A Feminist Introduction to Romanticism (Short summary)

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A feminist Approach to Romantic Studies Until recently, the literary tradition has viewed the Romantic period as an intense burst of great poetry by a small, select group of artists: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lord Byron, Shelley, and Keats, with Blake, Southey, and Walter Scott. To see women poets and novelists like Austen as indeed representative of their era, however, is increasingly the argument feminist criticism makes. Critical tradition has viewed Romanticism as the product of two ways of looking at the world: a sincere, and a darkly ironic one. Austen provided a third perspective by critiquing both dark irony and sincerity through a verbal play that is corrective.Feminist theory assumes social critique to be the mainstay of feminist writing, and social correction the mainstay of women’s thought and art.  

Women held active roles in several events and activities, and it was in conjunction with some of these that women exercised critique.The emotions, more often called the “passions” or “affections”, opened up the knowledge of nature, showed the depth of one’s soul, and gave a better insight into the individual’s personality than could be offered by outward appearances and behaviour. In the 1780’s a cultural phenomenon known as the “Cult of Sensibility” made sensibility fashionable, propelled by a literature that incorporated its feminine aesthetic. 

  1. Standard Definitions and Revisions

As a historical period, Romanticism refers to the three decades or so (usually defined as either 1789 or 1798 to 1832) that
Britain was in transition between the old world order and the new. Whenever women writers anticipated the movement that would become Romanticism, or reflected back on it after its height, they have until now been said not to be Romantic purely by date.
 We can now begin looking for how both men and women writers respond to the Romantic as an “aesthetic” by the artistic term “romanticism”, and most breaking down into sincerity, irony, or critique. The Romantic aesthetic shared by writers during this period involves a group of characteristics:

1.1.  Imagination as a mark of the creative.

1.2.   Inspiration as a indicated by spontaneity.

1.3.   Individualism as a new definition of the self.

1.4.   Radical questioning as an act of intervention.

1.5.   Introspection as a mark of self-consciousness. 

In standard descriptions of High Romanticism, the masterful literary text is usually a poem. This is, in part, because those texts most expressive of the Romantic spirit, and the alienated, radical, and introspective individual, were poems. Moreover, they tend to be poems of the elevated poetics genres: odes, hymns, epics. The sublime (the exploration of an important imaginative state) was mostly associated with the presence of Nature, conceived as feminine and maternal, beneficent as well as destructive. 

  1. The Historical Period

A transformation from one cultural mode to another was at work during the Romantic period, making it as much period of transition as our age is, and as difficult to pin down precise dates for when the shift occurred.  Politically, the period also divides frustratingly into a set of non-defining monarchical reigns; the later reign of George II, the Regency and then short reign of George IV, and the short reign of William IV.   

The Romantic period is an age of revolutionary thought and art, while Romanticism was a reaction against the social evils caused by unrelated industrialization and an over-privileged aristocracy, in combination with an outmoded legal and penal system, and an under-representative government.  Artists* like Kauffman and intellectuals such as the Bluestockings were prominent women in the making of Romantic culture. But another more than five hundred women writers, poets, playwrights, and intellectuals were also publishing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  

* à The artist’s role, according to the High Romantics, is to help others appreciate revolution’s grandeur by representing an introspective questioning of the social and cosmic forces that produce revolutionary force, and through this individual self-revelation to call on the sympathy of readers by appealing to their sensibility.

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