own sensitive soul. Keats felt that the deepest meaning of life lay in the apprehension of material beauty, although his mature poems reveal his fascination with a world of death and decay. Most of his best work appeared in one year.

John Keats was born in London as the son of a successful livery-stable manager. He was the oldest of four children, who remained deeply devoted to each other. After their father died in 1804 in a riding accident, Keats’s mother, Frances Jennings Keats, remarried but the marriage was soon broken. She moved with the children, John and his sister Fanny and brothers George and Tom, to live with her mother at Edmonton, near London. She died of tuberculosis in 1810.

At school Keats read widely. He was educated at the progressive Clarke’s School in Enfield, where he began a translation of the Aeneid. 1811 Keats was apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary. While studying for the licence, he completed his translation of Aeneid. Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene impressed him deeply and his first poem, written in 1814, was Lines in Imitation of Spenser. In that year he moved to London and resumed his surgical studies in 1815 as a student at Guy’s hospital. Next year he became a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries and was allowed to practice surgery. Before devoting himself entirely to poetry, Keats worked as a dresser and junior house surgeon. In London he had met Leigh Hunt, the editor of the leading liberal magazine of the day, The Examiner. He introduced Keats to other young Romantics, including Shelley, and published in the magazine Keats’s sonnet, O Solitude.

Keats’s first book, Poems, was published in 1817. Sales were poor. He spent the spring with his brother Tom and friends at Shankin. It was about this time Keats started to use his letters as the vehicle of his thoughts of poetry. They mixed the everyday events of his own life with comments with his correspondence.

Endymion, Keats’s first long poem appeared, when he was 21. It told in 4000 lines of the love of the moon goddess Cynthia for the young shepherd Endymion. It was a long allegory about the search of ideal beauty and love. In some sections it exhibits the security of his mature poetic style, but the excess and confusion of its images and legends made it the object of severe criticism.

Keats’s greatest works were written in the late 1810s, among them Lamia, The Eve of St. Agnes, the great odes and two versions of Hyperion. This was a long unfinished poem and was influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost. The subject is the substitution of the earlier Greek gods by the Olimpian gods. Hyperion, the Sun-god, is the only hope of resistance. The hero is Apollo, the god of poetry, and this poem was an allegory of the poet as a creator. At the same time he worked briefly as a theatrical critic for The Champion, spent summer of 1818 touring the Lakes, Scotland and Northern Ireland. After returning to London he spent the next three months attending his brother Tom, who was seriously ill with tuberculosis.

After Tom’s death in December, Keats moved to Hampstead to live with Charles Brown. Soon he fell in love with Fanny Brown, the daughter of a widowed neighbour, and they were betrothed. In the winter of 1818-19 he worked mainly on Hyperion and The Eve of St Agnes. The fragmentary Eve of St Mark was composed during a visit to his friend Charles Wentworth Dilke’s parents and relatives in Sussex. In 1819 Keats finished Lamia, and wrote another version of Hyperion, called The Fall of Hyperion. His famous poem Ode on a Grecian Urn was inspired by a Wedgwood copy of a Roman copy of a Greek vase. In the poem he develops the contrast between the permanence of art and the temporariness of human passion.

It gained a huge critical success. However, Keats was suffering at that time from tuberculosis. The crown of his work are the odes. In To a Nightingale he is aware of his personal situation in the world of human pain and contrasts it with the world of ideal beauty to which he is transported by the bird’s song. His poems were marked with sadness partly because he was too poor to marry Fanny Brawne. Keats broke off his engagement and began what he called a “posthumous existence.” When his condition gradually worsened, he sailed for Italy in September with the painter Joseph Severn, to escape England’s cold winter. Declining Shelley’s invitation to join him at Pisa, Keats went to Rome, where he died at the age of 25, on February 23, 1821.

In spite of early harsh criticism, Keats’s reputation grew after his death. The poet’s letters were published in 1848 and 1878. Keats’s works have influenced among others The Pre-Raphaelites, Oscar Wilde and Alfred Tennyson. Some later poets have attacked Keats and the Romantics: for T.S. Eliot Byron was “a disorderly mind, and an uninteresting one” and Keats and Shelley were “not nearly such great poets as they are supposed to be”. Andrew Motion claims in his biography on Keats (1998) that the author was obsessed with sex and had venereal disease and these aspects of the poet´s life were hidden by early biographers, who underlined Keats’s poverty, poor health, and misunderstanding criticism.


