Alien by the Passage of Time

The Romantic period, ah, full of kissing and flowers. If that is your interoperation of the romantic period, then you best think again. The Romantic period, which lasted from 1789-1837, was anything but romantic, it is quite the opposite. This means that is was all about romanticizing the lives of the poor and the slaves. Many writers of this time period believed that great spirits were wandering the earth; as in people that are making monumental changes in literature, art and politics.

With all the great writers, comes great pieces of writing. The hot topic was of course, you guessed it, the romance genre, the goal being to achieve wonder by frank violation of natural laws and of the ordinary cause of events and lots of use of the supernatural. Romances were writings that turned in their quest for settings conducive to supernatural happenings to, “strange fits of passion” and “strange adventures” to distant pasts, faraway places or even both. Nature still takes its course throughout this period as well, that is something that we didn’t leave in the restoration period. Writers will always find the time to takea stroll through nature and relate things, such as leeches, to their personal life.

“And the whole body of the Man did seem
Like one whom I had met with in a dream;
Or like a man from some far region sent,
To give me human strength, by apt admonishment.” (Wordsworth)
In this little section of the poem, it is channeling the idea of the supernatural, as if he believes that this man is from some where far away, he is dreamlike almost. He also mentions in the last line that he was sent to give him human strength, which is him realizing on early in the poem that this man has something to teach him, as if he already knows that the is wise and resolute

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Throughout the course, we studied some works that offer the perfect representation of the genre. William Wordsworth gave us, “Resolution and Independence.” In this poem, we stroll through the countryside in the woods with a man. He begins to feel joyous with the lively and refreshed creatures around him, comparing his happiness to theirs when he suddenly begins to hit a wall and realizes the care-free life he has been living. He stumbles upon a man starring into the mud, who he eventually finds out to be a leech gatherer. With that, he realizes that he doesn’t have it all that bad. He compares not only his life lived to the creatures, but to the leech gatherer himself.

The man thinks that the leech gatherer has everything made out for him, in this poem he  is romanticizing the poor life of the leech gatherer. The man in the poem seems to believe that gatherer has endured the many hardships of his life with patience and acceptance, and he looks up to that. In this poem, we get a mix of the few aspects of the romance genre.

http://medhum.med.nyu.edu/view/286  This is a website that does a good job of simply breaking down the poem and whats going on. Also mentioned is the idea of the common man, which Wordsworth was all about. He wanted to write for the common man in the language of the common man for the common man. In this poem, the leech gatherer is the representation of that, and although he seems common at first, the man finds out that he has a lot to learn from him.

Another piece of work that we looked it that is a good representation of the romance genre and the characteristics in it is Olaudan Equino’s, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudan Equino.” This is a novel that highly romanticized being a slave. This novel takes place during the French Revolution, meaning that many of the whites are complaining about not having rights, yet the slaves are clearly struggling more than me and aren’t even free.

In this story, Olaudan has been able to do want many slaves dream of, he was able to see his life how he wanted it to be, he was able to get out of slavery and not be treated or traded like a piece of land. This is where the romanticization comes in. Not all slaves were able to be as lucky as him, this is just a rare success story, though it could lead many to believe that this was the outcome for most of them. In this rare circumstance, he was able to escape slavery and become a free black man and he was able to decide who he wanted to marry; his own destiny. Of course he went through the rough treatment with the muzzles, the branding, the name changing, like all the others and that can not be forgotten.

“I was sensible of the invisible hand of God, which guided and protected me when in truth I knew it not: still the Lord pursued me although I slighted and disregarded it; this mercy melted me down. When I considered my poor wretched state I wept, seeing what a great debtor I was to sovereign free grace. Now the Ethiopian was willing to be saved by Jesus Christ, the sinner’s only surety, and also to rely on none other person or thing for salvation.” (Equiano). In this quote, he is realizing that he has been blessed by the invisible hand of God, he realizes that he has been gifted with a second chance in life and to live it by his own rules and judgement.

