Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Learning about the Romantic Era

and lovin" it:

In the introduction of the Longman Anthology, “The Romantics and their Contemporaries,” a picture of the turbulent times facing the people of the late 18th century is painted. Although Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is a work of fantasy, one critic observed that there is “an air of reality attached to it” (7) The new social order, the abolishment of slavery in the British Colony and the end of the French Revolution created a political climate that challenged the preconceived notions of the elite and presented a new way of life for the lower classes. Male authors of the time were interested primarily in the romance novel, while feminist writers like Wollstonecraft found the genre to be “dangerous for young readers.” Furthermore, Wollstonecraft scorned the sensationalism of female characters within the romance novel.
The French Revolution and the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo marked a movement toward political progressiveness which led ultimately to a fair amount of political unrest as workers were unable to unionize, radicals were tracked down by Agent provocateur’s and were then provoked to commit capital offenses. The Monarchy’s insanity and mismanagement of finances was highlighted both by George III’s mental instability and Prince Regent’s over-spending. By 1750 , the greatly expanding populations of England and Wales coincided with a greater demand for coal and iron for transportation purposes. Modern industry’s attack on nature appeared to have spurned the romantic poet’s reverence of nature. Schiller describes his feeling for nature as being akin to “an invalid for health.” (24) The use of opium became rampant as it offered an inexpensive intoxicant, easily dissolved in alcohol. Poor families fed it to ailing children to sedate them during the parent’s required work shifts. In 1792, Wollstonecraft became one of the first outspoken writers to identify women as an oppressed and marginalized class who “were made to feel and be felt, rather than to think.” (29) Founded in 1802, the Political Register, an affordable weekly newspaper, with a 40 to 50 thousand circulation made Cobbett, the most widely read author of his time, although his paper was referred to as , “two-penny trash.” In addition, Ann Radcliffe’s novels won her both considerable admiration and excellent financial compensation, heralding her, “the great Maria” of her time.
What interested me most about the Romantic Age was the work of Barbauld and Wollstonecraft, who appear to be revolutionary in their ideas. Although, overall the Romantic Age appears to have been one of considerable progressive change, it struck me that feminism was very much alive during such a male dominated period in history. I was also moved by the fact that Wollstonecraft had the poise to denounce the most popular novel form of the time, for its exploitation of women which was undoubtedly a radical perspective in the 1800s.