Romantic period

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The Historical context (1776-1837)
The Romantic period is known as the “Age of Revolution”.It opens with the American Declaration of indipendence and the loss of the American colonies.Then there are the French and the Industrial revolutions.The first one destroyed the old social order in the name of liberty,equality and fraternity and marked the beginning of the rise of the middle class. It was followed by the ascent of Napoleon who became Emperor in 1804.The duke of Wellington defeated him at the battle of Waterloo.The second one generated violent class conflicts between employers and workers, most notably in Luddite Riots when textile workers attacked the new machinery which had put them out of work..

The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution is the change from an agrarian or maritime economy to an industrial (factory-based) economy.The term ‘Industrial Revolution’ could suggest a sudden and violent event.On the contrary changes began to be felt in Britain around 1780 and developed over a number of decades and as a continuing process.It first affected the textile and metal industries.The most important factors were the technological innovations that made industrialization possible.The old sources of energy like water- and wind-power were replaced by steam power.The fuel for the steam engines was provided by coal.Other British technical innovations included processes for producing wrought iron,Heargreave’s spinning-jenny and Cartwright’s power loom.Coal was at the heart of Industrial Revolution.Industries like iron-making were based on coal mines and the growth of the textile industry was linked to the coalfields.The spread of canals and railways cut the cost of transporting coal from mines to factories which were sited near coalfields.The use of iron instead of woods,the use of large steam engines,new mass-production methods were responsible for the development of large-scale factory manufacturing.The cotton and woollen industries became concentrated in huge factories in Lancashire and Yorkshire. The factory became the main ew unit of the system: it concentrated production in one place and imposed a new discipline on the workers among whom women and children were badly treated.

The cultural context
The three main branches of the romantic moviment were German, English and French. German romanticism had a preparatory stage in “Sturm und drang” moviment of the 1770s and was essentially philosophical. English romanticism started in 1780s and is best represented by its poetry. French romanticism developed in drama and literary criticism; its way was prepared by Rousseau. He climed that man is good by nature, but corrupted by society. In italy romantic moviment officially started in 1816; its best expresion is in the poetry and in the novel. There is a close relation between the cultural aspects of romanticism and the socio-historiacal context, in which it developed. The expansion of industry and the economy made many economic theory. For example, Adam Smith’s theory advocated no interference from the government in economic activities. The key concepts of Romanticism were:
• the stress on imagination and on individual experience;
• the conception of the artist as an original creator free from neo-classical control;
• the notion of nature;
• the use of symbolism and myth.
Romantic imagination is not a single phenomenon, but takes on different meanings. There are two views of what it is. Fisrt, it is the capacity to see more deeply into the life of things. Second, it can be considered as a peculiar faculty of the mind for the apprehension of that kind of truth which is beyond the reason, the senses or common experience. The idea of the “sublime” had an important influence on Romantic poetry and art. Brke divided beauty into the beautiful and the sublime:
• the beautiful is for things which were regular, delicate, harmonious;
• the sublime is for things which were gigantic, violent and aroused terror.
The interest in non-rational experience took form in the world of horror and sentiment and of picturesque scenery which come alive in th Gothic novels of the period. The Gothic vogue affected Byron, Shelley and Mary Shelley; Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,Keat’s The Eve of St Agnes and also Scott’s Scottish novels draw upon the world of th Gothic.

The Novel at the beginning of the 19th century (1776-1837)
At the beginning of the 19th century the novel had already become a very popular form of entartainment among the middle-class reading public.The development of circulating libraries also spread novel reading to the lower classes of society.However the insitution of libraries had negative consequences for the development of fiction.The genre of fiction soon split into good and bad literature, good and bad writers.On the one hand there were those who were increasingly aware of the potentialities of the genre and often abandoned poetry or drama to devote all their efforts to it;on the other there were many inferior writer who wrote novels based on the endless repetition of mechanical clichés,highly complicated plots, improbable events and a happy final outcome.The last years of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th saw the emergence of a new category of people:professional writers.From then on,men and women started to make a living from the pen.Novelists became the interpreters of the main trends of the period they lived in.The Gothic novel was taken up and developed by Ann Radcliffe. Her novels are built around highly complicated plots and a series of fearful and terrible experiences and are set in remote and wild places.A sense of impending danger and an atmosphere full of suspense pervade them and the reader becomes deeply involved in the suffering of good heroine as she is pursued by a villain and the final inevitable happy end always comes as a relief. Mrs Radcliffe’s novels were very popular among the intellectuals of the period and influential on later works. The ingredients of gothic fiction are still present in the popular fiction of today:the mysterious and fearful atmosphere can be found in ghost stories while suspense is one of the main aspects of the plots of both detective and crime fiction.Sir Walter Scott brought to the novel his interest in history and places,in fact he set his novels in various historical periods and sometimes in different countries.