Unmasking the Bourgeoise

The Romantic Era

A Love Story

Romance  

 

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Real Life

 

By the late 18th century in France and Germany, literary taste began to turn from classical and neoclassical conventions. The generation of revolution and wars, of stress and upheaval had produced doubts on the security of the age of reason. Doubts and pessimism now challenged the hope and optimism of the 18th century. Men felt a deepened concern for the metaphysical problems of existence, death, and eternity. It was in this setting that Romanticism was born.

Origins
Romanticism was a literary movement that swept through virtually every country of Europe, the United States, and Latin America that lasted from about 1750 to 1870. However, the Romantic Movement did not reach France until the1820's. Romanticism's essential spirit was one of revolt against an established order of things-against precise rules, laws, dogmas, and formulas that characterized Classicism in general and late18th-century Neoclassicism in particular. It praised imagination over reason, emotions over logic, and intuition over science-making way for a vast body of literature of great sensibility and passion. In their choice of heroes, also, the romantic writers replaced the static universal types of classical 18th-century literature with more complex, idiosyncratic characters. They became preoccupied with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles and there was an emphasis on the examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities.

The Romantic Style
The term romantic first appeared in 18th-century English and originally meant "romancelike"-that is, resembling the fanciful character of medieval romances. But a mood or movement whose central characteristic is revolt, and whose stress is on self-expression and individual uniqueness, does not lend itself to precise definition. Among the characteristic attitudes of Romanticism were the following:

Libertarianism
Many of the libertarian and abolitionist movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were engendered by the romantic philosophy-the desire to be free of convention and tyranny, and the new emphasis on the rights and dignity of the individual. Just as the insistence on rational, formal, and conventional subject matter that had typified neoclassicism was reversed, the authoritarian regimes that had encouraged and sustained neoclassicism in the arts were inevitably subjected to popular revolutions. The general romantic's dissatisfaction with the organization of society was often channeled into specific criticism of the Bougeois society and the feeling of oppression was frequently expressed in poetry. Political and social causes became dominant themes in romantic poetry and prose throughout France and other parts of Europe, producing many vital human documents that are still pertinent.

Romanticism stresses on self-expression and individual uniqueness that does not lend itself to precise definition. Romantics believed that men and women ought to be guided by warm emotions rather than the cold abstract rules and rituals established by Bourgeois society. The bourgeois, who promoted, defended, and openly profited by the Revolution of 1830, brought with them, when they rose to power, certain social customs. No doubt all the Romantics would have furiously denied that they were bourgeois, and many of them would indignantly have repudiated Napoleon III, rather than declare allegience to whom Victor Hugo went into exile for 18 years. In the period of its most active fermentation, the Romantic Movement was nothing more than a protest against bourgeois conventions, bourgeois society and morality. To be extreme and flamboyant and unusual and violent even at the risk of becoming grotesque was the desire of every young Romantic. The Romantics were, in fact, bourgeois origins, who were trying hard to escape from their own shadows.


Nature
The Romantic association of nature and spirit expressed itself in one of two ways. The landscape was, on one hand regarded as an extension of the human personality, capable of sympathy with man's emotional state. On other hand, nature was regarded as a vehicle for spirit just as man; the breath of God fills both man and the earth. (Shroder, 80). Delight in unspoiled scenery and in the (presumably) innocent life of rural dwellers was a popular literary theme. Often combined with this feeling for rural life is a generalized romantic melancholy, a sense that change is imminent and that a way of life is being threatened.

The Lure of the Exotic
In the spirit of their new freedom, romantic writers in all cultures expanded their imaginary horizons spatially and chronologically. They turned back to the Middle Ages (12th century to 15th century) for themes and settings and had an obsessive interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins. They found delight notions of romantic love, mystery and superstition, and placed an emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth.

The Decline of Romanticism
By about the middle of the 19th century, romanticism began to give way to new literary movements: the Parnassians and the symbolist movement in poetry, and realism and naturalism.