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From the Napoleonic wars to Regency


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(8.1) From the Napoleonic wars to Regency

In England there were different reactions after French Revolution: the ruling classes were afraid of Jacobinism, while the intellectuals supported revolutionary ideas. British policy aimed at damaging French trade by preventing French ships from moving freely in and out of French seaports. In 1805 the admiral Horatio Nelson won French-Spanish navy. In 1815 Napoleon, after the disastrous invasion of Russia, was defeated in Waterloo by Wellington.

British internal situation was on the verge of starvation, bankruptcy and revolution. In 1811-1812, caused by terrible conditions of workers, took place Luddites Riots, episodes of "Rage Against the Machine". These rebellions became punishable by death. During the reactionary government of William Pitt and Robert Liverpool, Trade Unions were abolished and with the Combinations Acts (1799) and with the Six Acts (1819) they became illegal. In 1819 a peaceful meeting of workers in Manchester was broken off by soldiers that killed 11 people (Peterloo Massacre). In 1801 Irish Parliament was absorbed by En 848g67i glish Parliaments (Act of Union). During the reign of George IV Combination Acts were abolished and the Trade Unions were legalised, and also bobbies were created.

(8.2) Unrest and Repression

During the Romantic period the new technologies increased unemployment. Parliament refused to reduce duties on poor workers, following the ideas of Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations. He said that government hadn't to regulate trade, leaving all the power to ruling classes and freed them from all responsibilities of labour and wages. In the workhouses living conditions were terrible: the workers were crowded, dirty, hungry and they were divided in sexes. Some women in 19th century turned in ladies of no occupation, due to growth of intensive farming and big business. They remained under men's authority and they had few prospects of employment as teacher or governess and they hoped in a good marriage.

(8.3) The Egotistical sublime

The spirit of the Romantic Period was interested in exploring the new possibilities of outlook, interest and behaviour. The themes of the Pre-Romantic poets, as Blake, were recovered and increased. The use of imagination became the most important element suitable for the expression of emotions without reason. The limitless possibilities of the human mind were celebrated to penetrate the "subconscious" levels. The childhood assumed importance as a period of the human life purer that the adulthood due to his freedom from civilisation. This aspect of Romanticism carried to an individualism of men, with an exaltation of atypical, outcast and rebel. This led to the cult of hero and to a disappointment at the society. Romantics resumed Jean-Jacques Rousseau's idea of the "natural man", driven by an impulsive behaviour, in contrast with the behaviour driven by reason and the rules of society. Rousseau's theory influences also the "cult of exotic" that make danger, disaster and adventure, the symbols of the Romantic descriptions.

(8.4) Reality and Vision

At the end of the 18th century had been a nascent appreciation of magical power of imagination and in the Early Romanticism of naturalness, spontaneity and primitiveness. The Romantic poets became able to see beyond surface reality driven by Johann Gottlieb Fichte's philosophy. The poet could re-create and modify the external world of experience; as a visionary prophet or as a teacher he could mediate between man and nature, see the evils of society and tell about the ideals of beauty, truth and freedom. The nature, seen as a living force, became the main source of inspiration for the poets. The features of the poetic texts changed in this period: the metre, the rhyme, symbols and images became essential. There was a return to forms of ballad, terza rima, ottava rima, sonnet, blank verse and lyric poems.

The Romantic poets can be divided in two generation: the first one, called "the Lake poets", included William Wordsworth and S.T.Coleridge; and the second one included George Gordon Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats.

The poets of the first generation were characterised by the attempt to theorise about poetry. They also supported the French Revolution with his ideas of freedom and equality, but they were disillusioned of the results of the Industrial Revolution after the Napoleonic wars.

The poets of the second generation also experienced the political disillusionment that was reflected in their poems. Their poetries were regarded as imitations of life, but coincided with the desire to challenge the cosmos, nature, political and social order. The individualism and escapism became stronger in this generation.

(8.7) The Beginning of an American identity

During the 17th and the 18th centuries American literary production was characterised by an imitation of British literature due to the fact that most of the first settlers were English Puritans. The effects of Puritanism were the use of a symbolic and allegorical language influenced by theology and a religious literature (sermons, pamphlets, religious tracts and diaries) rather than an imaginative one. Few theatres were built, because they thought they are immoral.

