The Romantic Period
George III of Hannover reigned over Britain from 1760 to 1820. From 1811 his son George exercised the function of Prince Regent because of the king’s permanent insanity.
It was a period of great changes:
Inner policy – England underwent a radical change that transformed its economy from basically agricoltural to mainly industrial. This happened thanks to the technical inventions in the mining and textile fields and to the increased demand of goods due to the growth of the population.
Foreign policy – In 1775 George Washington started a fight against the British troops in the American colonies. In 1776, July 4 the Declaration of Independence was issued in Philadelphia. In 1783 the British had to sign the treaty of Versailles that recognised the independence of the thirteen ex British colonies. After 1793, with the end of the French revolution, the British army was engaged in the fight against Napoleon Bonaparte till 1815, when the French emperor was defeated in the battle of Waterloo. In the course of the century England consolidated her power in India.
Fiction – The XVIII century was dominated by the figure of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). He wrote dramas, novels, issues, but, in particular, he became well known for his critical works and his Dictionary of the English Language (1775).
O. Goldsmith (1730-1774) and R. B. Sheridan (1751-1816) were famous for their prose writings and dramas.
Novel – After The mouthpieces of the rise of the novel, D. Defoe, S. Richardson and H. Fielding, other writers approached the genre:
– T. Smollet (1721-1771) wrote about life on ships and social scenes in England and Scotland (Roderick Random; Humphrey Clinker)
– F. Burney (1752-1840) wrote humoristic and realistic novels such as Eveline; Cecilia and Camilla.
– L. Sterne (1715-1768) evoked the rules of language with a flux of thoughts in his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.
– H. Walpole (1717-1791); A. Radcliff (1764-1833) and M. G. Lewis (1775-1818) started writing stories full of mystery and imagination, the so called Gothic novels based on supernatural events and emotional characters.
– Sir W. Scott (1771-1832) wrote novels based on Scottish folklore and tradition (Waverly; Rob Roy) and on England’s past (Ivanhoe)
Poetry – Poets shifted their focus from reason to emotions and imaginations; they dealt with
individual and nature, basing their form on more popular patterns and their language on common words for a larger public.
-The Graveyard School: E. Young, W. Collins and T. Gray’s poems are about melancholy thoughts and desolate landscapes, ruins and tombs.
– The Antiquary School: J. Macpherson’s The Works of Ossian (1765), T. Percy and T. Chatterton shared the same enthusiasm for Celtic studies and Norse literature and popularised poems and legends of barbaric ages.
– The Pre-Romantics: R. Burns’s lyrics speak of genuine feeling and the beauty of nature. W. Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience stress the contrast between the innate goodness of man and the corruption of society, with a simple and imaginative language with new symbols and energetic creative power.
– The Romantic Poets: W. Wordsworth (1770-1850) and S. T. Coleridge (1772-1834) published the Lyrical Ballads (1798), the manifesto of Romanticism that stressed the importance of imagination and of nature and described the poet as a prophet.
– Second generation of Romantic poets: P. B. Shelley, Lord Byron, and J. Keats start writing their poems in which they declare their love for remote stories, events and forms of art, their individualism and stress the role of the poet as a p
1800… The Victorian Scene
The Victorian period was called so after Victoria of Hanover, who was Queen of Great Britain from 1837 until 1901 and who embodied the success of industrial England (Christal Palace Exhibition of 1851) and of its colonial expansion (Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877).
Queen Victoria set the pattern for a life of external conformity and dignified standard of fear of being rejected by society if one broke its strict moral codes.
In the second half of the century the technological an scientific discoveries and the theories on the origin of man (Charles Darwin, The origin of the Species) set a new mode of reasoning that challenged the role of religion and the authority of the Bible, offering a rational explanation for everything. Side by side with people conscious of the new atmosphere were authors who put themselves at the centre of their own world and called it beauty, making of Beauty their Goddess, their faith and their defence from the ugliness of Industrial England.
The Age of Reforms – Queen Victoria ascended the throne when the age of reforms had just begun, the turning point being the Reform Act of 1834 (regulating lections and constituencies). The industrial policy based on the division of labour and free trade (laissez faire) had not benefited the masses and had often exacerbated social problems such urbanization, the living conditions and exploitation of the workers. From 1833, on the wake of the Reform Act, a series of bills were passed in Parliament, intended to improve the standards of life and work of the majority of the population (Factory Laws, Education Bills, Dwelling and Health Acts). The ideas stated in the Communist Manifesto of 1848 and in Das Capital (1867) by Karl Marx contributed to set the rights of the working classes and to see them recognised. Before the end of the century, the trade Unions (organisations of workers) were able to express their own party, the Labour Party, and to elect a representative in Parliament (1893).