The Romantic movement appeared in Germany in the late 18th century, then it arrived in Britain and it finally spread to the rest of Europe. The term “romantic” has a complex origin. It comes from the French “romans”, that meant a vernacular language descended from Latin. From there it came to refer to vernacular literatures and then was used meaning something imaginative or extravagant, often with overtones of disapproval. In the 18th century it acquired a positive connotation, especially in descriptions of pleasing qualities in landscape. The Romantic period in literature is from 1780 to 1830, it coincided with the French Revolution, which was to some extent a political enactment of its ideas.

This was the end of the tradition from the Renaissance. The artistic consciousness broke away from classical Rome with the rediscovery of local culture and literary traditions.

The romantic writers were not always a coherent group, even they did not consider themselves as “romantic”, in fact they were quite individualist. However they shared certain features that set them apart from the preceding trends of literature, and of course they inaugurated a new kind of aestheticism mainly based on the vindication of fantasy and imagination. The permanent feeling of sadness and melancholy also haunted most of the romantic writings and the exploration of man´s emotions from an inward point of view is the characteristic par excellence of this artistic conception of art.

The first important manifestation of the Romanticism in the novel was the development of the novels of mystery and imagination known as Gothic novels. The term gothic made reference to the architectonic style of the Middle Ages. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole was a piece of nonsense which founded a new kind of fiction. In spite of its little literary quality, Walpole´s imagination created a literary fashion plenty of monsters, evil creatures and bloody effects that many writers were to follow. This kind of building suggested to the writers of fiction mystery, romance, revolt against classical order, wildness. The main representatives of this kind of novels are Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Gregory Lewis.

The subject matter of Jane Austin as a novelist is human nature manifested in an ordinary English setting. Her heroines are young girls at the outset of adult life. By the end of the novels they have made the commitment which will determine their occupations and happiness for the rest of their lives: marriage. She wrote stories with a fine sense of humour and witty criticism of the way of life of the social class she belonged to. In the daily routine of visits, gossip, shopping and other trivial matters, she found the raw material of her plots. The abstract nouns which occur in the titles of several of her novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, indicate the qualities to be considered in the education of the heroines for marriage.

After starting as a poet, Sir Walter Scott turned to narrative and wrote a large number of novels. Scott´s literary interests were first formed by Percy´s Reliques and the new German romanticism popularized in Scotland by Henry McKenzie. This romanticism had something in common with the gothic excesses of Horace Walpole, but looked more to folk literature. His style was often careless, but he also set a standard of language copied by many later writers of historical novels. He established the tradition of the historical novel as a fictional form, setting his characters’ personal dilemmas against a background of historical events. What interests him most are the great political and religious conflicts of the past, but against this background he tells stories of personal hate, revenge, love and of the hard lives of the common people. He presents idealised characters: honourable and chivalrous men, women too good to be true, etc. His heroes are usually detached from the historical situations but they get involved through personal or convictional pressure. His novels deal mainly with Scottish history, as in Waverley, Old Mortality, The Talisman, The Black Dwarf, The legend of Montrose, Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian, etc., but he also wrote about England, as in Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, etc., and France, as in Quentin Durward.

William Blake (1757-1827) supplemented his training as engraver by wide reading, especially of the Bible, Dante, Shakespeare and Milton. He was also a political radical and a religious dissenter. He was a total artist with complete control in the production of his books, undertaking the roles usually separated of poet, painter, engraver, printer, publisher and bookseller. His first work was Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794). The first one was an evocation of that paradise which Milton had declared lost. Blake was the first poet to locate innocence not in the childhood of humanity, but in the childhood of the individual. In his early works he was inspired by current affairs, but in his later works such references are less frequent, presenting his beliefs about the world and his hopes for its regeneration in prophetic works with his own mythology.

Wordsworth (1770-1850) spent his childhood and adolescence in the Lake District, whose beauty and grandeur influenced his poetry. His years in France, where he lived the revolutionary years and the Jacobin excesses, were a crucial emotional event in his life. He went back to the Lakes and had a close friendship with Coleridge, writing the Lyrical Ballads in collaboration. Disillusioned about the French Revolution with the rise of Napoleon he went from the revolutionary enthusiasm of his youth to the political and religious conservatism of his later years, but his poetry also became more stiff. So, although he wrote voluminously all through his life, his best poetry is from in the 1790’s and in the first decade of the 19th century. His friendship with Coleridge, who had very a different temperament and aspirations, started a revolution in English poetry.

