The Romantic Period in British Literature was a time of
nature-inspired poetry, political questioning, and
Dating the Romantic Period in British Literature is easy.
Scholars attribute the onset of the period to a poet named
William Wordsworth who co- published a “new kind” of
poetry with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Their
work entitled “Lyrical Ballads” was published in 1798.
That’s the beginning of the Romantic Period according to
some scholars.
A German literary movement called Sturm und Drang
(click for more info.) had already popularized the concept of
a suffering main character or poetic ‘’voice’’- one who was a
martyr, a rebel, an iconoclast going against the assumptions
and expectations of a society. The Romantic movement in
British literary history shares this ideal; we may call it the
first of a few characteristics we will name - Romantic
literature questions authority and values individuals
who question authority. Anything that infringes on
personal liberty is suspect in this tradition.
‘’Hey, Johnny, What are you rebelling against’’?
‘’What’ve you got’’?
Movies such as Marlon Brando’s ‘’Wild One’’
have popularized the ideal of an irresistible bad
boy, glamorous in his fatal passion, rivaling
society with a hell-bent glare.
This bad boy stereotype first entered our English
culture in the Romantic poetry of Lord Byron.
These ill-fated but beautifully emotional
characters are called “Byronic Heroes.”
Marlon Brando in
‘’The Wild One’’
The poets who chose the Romantic style at this time investigated
many topics. They wrote of time, love, death, art, and religion
among other topics. But one topic in particular was a favorite
among the Romantics - nature. As long as there have been poets,
there have been poems about nature, but these nature poems were
somehow different from the ones that had come before. These
poems were not quaint, predictable, over-simplified glorifications
of Nature on a purely observational level. These poems were
designed to communicate Nature’s transformative power. Nature
is portrayed as omnipresent and capable of altering human
perception and perspective. The settings of these poems,
therefore, are picturesque and exotic.
The personal experiences documented in
the Romantic literature of this time are
epiphanies that alter the life of the speaker.
But the catalysts for such events may have
been ordinary, mundane, or less than
remarkable. This ability to describe
ordinary events as extraordinary is a
characteristic of Romantic literature.
Because the Romantic poetry valued individual
experience, the rationalism previously admired was
replaced by a trust in one’s emotions. The literature in
England prior to this movement was witty, intellectual,
and social. Romanticism rejects the social ‘us’ and
embraces the ‘me’! Intuitions, feelings, and emotions
ruled. Man’s heart was a more valued guide than his
head. So, another characteristic of Romantic poetry is
this enlightenment by emotion.
The Romantics searched for personal experiences and
strove to communicate their power in meaningful
ways. To achieve this, the Romantic writers employed
simple and direct language. This was another way to
reject the Neoclassical movement that hoped to
emulate the ancient writers in lofty styles and
language. Think of it this way… our most personal
conversations, our most private, do not need elevated
language to impress or ring true. This simple language
is another Romantic characteristic.
Another characteristic of
Romantic literature is the
inclusion of supernatural
Perhaps, for the
Romantics, Nature
was so powerful that it
could not be
contained. Nature
takes on a mysterious,
sometimes even scary
quality in literature of
the Romantics.
Supernatural elements
play a large part in
these works.
British Romantic poetry most frequently took the form of lyric
poetry. This genre employed rhythm, repetition, and sometimes
rhyme to give the poem a lyrical or musical effect. Sometimes
the speaker was a narrator of sorts, or in other instances, the
speaker is the voice of the poet.
A study of the most popular and important Romantic poets
would include: Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel
Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Keats, and Alfred Lord
Although poetry was the most expected Romantic genre,
Romantic novels were also written. A popular novel by Mary
Shelley - Frankenstein - is also representative of the period.

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