The literature of a countryis affected and influenced by how the people of thatcountry live.
This paper will prove that The FrenchRevolution greatly influenced 19th Century FrenchRomanticism. First, the cultural values of the revolution willbe identified. Then, the different aspects of Romanticismwill be presented. The cultural values of The FrenchRevolution and Romanticism will then be linked.
Finally,literary examples will be shown to support this connectionbetween the two movements. Before the Revolution, thecitizens of France lived in a strict, confined society with nofreedom to express their feelings. Government had imposedstrong, unfair laws on the common people (Compton’sInteractive Encyclopedia “French Revolution”). Theywanted a voice in a stable government with a strongeconomy (Johnson 105) and a strong sense of individualityand independence within the people. (Moss and Wilson180) Eighteenth- century literature was much like thesociety in which it was produced, restrained. Society wasdivided into privileged and unprivileged classes, (Leinward452) with Eighteenth- century writers focusing on the livesof the upper class.
(Thompson 857) These writers followed”formal rules”(Thorlby 282), and based their works onscientific observations and logic (Thompson 895). TheRevolution gave the common people and writers morefreedom to express feelings and stimulated them to usereason. According to Thompson, The Revolution “had amajor impact on Nineteenth- Century European Life.”(895) It sent a strong wave of emotion and revivalthroughout France (Peyre 59).
This lead to new laws andstandards for the citizens, including newer, less imposingliterary standards. Romanticism marked a profound changein both literature and thought. Romanticism, according toWebster’s Dictionary, is defined as “a literary movement(as in early 19th century Europe) marked especially by anemphasis on the imagination and emotions and by the useof autobiographical material.” Although this may be true,there is no single commonly accepted definition ofRomanticism, but it has some features upon which there isgeneral agreement. First, it emphasized upon humanreason, feeling, emotion, and expression (Compton’sInteractive Encyclopedia, “Romanticism”) whileemphasizing the love of nature, beauty, and liberty.(Leinward 528-529) Thompson defines Romanticism as “a major literary and cultural movement” that was inspiredby the imaginations, inner feelings, and emotions of theRomantics.
(895) If one term can be used to describe theforces that have shaped the modern world, it isRomanticism. (Peyre, 2) Romanticism has had such aprofound effect on the world since the late 18th centurythat one author has called it “the profoundest culturaltransformation in human history since the invention of thecity.” (Compton’s Encyclopedia, “Romanticism”) Harveyand Heseltine state that “The outstanding characteristic of18th-century French literature had been attached toreason.
… About the turn of the century.
… literature becamea matter of senses and emotions.
” (633) They also say thatthe movement of Romanticism “gave practical expressionto the new spirit…” because it recognized that the boundson literature were “too rigid”. (634) There are many directrelations how the French Revolution influenced the FrenchRomanticism that followed it in the Nineteenth- century.The French Revolution had a major impact on the timelineand progression of Romanticism. Vinaver states that”Neither a revolt or a reaction, Romanticism was arevolutionary fulfillment.
.. And this in turn explains why theEuropean event known as the French Revolution is at oncethe climax of Romanticism…It’s French Revolution}date, 1789, conveniently divides the Pre- Romanticismera from the full flowering of the new culture.” (6)Romanticism starts in about 1774, but does not take offuntil the last decade of the 18th- century, the same time asthe Revolution.
The French Revolution provided for manyof the problems and basis for many Romantic literaryworks. First of all, the political change brought by theRevolution, along with the intellectual reverberationsbrought upon Romanticism. (Harvey and Heseltine 634)Also, Thompson states that ” Romanticism was shapedby the ideals of the French Revolution.” (895) Finally,Vinaver declares that the Revolution served as “a greatsource of the problems and tendencies of Romanticproper.
” (6) The Revolution also inspired many writers towrite romantically. Peyre points this out when he says that itis wrong to call writers “revolutionaries” but when he writesabout revolution- inspired works, he states: “in almost all ofthem revolution- inspired romantic writers could bedetected a feeling of revolt…inspired by passion anddirected against morals which were considered tooconstraining.” (59) This shows how the writers stood forand supported the revolution that had occurred forty yearsbefore.
Thompson makes a clear point along this line whenhe states that “Romanticism was a major literary andcultural movement that emerged out of the FrenchRevolutionary spirit of the late 1700’s…” (895) In France,the Romantic Poets, especially Victor Hugo and Alfred deVigney, gave their attention towards the problems arisingout of the French Revolution. (Peyre 59) Alfred de Mussetwrote philosophically moving lyrics. (Compton’s InteractiveEncyclopedia “French Literature”) Alphonse de Lamartine”delicately analyzed his own emotions”. (Compton’sInteractive Encyclopedia “French Literature”) Joseph deMaistre, another major figure whose strong political viewsmade him totally oppose the war, still took the Revolutionin to consideration when writing. (60) Leinward supportsthis idea when he says “Poets were moved by the greatevents of their lives, including the French Revolution.
“(528) Hugo, the greatest poet of the 19th century France,perhaps of all French Literature, was the major figure of theRomantic Movement. (Harvey and Halestine 350) HisHernani helped win the revolt against the classic rules ofliterature. (Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia, “FrenchLiterature”) His most famous work, Les Miserables, was anovel about the suffering of humanity during the Revolution.(Leinward 529) Vigney, a poet, dramatist, and novelist,played a large role in the Romanticism of the 1820’s. Hisplay, Chatterton, dramatized the misfortune of the poet in a”materialist and pitiless” society. (Compton’s InteractiveEncyclopedia “Vigny”) Alfred de Musset’s philosophicalpoetry played a major role in the Romanticism of the1820’s. (Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia “FrenchLiterature”) Harvey and Heseltine say that “Musset isusually classed with Hugo, Lamartine, and Vigny as one ofthe four great figures of the Romantic Movement.
..”(Harvey and Heseltine 502) His lyrical poetry mixedsuffering and passion such as in Le Souvenir. (502)Lamartine, described by Harvey and Heseltine as “one ofthe four great poets of the Romantic Movement” (390),expressed his appreciation for nature as a “reflection of hisown moods” in his Meditations poetiques. (390) Thisshows how Romantic poets could display their love fornature and human qualities of thought at the same time.Joseph de Maistre whose “inconsistent and impassionedideas about the Revolution influenced Vigny, wasimpressed by the divine greatness of the Revolution.
…”(Peyne 59) The Revolution and the idea how it was”controlled by a mighty force” inspired him to write andcelebrate it as being divine in Te Deum. (59) The researchpresented in this paper has shown that the FrenchRevolution of 1789 greatly influenced the Romanticliterature of the proceeding 19th century France. TheFrench cultural values before and during the revolution havebeen presented.
The different aspects of Romanticism havebeen reviewed in detail. Then relations with examplesbetween the Revolution and Romanticism were presented.In closing, I have shown how the French Revolution hashad a remarkable effect on French Romantic literature inthe 19th century.