Coleridge (1772-1835) was an excellent student, but the lack of intellectual interest in Cambridge and debts made him leave university without a degree. Like his friend Wordsworth he was a radical in his youth and became conservative later. Due to his bad health he started to take laudanum (opium dissolved in alcohol) becoming an addict and deteriorating further. Thus his poetic creativity is restricted to very few years at the turn of the century. His most important contribution is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. A man going to a wedding is persuaded into hearing the story of an old mariner. The seaman once killed an albatross that followed his ship and nature took revenge. When they got rid of the rests of the albatross the curse was expiated and wind returned, but the ship suddenly sank.

Lord Byron (1788-1824) became an orphan very young. He studied at Cambridge, but he liked action and after his university studies he set out to travel abroad. He went to Spain, Portugal, Greece and Albania. In his return he published Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage that made him famous. But he also was famous for his sexual scandals and because of those scandals he had to leave England. He went to Switzerland and Italy, where he met the other great poet of his generation, Shelley. In this period he had many love affairs, but it was also a period of great literary activity. He organised an expedition to assist the Greek war of independence against the Turks, where he died after a series of feverish attacks.

In the exile he wrote what his major work, Don Juan. In his exile he started to write theatre. His most famous play is Manfred, a drama with influences from Goethe’s Faust, with the typical protagonist tormented by remorse.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) belonged to a rich family. He studied at Eton and Oxford, but he became an atheist and a political radical and was expelled from Oxford for publishing an atheist pamphlet. He was involved in more scandals, such as his marriage at a young age and the desertion of his wife. He left England and in Italy he met the two other great Romantic poets, Byron and Keats. His exile was hard: bad health, debts and the death of his two children. He had a tragic death drowned in a sudden storm while sailing. Unlike Byron, Shelley did not achieve fame in his lifetime. His works express idealism and faith in the future of humanity, but also melancholy for the mediocrity and tragedies of human existence. His imagery is associated to the sinister as an antithesis of his idealism, reflecting his consciousness of evil in the world. Symbols often suggest ideas beyond the reach of language, so images ordinarily associated to evil are images of good. Typical of this attitude is his passion for storms. His poetry conveys nature not as a still picture but as a vital power. His first important work was Queen Mab, which presents his radical views.

In the last years of his life he wrote his masterpieces, such as Prometeus Unbound, an allegorical tragedy concerned with the freedom of man. It shows the rebellion of the mythological character Prometeus against the gods. He also wrote The Cenci, a tragedy based on the history of a famous Roman family.

John Keats (1795-1821) was from a humble origin. After a passable education he became apprentice of a surgeon, but he entered in contact with poetry and devoted himself to it. He died young from tuberculosis. In contrast with the other two great poets of his generation, Keat’s poetry is descriptive and static, rich in detail and classical allusion, representing in some ways a return to the 18th century. He did not achieve success during his lifetime and his works received severe criticism. He did not see the role of the poet as a moral philosopher, but rather as the exercise of imagination and the pursuit of beauty and truth. His first remarkable work was Endymion. Hyperion, The Eve of Saint Agnes is a solemn elegy of upon himself of a man aware that he is doomed by hereditary illness, the love of woman and the ambition for fame.


Blake in the Nineties, ed. by Steve Clark, David Worrall (1999); A Blake Dictionary: The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake by S. Foster Damon (1979) William Blake and the Age of Revolution by J. Bronowski (1965);

(1998); William Wordsworth: A Biography by Hunter Davies (paperback in 1997); William Wordsworth by John Williams (1996); Wordsworth and the Beginnings of Modern Poetry by R.M. Rehder (1981); Wordsworth’s Second Nature by J.K. Chandler (1984)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. by Samuel Bloom (1986); Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772-1804 by Richard Holmes (1989); Coleridge’s Figurative Language by Tim Fulford (1991); Coleridge’s Later Poetry by Morton D. Paley (1996); (1999); Romanticism and Transcendence: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Religious Imagination by J. Robert Barth (2003)

Lord Byron and His Contemporaries by Charles E. Robinson (1982); La Vie De Lord Byron En Italie: Romantic Reassessment by Teresa Guiccioli (1983); Byron: Life and Legend by Fiona McCarthy (2002)

Bibliography of Sir Walter Scott, 1797-1940 by James C. Corson (1943); Scott and his Influence by J.H. Alexander and D. Hewitt (1983);

Jane Austen and Her Art by M. Lascalles (1941); The Novels of Jane Austen by Robert Liddell (1963); The Language of Jane Austen by N. Page (1972

Keats: Narrative Poems, ed. by J.S. Hill (1983); Approaches to Teaching Keats’s Poetry, ed. by Walter H. Evert and Hack W. Rhodes (1991

Shelley and the Sublime by A. Leighton (1984); The Poems of Shelley by K. Everest