Romantic Backgrounds

by Richard Kroll, adapted by Alfred J. Drake

1. See Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, 1780-1950 (Penguin, 1961). Williams defines at least five distinguishing features of Romantic concerns:

(a) "a major change was taking place in the nature of the relationship between a writer and his readers"

(b) "a different habitual attitude towards the ‘public' was establishing itself"

(c) "the production of art was coming to be regarded as one of a number of specialized kinds of production"

(d) "a theory of the ‘superior reality' of art, as the seat of imaginative truth, was receiving increasing emphasis"

(e) "the idea of the independent creative writer, the autonomous genius, was becoming a kind of rule"

2. See Robert Langbaum, The Poetry of Experience (Norton, 1957)

(a) "the romanticist is not against science. He is merely trying to limit the applicability of its findings"

(b) "By giving us as exotic a past as possible, the romanticist gives us a past which, because it is inapplicable to the present, we can inhabit as a way not of learning a lesson but of enlarging our experience"

(c) "The whole conscious concern with objectivity as a problem, as something to be achieved, is in fact specifically romantic"

3. Earl Wasserman, "The English Romantics: The Grounds of Knowledge," Studies in Romanticism 4 (1964): 17-34

(a) "what Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats chose to confront more centrally and to a degree unprecedented in English literature is a nagging problem in their literary culture: How do subject and object meet in a meaningful relationship?"

Methods and Myths of Union:

-- shock; surprise

-- intense moments of feeling

-- "spots of time" or "epiphanies" -- "glimpses," or suggestions of something operating behind observed phenomena -- transfigurations of the physical world

-- incest

-- sympathy; identification

-- romantic union; especially male-female (Romantics assume male as subject)

-- the privileged insights of children, savages, madmen, or idiots

-- marginal figures: the Wandering Jew; Cain; Faust; Prometheus

-- desire unfulfilled; guilt (existential vs. actual guilt)

-- women as objects of desire; as the ethereal; the destroyer?