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In the end, we are able to see some characteristics such as nature, supernatural happenings, strange adventures and the romanticization of poetry through these two big pieces during the time of the Romantic Period. Of course there are many more that portray many of this characteristics and we took a look at a few in class. Some of them being, “Ode to the West Wind” and “Mont Blanc” by Percy Shelley as well as, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Works Cited

“Resolution and Independence Quotes.” Enotes.com, Enotes.com, http://www.enotes.com/topics/resolution-independence/quotes.
“Who Is Olaudah Equiano? Everything You Need to Know.” Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline, http://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/olaudah-equiano-6354.php.
“William Wordsworth:The Legendary Poet.” William Wordsworth:The Legendary Poet, 1 Jan. 1970, dishaunde.blogspot.com/.

 

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The Romantic Period brings us interesting views from many authors and poets that wrote during this point in time. We see these influential figures focusing on imaginative ideas rather than solely on reason and fact, which represents the ideas of Wit and Nature we saw towards the end of the Restoration Period. This article talks a lot about the most influential poets of this time and helped me learn with a bit of an overview of these writers. I hope this helps everyone else out as well!

 

Paintings of the Romantic Period

In any time of political unrest, artists seem to thrive. With more to talk about, more to critique, and more to fight about, the artist thrives. They focus on pointing out injustices, embrace individualism, and they really focus on feelings. This link here brings you to a website where you can learn more about art, artists, important paintings, and much more!

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Romantic Period Quick Search

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The alternative end date of 1832 is due to these Reform Bills that started the shift away from a monarchy system. This Britannica article explains them as a good overview.

Sometimes NPR is just so good that you can’t even believe it. Here they have amassed a curated playlist of Bastille Day-themed songs that are pretty heavily linked to the French Revolution – I mean, that is what the day is named after.

Fashion in the Romantic Period

On this webpage, constructed by Cornell University, we get to see the “historic dress” of the Romantic Period. What is different between Cornell’s webpage and what we learned in class is they have the Romantic period from 1815 to 1840. According to them, dresses became fuller and more natural. According to them, women dressed both “weak” and decorative. This is because at this time, they were still considered the “weaker” sex. Below is the image they use to illustrate what was commonly worn. PLATE89CX.JPG

“The Rights of Woman”: An Anti-Feminist Analysis

lady liberty
“Liberty Leading the People” by Eugene Delacroix

At first glance, “The Rights of Woman” seems to be a cry for female equality. Written in 1792 by
Anna Barbauld, the bulk of the poem beckons women to assert themselves in male dominated, Romantic Period England. Barbauld rips into the patriarchy of the era, calling man “treacherous”, and referring to them as women’s “imperial foe” (Barbauld, 18-19). “The Rights of Woman”’s initial stanzas aim to invokes a feeling of power and rebellion, urging women to take back the authority to rule over man.

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Anna Barbauld

Despite these strong words, the poem closes with an ominous message, one that turns the previous feminist reading on its head. Barbauld’s final stanzas explain that cultivating love and trust between sexes will diminish a woman’s yearning for power. According to Barbauld, a woman’s appetite for vigorous action will fade with the warmth of a husband. If you slice away the last two stanzas of the poem, it can be viewed as a feminist text. However, with the final stanzas included, the poem takes on a strange, anti-feminist vibe.

