New Subjects In Romantisism Essay, Research Paper
New Subjects in Romanticism
During the Romantic Period there seemed to be revolution in the air. The American Revolution and the French Revolution of 1789 had a great impact on literature of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This impact can be seen throughout Romantic literature but especially in the area of new subjects. Before the 19th century authors tended to write about the aristocratic class. There was nothing written for or about the common people. There are three areas in which the discussion will focus upon in the area of new subjects. The first area will focus on the children, the second will be women, and the third will be the new attitude towards God.
The Romantic period strongly emphasized the lives of children. Authors writing at that time did not just look at children playing outside but within real life situations. Writing started to be explored in the language of the common man. The topics presented by most of these writers appealed to the general public. Today, the area of children within literary works does not seem revolutionary. At this time, however, there were no writings that reflected the everyday lives of children.
The first important poem in the Romantic period with regards to children is by William Blake, “The Chimney Sweep.” This poem focuses upon the tremendous abuse of children during this time. This poem portrays visions of death throughout “were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black”(Norton 31). This quote catches the reader’s attention with a vision of death. These children talked of death very candidly because they died young. The sweeper almost inevitably would have died before he even knew how to live life. They worked in horrible labor conditions with no sign of relief because there were no labor laws. These children mainly died from consumption of the fumes within the shaft or by an accident.
“We are Seven” by William Wordsworth refers frequently to children. This poem is told from the perspective of a seven-year-old girl. A young girl as the center of the poem would have been unheard of in earlier periods. The little girl has a brother and a sister who have died. The girl shows the reader the presence of another reality. The audience could not have understood this new reality we before the entrance of a child’s perspective. The child has seven people in the family but two are dead. The little girl’s reality is different than the readers. She believes her family members are with her even though they are really dead. These two poems impacted the populace to be aware of the exploitation of children and their understandings of the world.
Frankenstein also addresses the concept of children in literature. Mary Shelly does it on several occasions. The first reference to children in the book is when Victor’s brother is killed. Only in the Romantic Period do readers see the concept of death of children. Also on another occasion within the novel the talk centers on children migrating because of war. In earlier novels the role of children was not predominant.
Another area in which the Romantic writings were opened were the writings on and by women. The most influential work would be Mary Wolstonecraft’s work The Vindication of The Rights of Woman. There are many points that are brought to light within this work. Wolstonecraft calls for the education of all people, including women. She does not want to educate women for the amusement of men, but for intellectual stimuli. She tires to argue for women’s education in a subtle way. She argues for the education of women to be for the betterment of the populace. Wolstonecraft tries to make the point that the education of women would be in a good light. She argues that the education of women would create stability within the home. Husbands and wives will be able to hold a substantive conversation; they will “become the friend, and not the humble dependant of her husband”(Norton 113). Wollstonecraft was able to write in this way because she herself was educated. Her relationship with her husband was one of a mutual affection not a necessity, and he was not threatened by this.
Women threatened other contemporary males during this time. As seen here from a journal called Gentleman’s Magazine in April 1799:
In the general confusion of ideas, religious, moral, and political, we are not surprised to find claims set up for the female sex, unsupported we must say by prescription, but we are justified in saying by reason. Mrs. R. avows herself of the school of Wollstonecroft; and that is enough for all who have any regard to decency, order, or prudence, to avoid her company. She has traveled for her improvement; and what are the blessed fruits of her travels? Let the motley list of heroines subjoined to this letter, and the anecdotes of female characters, of all descriptions, interspersed in it, speak for themselves. (Randall 1)
This is an illustration of how men felt at this time. This also shows that not everyone was inclined to recognize the new subjects. (The Mrs. R refers to Mary Robinson a contemporary of Wolstonecraft)
One of the most intriguing works we read was “The Lady of Shalott.” This poem was in long form but it captured life in a different light. The poem depicts women looking at life only through a mirror. She watches her whole existence through the mirror, until she finally needs to see with her own eyes what has happened. The meaning of this poem can be interpreted in many ways. One way is that woman are watching the world pass them by without trying to taking part in everyday actions.
Another area in which women were making their mark was writing the literature. Mary Wollstonecraft started the chain of events. She was one of the first women noticed for her writings. Her daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley made great strides as a writer also at this time. These authors also made women more human. Women, not only did they cook and clean but also they even did other things.
The third area to look at when addressing new subjects is God. There were many writings on the role of God before this period. The Bible being the best example tells of God the friend and God the punisher. William Blake illustrates poetry best in relation to God. The two poems that gave us the best look at, the two different versions of, God are “The Lamb” and “The Tyger.” In these two poems Blake takes two very different views. The lamb is the traditional symbol for the flock of God. He challenges the idea of Christ the lamb with the repetitive nature. He repeatedly asks the question “who made thee?” referring to who created a creature like the lamb (Norton 29).
In the “Tyger” the same question of “who made thee?” comes up (Norton 37). This vicious animal and hunter is he too one of Gods creatures. This asks the question “What king of immortal hand or eye/ could frame thy fearful symmetry?” The questioning of what kind of god made you, the lamb and tyger. Then the next question asked is “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” seemingly the answer being yes it is the same god.
Blake seems to question God several times within his poetry. The next one that sticks out particularly is “The Divine Image” where he continues to question what God really is. “To mercy, Pity, Peace and Love” sets the tone for the rest of the poem. He tells of how we are all God’s children so we better be good to one another. He stresses the idea of equality here.
There are also two stories that come to mind when discussing God as a new subject. The first is the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Colleridge. In this short story we see a man on a journey. His journey starts not at the beginning of the trip to the South Pole, but it begins when he kills a bird. He shoots it with a crossbow. The symbolism behind the crossbow may mean he killed Jesus. Then when He goes through all the pains and anguish, he is forgiven for killing one of God’s creatures.
The next story that comes to expresses God in the area of new subjects is Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. This novel shows God in a very different light. Victor is shown as a God because he has created a creature outside of his own blood. Victor is faced with a choice whether or not to destroy or create a new creature. The Frankenstein book looked at the idea of God in a new fashion. Shelly tries to show us that our obsessions draw great light upon us. Mary Shelley shows how our obsessions draw light upon us in two ways. If we are obsessed with doing something when it happens we are let down. The second way that obsession affects us is that if we do not do something it may kill us.
There were many new subjects that were addressed by Romantic poets and authors alike in regards to new subjects. The subject area of children is still being explored today. Once the subject area of children was opened the writing world has not been the same. In the area of women Vindication came when that work was published. It did not free women but gave them rights that they had not ever had before. In the area of God there was a great deal of questioning taking place. The entrance of Darwin and its legitimization raised questions pertaining to god. These new subjects were vital to the Romantic period and every piece of writing afterward.
Norton Anthology of English Literature, The. New York: Norton, 1993.
Randall, Anne. “Review in Gentleman’s Magazine of letter to the Woman of England.” Gentleman’s Magazine p311. April 1799 http://www.otal.umd.edu/rc/elecd/robinson/mrlettsrfst.html.
Shelly, Mary. Frankenstein. Chicago Press, 1974.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication of The Rights of Woman. London: Penguin, 1985.