When a lot of new European settlers arrived they compromised Indian life: in 1830 the Indian Removal Act decided that Indians who lived east of the Mississippi had to be send in reservations.

The development of the American mind was supported by the ideas of the Enlightenment which exalted faith in progress and power of human reason: these ideas were also supported by Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson who exalted democratic spirit of America.

After Washington's death became president Adams and in 1801 Jefferson, who bought Louisiana from France. In 1812 the war against England broke out and this reaffirmed the spirit of national unity.

An original literature bore with the use of short-story who wanted to entertain the reader with the use fantastic stories, legends and myths linked to the life of pioneers and to the description of a wild nature.

(8.8) William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Wordsworth used in his works an artificial, elevated and difficult language that he called Poetic Diction. In his Lyrical Ballads he affirmed his idea of poetry: poetry should deal with everyday situations or incidents and with humble, simple and rural people. Even the language should be simple and real. He decided to speak about simple people because they are more spontaneous and because the poet should deal with things that interested normal people. With the power of his imagination, the poet can see the real nature of things and he have to teach to the other people to understand their feelings and to live in a moral way. Wordsworth is also interested in the relationships between man's consciousness and nature rather than in a realistic description of natural events: nature is always linked with human feelings and emotions. Man and nature are inseparable and man is an active part of nature. Nature comforts man in sorrow, it is a source of pleasure and joy, it teaches man to love and to live in a moral way. Nature can be known by sensations that lead to simple thoughts, which later combine into complex and organised ideas. These three stages of knowledge correspond to the three ages of the man: childhood, youth and adulthood. Wordsworth regarded childhood as the most important stage (The child is father to the man) because children use imagination and can understand better nature. Child's experiences are used also by the poet with the use of Memory. Through the re-creative power of memory, the emotions are reproduced and purified in poetic form in order to generate another emotion linked to the first in the reader (Emotions recollected in tranquillity).

(8.9) Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Coleridge wanted to speak about extraordinary and supernatural events in a credible way. He thought that unnatural events were originate by natural events, so they were  always linked with everyday life and they could be considered real. He stressed the role of imagination as the faculty that controls creative power. He distinguished between "primary" and "secondary" imagination. The first is a perception of creation, with which the poet can create the infinite and he can also have a perception of it despite his mind is finite. With this kind of imagination the poet can go beyond the normal appearances of things. The secondary imagination the poet can create another reality and build a new world, driven by the power of opium. Fancy is less important then imagination, because it is connected with memory, it enables the poet to put various "ingredients" into beautiful images.

Coleridge didn't identify Nature with the divine, he wasn't pantheistic as Wordsworth. He was bigot. He saw nature as the reflection of the perfect world of "Ideas" on the flux of time (like Plato). Natural images carried abstract meanings and Coleridge used them in his visionary poems.

Coleridge used archaic and complex language connected with topical subjects.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

It is introduced by an "Argument" containing a short summary of the whole poem, and consists of two narratives: one is made up of the captions to the right of the stanzas, which constitute the framework; the other is the poem itself.

In the first part the ancient Mariner stops a wedding guest to tell him his story. He narrates how he and his companions Mariners reached the equator and the polar regions after a violent storm. After several days and Albatross appeared through the fog and was killed by the Mariner.

In the second part the Mariner begins to suffer punishment for what he has done. The ship, after have leaved the south pole, has ceased to move and the sailor are tortured by thirst. The only moving things are slimy creature in the sea and the death-fires which dance at the night.

The third part shows how the Mariner's guilty soul becomes conscious of what he has done and of his isolation from the world. A phantom ship appears; on board Death and Life-In-Death, seen as ghosts, cast dice; the former wins the Mariner's fellows, who all die, the latter wins the Mariner's life.

In the fourth part the guilty soul of the Mariner is cut off not merely from human intercourse but also from nature. Then the Mariner blesses the water snakes and begins to re-establish a relationship with the world of nature.

