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Culture: Late 18th Century / Early 19th Century

and the Bronte Sisters

This time period known as the Romantic period was marked by societal values of restraint, propriety, order and tradtion. Society was orthodox and manners and morals were highly conventional. There was a certain spirit of the age. It was often called an age of revolution and time of transition. It was described as an era of coherence and epoch of contradiction. Writers were reborn with a new sense of freedom in the art. Allowance was given for shifts in perspective and poetic practice. Romantics were energized by diversity and freedom to forge new modes of individual expression. It was less a social revolution through political means and more so a spiritual revolution through mental means; the power of the mind and the medium of poetry. This era shaped individual visions that had the freedom to speak in many ways of the indominability of the human spirit and a world made new through imagination.

Negative Romanticism--those that rejected the new ideas and held fast the static, rational view of the world.

Literature: Jane Austen was one of the era's greatest novelists. She was renowned for simplicity precision and grace in writing style. She wrote six novels which were all widely read and acclaimed. Each focused on rural gentry late 18th early 19th century.

Literature of the time emphasized on the self: private self and romantic self. The romantic self concentrated on memory and imagination and the importance of empirical experience. Autobiography was popular-both proper and not. Proper being a piece written for the purpose of being published and improper being pieces written not for an audience. i.e. diaries, letters, memories, confessionals, and other probing, mind-searching, self-justifying, instructive writings. More women then men wrote autobiographies to justify their actions in a male dominated world. Examples of autobiographical writing include Rousseau's Confessions, Anne Sheldon's Authentic and Interesting Memoirs, Wordworth's Prelude, and Byron's Child Harold and Don Juan.

A few popular women writers of the time were Anna Barbauld, Hannah More, Jane Austen, and the Brontes.
The Bronte Sisters

The Romantic period was a time of experimentation and stretching of the novel. Wuthering Heights was given as a classic example of this. The novel often proved plain, familiar, and uninviting because of the strict adherence to common life. Novelists were inspired more so by poet and playwrights than other novelists. This allowed for more freedom of expansion into emotional intensity. There was a great change into the emotional and intellectual realms of the novel. Writers dared to delve into emotion, imagination, and dreams. This posed problems with language, tone and point of view. Thus many works during this time were experimental but not monumental. Novelists of this time however do receive recognition for the experimentation that they did accomplish and for the foothold they created for the expansion from realsim into something of much more depth.

The Gothic novel made a comeback during this time and it helped display the popular theme of violent passions against restrictions of civilizations. Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein.

The Bible was one of the greatest influences besides Milton of Romantic period writers. He is known for his famous Paradise Lost. William Blake, a self styled poet and prophet called the Bible 'The Great Code of Art'.

Censorship was a big issue facing writers of this time. This time period is paradoxically distinguished by both free press and the governments aggressive policy of press prosecution. Writers were free to publish but had to be careful not to offend and face charges of libel. Breech of Peace was the charge if what was written proved disturbing to the gov't. If arrested it was not uncommon for a writer to sit in jail for months awaiting his case to be either dropped or brought to court. Satire was for political uses: long and short works alike.

Children's literature was a big marker of the Romantic period. Romantics had a great interest in children. The poetry of Blake and Wordsworth brought imagination and creativity in children to new heights. Blakes Songs of Innocence and Wordworth's Lyrical Ballads(late 1700's).

The imagination was glorified along with the spontaneous unconscious knowledge in children. Romantic poets saw childhood as astate closest to God and nature. Children were viewed as innocents and divines, creatures of instincitive goodness with spiritual insights, spontaneous, simplistic, and uninhibited. The children embodied the Romantic spirit of curiosity, love of beauty, free flowing imagination, innate goodness, and communion with nature. Most of children's literature relayed to them the message of what they represent, love of country, sense of duty, and unshaken faith.

Music: Music in the Romantic Era played a huge role. In composition, concentration was placed on the relationship of music and poetry. Opera, concerts, and musical organization support was frequented.

Pestalozzi was a great force behind bringing musical education into proper schooling. Women were encouraged to receive formal musical training with an emphasis in learning to play the pianoforte.

Amateur bands and orchestras locally formed and played regional festivals. Brass bands also formed and more and more families purchased instruments in the homes.

In rural areas, songs and folk music were popular. There was social prestige in attending the opera. Famed composers of the time included Handel, a revival of Bach, Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven, and Rossini. German, Italian, and French operas were popular trend and flowed into less formal opera. A light and frivolous opera was preferred such as pantomimes, musical plays, sentimental comedies and farces. Vocal musicians were very popular as well and very competitive as were instrumental soloists. Most popular instruments were the flute, oboe, bassoon, and the clarinet. For the middle class public, oratorios were preferred. This was a vague term for any sort of choral work produced in a theater setting.