For more on Anna Barbauld, see: Anna Lætitia Aikin Barbauld Bibliography

The Dissection: Close Readings of Important Passages

Stanza I, Lines 1-4
Yes, injured Woman! rise, assert thy right!
Woman! too long degraded, scorned, opprest;
O born to rule in partial Law’s despite,
Resume thy native empire o’er the breast!
This opening stanza sets the stage for the poem. Barbauld addresses the “injured woman”, or the women who have been “degraded, scorned, opprest”. This speaks to the women of the Romantic Era, who were unable to receive the respect and authority that was organically given to men.  Barbauld says that women are “born to rule in partial Law’s despite”, meaning that they are capable of wielding power, placing them above man. The final line of the stanza, however, tells women to “resume thy native empire o’er the breast”. “Thy native empire” refers to the place where women naturally belong, and “o’er” the breast refers to the heart. This means that, while women have the power to rule, they rule predominately over their hearts. This is different than what one would expect a ruler to rule over; kings and queens are often associated with power kingdoms and countries, not power over emotions.
Stanza IV, Lines 13-16
Thy rights are empire: urge no meaner claim,—
Felt, not defined, and if debated, lost;
Like sacred mysteries, which withheld from fame,
Shunning discussion, are revered the most.
This passage solidifies the importance of women’s rights. It says that “thy rights are empire”, meaning they are of great importance. The language used here is also important, because it brings a focus toward what women should be striving toward: an empire. Barbauld tells women to “urge no meaner claim”, meaning that this goal is the meanest, or greatest thing they can ask of their oppressors. These rights are “felt” by women, but not defined. This means that women instinctually know that there is a need for equality, but the lines have never been drawn to create this equality.
In addition, she mentions that if these rights are debated, they will be lost. This can support the need for revolution seen in the first lines of the poem, which urge women to rise and take action rather than negotiate. In the last two lines, the tone changes a bit, becoming more abstract. Barbault relates women’s rights to “sacred mysteries”, as though they are something vital, but undiscovered. She notes that while they are not often talked about, they are revered, or greatly desired. In these ending lines, Barbauld may be pointing out that the discussion, or movement, toward the power and rights of women needs to be put at center-stage.
Stanza VII, Lines 25-28
But hope not, courted idol of mankind,
On this proud eminence secure to stay;
Subduing and subdued, thou soon shalt find
Thy coldness soften, and thy pride give way.

At this point, the poem begins to shift. Barbauld notes that the “courted idol of mankind”, meaning women, will find “thy coldness soften, and thy pride give away”. The tone of the poem goes from one filled with vigor and ambition into one of vulnerability and defeat. The hoo-rah attitude in the beginning of the poem fades away. Even though women are “subduing”, they will eventually be “subdued”. Successfully rebelling against patriarchy is useless, their will to conquer cannot last.

Stanza VIII, Lines 29-32
Then, then, abandon each ambitious thought,
Conquest or rule thy heart shall feebly move,
In Nature’s school, by her soft maxims taught,
That separate rights are lost in mutual love.

This stanza follows the theme of the previous stanza, retracting the battlecry for Romantic women to take up arms. It is replaced with a request: that women “abandon each ambitious thought”, deconstructing the obelisk of rebellious desire, which is exactly what the previous stanzas built in their hearts. So what is causing this sudden change?

Men, of course.

In lines 31-32, Barbauld explains that due to mutual love, women will lose their lust for power in a male dominated society. Barbauld is basically saying that while women can be swayed away from revolution by the love of a man. All the ambition found in the previous stanzas goes to waste under the gaze of a tender man. This, she says, it part of “nature’s school”, which basically means that it is natural for females to lose their social aspirations when in love.

Detail-from-the-Nine-Living-Muses-of-Great-Britain-1799.-Barbauld-is-raising-her-hand.
“The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain” by Richard Samuel

Final Thoughts

Barbauld has created a literary roller coaster with “The Rights of Woman”. Initially, we have a call to action for women to rise up against patriarchy. By the middle of the poem, the action rises. Barbauld pushes her ambitions for women even further, saying that women should not only be equals, but should also rule over their male counterparts. This attitude is then demolished by the final two stanzas, that basically say that a women’s natural role is to be a lover of man, not a lover of power. Once a woman saddles up and finds herself a husband, she naturally defaults into the housewife role, and her ambition to rule is swept away.

vindicationSo where is all this coming from? This poem came shortly after Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. By the title alone, one can see that “The Rights of Woman” is reactionary to Wollstonecraft’s novel. Wollstonecraft’s Vindication was known for its outspoken demand for equal education opportunities for women. With this in mind, it is easy to see how Barbauld’s poem conflict’s with that notion; in “The Rights of Woman”, she states that these dreams of equality become unimportant once a woman feels the love of a man. In her mind, it’s pointless to fill a woman with an impassioned, rebellious attitude when it will dissipate under the influence of romance.

View Works Cited


ryanandcat

Ryan Jace French is an English student, blogger, and
fishing enthusiast attending Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH.  He can often be found weeping over his student debt while cooking Ramen noodles in the Belknap communal kitchen. Follow him on Twitter today: @RJaceFrench