The fifth part continues the process of the soul's revival. The ship begins to move and celestial spirits stand by the corpses of the dead men.

Structure: The poem contains a lot of the typical features of the classic ballads: very archaic and difficult language, the combination of dialogue and narration, the four line stanzas (despite some stanzas have got more than four lines), frequent repetitions and alliteration, the theme of travel and the supernatural elements. Coleridge opium's masterpiece is also different from classical ballads for the presence of a moral end and didactic aim but also for his length and for the length of description of landscapes that, starting from ordinary experiences, arrive to discover eternal truths. The dominating atmosphere is mysterious, exotic and supernatural, with juxtaposition of ordinary and supernatural elements.


M   Mariner: represents Coleridge that searches for the knowledge or for the beauty. During his experiences he remains alone. He saves himself with second imagination. The task of the poet is explain to the other common men the truths and the worlds he had created and discovered with his imagination. In telling them to common men he finds an uncomprehending audience. Common men haven't got the second imagination and they can't understand his story. They must try with opium.

M   Mariner's Penance: wonder around the world, telling his story, like the poet.

M   Albatross: represents the link between men and nature.

M   Rain: purification, regeneration.

M   Drought(siccità): sin, aridity of the human soul.

M   Sun: benevolence of God. When the sun becomes redder and redder he creates drought, that are the negative expects of the benevolence of God, due to corruption of men's soul.

M   Moon: a light in the dark, the possible salvation.

M   Voyage: life of man.

M   Ship: soul of man.

M   Rotting sea: sinful soul of the crew. In the beginning the crew is not guilty, they become guilty after being moral accomplishes of the mariner.

M   Calm: desolation of soul.

M   Frost: coolness of forgiveness. 

Kubla Khan

The principal element of Kubla Khan are:

  • Pleasure-dome: place for inspirited poetry and imagination. When the poet creates, he's in 

contact with Paradise and with something of supernatural and divine.

  • Alph river: river of Muses, provides inspiration, is the imagination in poet's mind. His course is hidden to man's eyes.
  • Natural World: is the realty that the poet has to face. It's negative because is not under men's control and it's savage.
  • The mighty fountain: is the power of inspiration and imagination.
  • Landscape: is metaphor the creative power of imagination. The landscape created by Kubla Khan is romantic, fantastic, unreal, astonishing. 
  • Woman wailing for her demon-lover: represents the loss of something, the chaos, the sufferings, all the bad moments of poetical creation.
  • Abyssinian maid: represents the harmonious world, she produces harmonious music. She's similar to Kubla Khan because they are both exotic, positive and they are able to create a world of beauty.

These two opposites are conciliated in the end of poetic creation, because the poet needs everything of them.

(8.10) George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

Byron never considered himself a Romantic poet and criticised Wordsworth and Coleridge. He created in his works a new kind of hero, called the "Byronic hero": this hero is a moody, passionate, restless and mysterious man. He is characterised by proud individualism and rejects the conventional rules of society. He is an outsider, isolated but of noble origin, despite his wild and rustic manners. He also has a great sensibility toward nature and beauty. Women can't resist him, but he refuses their love; men admire or envy him.

Byron thought that the real English poetry was that of 18th century and referred his poetic diction to this school of poets. We can also find in his works the influences of neo-classical poetry. He used a great variety of metres, but had also an interest in the expressive potentiality of common language.

(8.11) Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

In his works Shelley showed his restless spirit, his refusal of social conventions, political oppression and any form of tyranny and his faith in a better future. He believed in freedom and love and he thought they could be the remedies for the evils of society. In particular through love men could overcome any political, moral and social conventions. He agreed with some aspects of Godwin's theories  and with neo-Platonism. He modified Godwin's idea of materialism in the hope in moral freedom of man and in pantheism, and also turned his anarchical egoism in brotherhood between men. From Plato he took the idea of society ruled by ethics and wisdom and the idea of reality as an illusory image of the true reality of eternity, and a his idealistic pantheism: if a god exists he creates the fusion between nature and human mind. He saw imagination as revolutionary creativity, in order to change reality. Poet's destiny is to suffer and isolates himself from the world, projecting himself in a better future and hiding beneath a mask of stubborn hope. The poet for Shelley is a prophet and a Titan challenging the cosmos; his task is to help mankind to reach an ideal world where there aren't negative aspects of life (tyranny, destruction, alienation) but only the realisation of love, freedom and beauty. The nature he describes is a veil that hides the eternal truths of the divine spirit. Shelley used nature as an instrument that provided him images and symbols. Nature is also the refuge from all the injustices of the world and the better interlocutor for melancholy dreams and future hopes of the poet. Shelley used in his poems all the traditional verse forms.