Church anthems were popular as well during this time as were Glees. A glee was a native vocal music form written for male voices and set to lyrics of poets. Shakespeare was one of the most popular poets used. Expressive delivery of words marked these performances. Samuel Webbe was the most famed Glee composer. Ballads were used for simple entertainment. Generally written about were recreational sports or the satiizing of repressors of amusement or parliaments actions.

The most influential of the time was Muzio Clementi. He was Italian born and pinned the "Father of the Piano." He was a performer, teacher. He competed with Mozart and influenced Beethoven and Chopin. Dussek did much of the same work as Clementi.

John Broad was a great musical inventor of the time. He contributed to the invention of the pianoforte and produced the first grand piano in 1781. He also later patented the damper and piano pedals.

Many musical societies formed for the promotion of musical education, writing, and promoting concerts. The Glee Club, Vocal Concerts, and the Philharmonic Society of London are some examples. Music was a great part of British life but the greatest composers and musicians were not English.

Painting: Romantic painting was marked by the refection of rational and moral basis. Emphasis was placed on freedom of passion, nature, imagination, and from artifical constraints. This included all fields of visual art from landscape to visionary to Gothic to historical. Most artists ofthe time were greatly influenced by literature especially Milton and Shakespeare. Examples of popular artists are Stubbs, Fuseli, Copley, Girtin, Blake, Constable and Turner.

There were five types of painting highlighted at this time: Literary, Historical, animal, visonary/psychological, and landscape.


Poetry: Poetry was complex, ambitious, boldly innovative, and lyrical. Simplicity of feeling was used in ballids, songs and hymns but there was no room for simplicity in poetry of this time. Famed poets were Blake, Cooleridge, Wordworth, Shelley, and Keats. Strong feelings were about common experience were written about along with strong emphases in psychological probing. Romantic poetry modified classical forms for modern experience with innovative structures, styles of verse and language. The epic was reborn. Milton set it's standard. The dramatic monologue was also reborn with historical and philosophical reorinentation.

Shakespeare: He was a great influence on the Romantics. His reputation was previously tainted yet was radically changed during this time and he was viewed entirely different. This newly formed reputation has prevailed ever since. He is called a child of nature, and a deliberate and disciplined artist. Schlegel, a great German critic, led the way for Shakespeare's reassessment.

Theater: Romantic Theater was varied, vital and very diverse. It didn't produce many profound lasting works but the movement was still respectable. The use of the chorus was popular still and staging was more representational than realistic. The visual spectacle was greatly elevated during this time from more detailed scene painting to the usage of gauze, panoramic devices, trapdoors, limelight, and stage fires. Real animals were being used on stage from dogs to horses. The era's costuming was rather plain and didn't concentrate on exact replication of a time period. Playhouses were large and a seating capacity of about 3000. It is ironic that these institutions could retain such strength in the art of spoken word as increaslingly they depended more on the visual aspect of the show to entertain those too far away to hear. Opera and Ballet were the most popular of the time.

Respectability was not much an issue for the lower to middle classes. The people wanted to go for the appreciation of the art. It was the aristocracy that had to be convinced that it was respectable to once again attend the arts.

Minor theaters were popular because they were free to ignore tradition and offer more contemporary issues and subjects. The minor theater was so supported that the larger establishments actually lost money.

Audiences were greatly involved in the production; often clapping and booing when they felt necessary. Romantic theater was a place of mixed class although distinctions were made by seating arrangement.

The Romantic playhouse was opened to many forms of performance. Including traditional dramatic models, revolutionary new ideas from modern literature. German and French plays modified to English, Shakespeare's romances, and the Gothic tragedy. Gothic Thrillers made a come back into the world of theater as well with their despairing heroes and frail but enduring heroines. Along with these forms of entertainment a lighter type of drama was also popular. There include five act comedies, burlettas, farces, burlesques, spectacles, farcettas, comediettas, light operas, sentimental comedy, and pantomime which was the period's most popular form.

Actor's rose to a new level during this time as well. They introduced the psychological into their works. They took the performance beyond the role itself. A successful actor once, connected profoundly with a role, became in effect entitled to that part throughout their career. This association encouraged critical discussion about the relationship between an actor and his characterization. The minute details of a performance were exhaustibly analyzed.

Peterloo: A large and important gathering of reform minded and radical workers together with many women and children: Aug. 16, 1819 in St. Peters Field in Manchester / 150,000 people. The military dispersed the group killing 11 and wounding 400. This was the Peterloo massacre. The irony of it was that four year previous the English triumphed at Waterloo in the same place. Mary Shelley wrote about the gov't role in provoking the massacre in The Masque or Anarchy. This was a workers reform because of the growing awareness of their disenfranchisement and oppression. The mass display of power generated by the people spooked the gov't. The organized rebellion never happened. Many were outraged because if this and even higher classes were encouraged to get involved. However, no great regrouping took place until 1832

Works Cited

Dabundo, Laura., ed. Encyclopedia of Romancitcism: Culture in Britain, 1780's -1830's. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1992

This information courtesy of Martha Baird.

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