The Empire – In the second half of the century, during the Conservative Ministries (Disraeli), England became the foremost political power in the world and gradually consolidated her empire, which eventually extended from Canada to New Zealand, including South Africa, India, Australia and a number of islands in the Mediterranean, in the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.
Involved in the Crimean War (1854-56) in defence of the Ottoman Empire against Russia, England was slightly touched by the American Civil War (1861-65). Fought in India and in Sudan (1863-82), and, at the close of the century, was still engaged in the Boer War, South Africa (1882-1902)
Queen Victoria, daughter of the Duke of Kent (1767-1820) came to the throne of England at the age of eighteen (1837) and succeeded in restoring the image of the monarchy with her wisdom, gaining the respect of her subjects with her private life: an adored husband, Prince Albert, and nine children.
Her pattern of life was ruled by sobriety and hard work, in a word, by ” respectability”. As a consequence the Victorian Period was based more on exteriority than on spiritual values, on conformism and, often, on hypocrisy.
As to political and social life, England lived a period full of changes and extensions in every field.
Queen Victoria died in 1902. Her son Edward came to the English throne trying to follow his mother’s steps.
The Parliament had to face the problems of the workers with a series of Acts ( The Factory Act, The Ten Hours’ Act; The Mines Act; The Public Health Act) to improve the working conditions, limit the hours of work and the exploitation of the children and women.
In 1884 the Third Reform Bill enlarged the suffrage to all male workers.
– Ireland found his leader In C. Parnell that demanded the Home Rule in 1880, but it
was not approved till after the First World War
– In 1887 Queen Victoria became Empress of India and the Empire enlarged its dominions to Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus and parts of Africa.
– In 1899-1902 the Boer War burst out in Orange and Transval.
– In 1854-56 the dispute on the borders between Russia and Turkey originated the Crimean War, during which Florence Nightingale founded the Red Cross.
Under the reign of Queen Victoria, literature developed thanks to the improved ways of communication and a new printing system; it became a means to confute ideas and reveal thoughts.
This period can be divided into three stages:
Fiction– the writers identified themselves with their own age; they wrote long books published in serial instalments and structured every episode as a plot. They tried to attract the masses with suspense and the appeal to the sensational. Their motto was to make them (the readers) wait, cry and laugh.
Main authors: C. Dickens ; W. Thackerey; The Brönte Sisters.
Poetry – The poets at first followed the Romantic way of writing, but soon they reflected a sense of uneasiness. They developed the Dramatic Monologue in which a persona reveals his thoughts and feeling unconsciously to a silent listener.
Main authors: Lord A. Tennyson and R. Browning.
Mid Victorians (or Anti Victorian Reaction)
Fiction – a sense of dissatisfaction and rebellion, caused by new scientific and philosophic theories (Darwin’s Origin of the Species) pervades this period.
The realism of the works mirrors the clash between man and environment, illusion and reality, leading to Naturalism: man is no longer responsible for his actions since they are determined by forces beyond his control. The writer’s task is to record events objectively, without comments.
Main Authors: George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans ) and Thomas Hardy.
Poetry – The writers followed J. Ruskin’s theories (1819-1900) against the massification and the materialism of the society; The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood proclaimed a return to simplicity and nature as an escape from this world, idealising and beautifying the reality.
Main authors: D. G. Rossetti and his sister Cristina.
Fiction – The writers searched for an escape “travelling” in their self and putting in evidence the contrasts between classes and races and the contradictions of colonialism.
Aestheticism brought to the extreme every attempt to escape from the real world supplying a way to avoid frustrations and uncertainties, reacting against Utilitarianism and moral restrictions, and breaking the social conventions by means of free imagination.
Main authors: R. L. Stevenson.(wrote about the duality of man); R. Kipling (dealt with the problem of colonialism) and O. Wilde (was the mouthpiece of Aestheticism)
Poetry – Aestheticism was fervent among the poets followers of the Rossettis, but the most original voice was the one of an isolated poet, G. M. Hopkins, who combined lyric passion with his true religious faith and used a musical and sensuous language, identifying matter and form.
Drama – The stage had suffered a long period of sterility due to the lack of new ideas and to the audience’s requests. The public, in fact, demanded amusing comedies, great effects and famous stars. The rebirth of the 1890s occurred thanks to the influence of French and Russian playwrights that focussed their attention on the psychological study of the characters, in particular, of women. From Norway, instead, came the new form of drama written by H. Ibsen that analysed the social world and used the retrospective method.
Main authors: O. Wilde and G. B. Shaw.