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About this book

Definitions of the Romantic period have undergone considerable change in the last few years. Beyond the careers of the 'Big Six' (Blake, Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats), critics have begun to recognise a much fuller range of writers flourishing in the second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth. Who were these other writers whose popularity threatened the fame of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron? What happens to our understanding of canonical authors when we place them in the context of the print culture of their own time?
This book is an accessible and stimulating account of the recent vital changes in critical perceptions of Romanticism. It will enable students and teachers to navigate the new diversities and complexities of Romantic studies, providing a fresh, readable reassessment of a controversial and exciting period.

Table of Contents

1. 1790: Reflections of Revolution

Abstract
In 1790, and still in her twenties, Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823) published her second novel anonymously. Radcliffe had been born into a wealthy trading family; at the age of twenty-two she married an editor who encouraged her to pursue her literary interests. Unlike her contemporaries, Charlotte Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe did not have to write throughout her adult life to earn her living. Her novels fulfilled John Keats’s criterion for artistic success in that she ‘created the taste by which [she] was appreciated’, but being an avid reader herself, she also reflected the changing interests of the late eighteenth-century readership. Her blend of elements from earlier romances and from Shakespearean drama enabled the depiction of a new and intoxicating exploration of irrationality.
Jane Stabler

2. Romantic Drama

Abstract
This is how Mary Robinson (1758–1800) described her first appearance on stage. She was known as ‘Perdita’ Robinson after her role in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale which brought her to the notice of the Prince of Wales. Her affair with the Prince increased public interest in her as a beautiful young actress and, as her memoirs show, she was acutely sensitive to the gaze of an audience both on and off the stage.1 At this time the crowded and noisy London theatres vied with public executions as the most popular forms of public entertainment. For dramatic writers interested in psychological character development, however, these conditions were less than ideal. Writing in the persona of an unsuccessful author, Charles Lamb (1775–1834) complained ‘that the public, or mob, in all ages, have been a set of blind, deaf, obstinate, senseless, illiterate savages … no man of genius in his senses would be ambitious of pleasing such a capricious, ungrateful rabble’ (Lamb 1903, I, 91). Writers of the day complained that the public taste for glamour and sensation — fed by scandals such as the relationship between Perdita and the Prince — debased the drama.
Jane Stabler

3. Romantic Poetry

Abstract
The period between 1790 and 1830 produced an extraordinary concentration of new poetry. The variety and number of these publications poses a challenge to selection, especially since poetry by women, self-taught and working-class poets is still in the process of being recovered. The focus of this chapter is on forms of transition in verse which allow us to examine both formal (rhetorical) concerns and historical issues. The formal shapes of poetry mean that an awareness of poetic tradition is more important for this genre than for drama or the novel. To be able to appreciate the stylistic and linguistic innovations of Romantic poets, we need to have some idea of what is being modified. Readers are encouraged to consult the eighteenth-century volume in the Transitions series which will offer fruitful intersections and overlaps (from a different perspective) with some of the writers covered in this chapter. The traditions of the eighteenth-century literature of sensibility, loco-descriptive poetry and ‘graveyard poems’ are particularly important factors in the emergence of what we recognise as Romantic poetry. As we shall see, eighteenth-century religious, philosophical and scientific debates also shaped the dynamics of poetic form and subject matter.
Jane Stabler

4. The Romantic Novel and Non-Fictional Prose

Abstract
As we have seen with Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance, the gothic novel reconfigured and transcended some of the later eighteenth century’s pressing social issues. By the mid-1790s, tales of terror were at the pinnacle of their popularity as the feudal conventions of romance met contemporary debates about the feudal basis of power in European society. Gothic conventions permeated other forms of literature as well as the novel and, as we shall see, much of the non-fictional prose of the period drew on gothic motifs.1 Throughout the Romantic period the key gothic image of the haunted family house recurred in debates about the theory of communal life and its actual conditions. By tracing representations of the home in transition through the 1790s to the 1830s, we can examine the rich texture of that most homely of idioms: English prose.
Jane Stabler

5. 1830: Time for Change

Abstract
Like those of 1790, the publications of the year 1830 signal significant transitions in English culture and society. The end of George IV’s ten-year reign in 1830 left the monarchy at one of its periodic low ebbs. He was succeeded by his brother, William IV (1830–7) who was more sensitive than George had been to the increasing pressure for political reform. Nevertheless it took another two years of frustrating blockages in the House of Lords before the 1832 Reform Bill was passed. In different ways the literature we shall cover in this chapter reflects public impatience with a stagnant political system and an urgent consciousness of the need for change.
Jane Stabler
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