(8.13) Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Jane Austen took from 18th century novelists the endless possibilities offered by the insight into psychology of characters and the subtleties of life's ordinary events. She used the omniscient narrator and the technique of bringing the characters into existence with dialogue. Her style was characterised by the use of verbal and situational irony. She wanted to represent the world of the country gentry.  The plots and the settings of their novels were provided by traditional values of this kind of people: money, decorum, property and marriage. In all of her novels we can find the happy end with the marriage between the hero and the heroine. She thought that individual values could realise themselves in romantic love, usually in conflict with marriage money and social standing. Strong emotions can be controlled by private reflections that can also establish the moral way to live.

(8.14) Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Walter Scott was the founder of the historical novel, which is a combination of fictional and historical events. Scott saw the present as an inevitably consequence of the past, that was for some aspects also superior to it. The writer's aim wasn't to narrate historical events, but to show their link to the modern events. He expressed also his regret for the glorious past of Scotland he was Scottish), but he believed that the active collaboration with England was necessary to help his country. Scott was interested in the historical moments, especially in Scotland in which a crisis had caused personal problems in individuals or in group of individuals. The protagonists of his novels were men seeking peace and tranquillity. Scott didn't create only fictional characters, but used as minor characters real princes and kings. He changed great historical events and set them in poetical environment, in particular he was fascinated by political and religious intrigues. He mixed with historical events the marvellous and the mystery and also a little humour and a touch of the picturesque, which makes him a Romantic writer (but he doesn't have their sensibility and cult of wild nature). Scott was compared with Manzoni but they have a lot of differences: Scott wanted to celebrate the glorious past of his country and the values of heroism and loyalty; Manzoni created the characters of common people with a great precision and also with a psychological insight because he wanted to create a national consciousness in Italian people.

Most of Scott's novels follows a pattern called the "journey": a traveller, the hero, moves to a different ethnic group and shares their life for a certain time. In the end he returns to where he had came from with a new and different experience of life, which enable him to mediate between the two groups. Scott used the third person omniscient narrator and the techniques of flashback and time shift, in order to follow the adventures of his characters. He also used description and gave his opinion about his characters. To give truthfulness to his works he pretended to have documents proving them. His style was characterised by references to the Scottish language, a simple and immediate prose proper to old legends and romances.

(8.15) Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Poe's main contribution to literature was in the field of short story, where he began the genre of detective story. In his works the world of imagination always co-exists with the real world and with the analytical power of reason. His works can be divided in two groups:

  1. "Tales of Ratiocination or Detection": these were the first detective stories. The protagonist of these tales was a private detective, Monsieur Dupin, an aristocratic man, arrogant, eccentric but also extremely rational. Dupin reaches in solve crimes with his logical reasoning and his power of psychological analysis which enables him to understand criminal minds and actions.
  2. "Tales of Imagination": in these stories Poe used elements of the Gothic tradition, but also went beyond them, introducing the "horror" that come from the inside of the man. Some of the most common themes of  these tales are: cruelty, always present in the form of perverseness, fusion of beauty and death, of creation and destruction, the theme of the double in personalities of men exc. Another very important element in these stories is represented by madness: Poe thought that madness was an aspect of a higher and superior awareness. Most of his characters retire themselves from the conventional life to live a lonely life, cut off from the world, losing contact with reality and their mental sanity.

Most of  Poe's tales are narrated in the first person, with long interior monologues and description of feelings and sensations. Movement is given by the relationships between causes and consequences. Characters haven't real human consistence.


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