Romantism Subjects


During the Romantic Period there seemed to be revolution in the air. The

American Revolution and the French Revolution of 1789 had a great impact on
literature of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This impact can be seen
throughout Romantic literature but especially in the area of new subjects.

Before the 19th century authors tended to write about the aristocratic class.

There was nothing written for or about the common people. There are three areas
in which the discussion will focus upon in the area of new subjects. The first
area will focus on the children, the second will be women, and the third will be
the new attitude towards God. The Romantic period strongly emphasized the lives
of children. Authors writing at that time did not just look at children playing
outside but within real life situations. Writing started to be explored in the
language of the common man. The topics presented by most of these writers
appealed to the general public. Today, the area of children within literary
works does not seem revolutionary. At this time, however, there were no writings
that reflected the everyday lives of children. The first important poem in the

Romantic period with regards to children is by William Blake, "The Chimney

Sweep." This poem focuses upon the tremendous abuse of children during this
time. This poem portrays visions of death throughout "were all of them
lock'd up in coffins of black"(Norton 31). This quote catches the reader's
attention with a vision of death. These children talked of death very candidly
because they died young. The sweeper almost inevitably would have died before he
even knew how to live life. They worked in horrible labor conditions with no
sign of relief because there were no labor laws. These children mainly died from
consumption of the fumes within the shaft or by an accident. "We are

Seven" by William Wordsworth refers frequently to children. This poem is
told from the perspective of a seven-year-old girl. A young girl as the center
of the poem would have been unheard of in earlier periods. The little girl has a
brother and a sister who have died. The girl shows the reader the presence of
another reality. The audience could not have understood this new reality we
before the entrance of a child's perspective. The child has seven people in the
family but two are dead. The little girl's reality is different than the
readers. She believes her family members are with her even though they are
really dead. These two poems impacted the populace to be aware of the
exploitation of children and their understandings of the world. Frankenstein
also addresses the concept of children in literature. Mary Shelly does it on
several occasions. The first reference to children in the book is when Victor's
brother is killed. Only in the Romantic Period do readers see the concept of
death of children. Also on another occasion within the novel the talk centers on
children migrating because of war. In earlier novels the role of children was
not predominant. Another area in which the Romantic writings were opened were
the writings on and by women. The most influential work would be Mary

Wolstonecraft's work The Vindication of The Rights of Woman. There are many
points that are brought to light within this work. Wolstonecraft calls for the
education of all people, including women. She does not want to educate women for
the amusement of men, but for intellectual stimuli. She tires to argue for
women's education in a subtle way. She argues for the education of women to be
for the betterment of the populace. Wolstonecraft tries to make the point that
the education of women would be in a good light. She argues that the education
of women would create stability within the home. Husbands and wives will be able
to hold a substantive conversation; they will "become the friend, and not
the humble dependant of her husband"(Norton 113). Wollstonecraft was able
to write in this way because she herself was educated. Her relationship with her
husband was one of a mutual affection not a necessity, and he was not threatened
by this. Women threatened other contemporary males during this time. As seen
here from a journal called Gentleman's Magazine in April 1799: In the general
confusion of ideas, religious, moral, and political, we are not surprised to
find claims set up for the female sex, unsupported we must say by prescription,
but we are justified in saying by reason. Mrs. R. avows herself of the school of

Wollstonecroft; and that is enough for all who have any regard to decency,
order, or prudence, to avoid her company. She has traveled for her improvement;
and what are the blessed fruits of her travels? Let the motley list of heroines
subjoined to this letter, and the anecdotes of female characters, of all
descriptions, interspersed in it, speak for themselves. (Randall 1) This is an
illustration of how men felt at this time. This also shows that not everyone was
inclined to recognize the new subjects. (The Mrs. R refers to Mary Robinson a
contemporary of Wolstonecraft) One of the most intriguing works we read was
"The Lady of Shalott." This poem was in long form but it captured life
in a different light. The poem depicts women looking at life only through a
mirror. She watches her whole existence through the mirror, until she finally
needs to see with her own eyes what has happened. The meaning of this poem can
be interpreted in many ways. One way is that woman are watching the world pass
them by without trying to taking part in everyday actions. Another area in which
women were making their mark was writing the literature. Mary Wollstonecraft
started the chain of events. She was one of the first women noticed for her
writings. Her daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley made great strides as a
writer also at this time. These authors also made women more human. Women, not
only did they cook and clean but also they even did other things. The third area
to look at when addressing new subjects is God. There were many writings on the
role of God before this period. The Bible being the best example tells of God
the friend and God the punisher. William Blake illustrates poetry best in
relation to God. The two poems that gave us the best look at, the two different
versions of, God are "The Lamb" and "The Tyger." In these
two poems Blake takes two very different views. The lamb is the traditional
symbol for the flock of God. He challenges the idea of Christ the lamb with the
repetitive nature. He repeatedly asks the question "who made thee?"
referring to who created a creature like the lamb (Norton 29). In the "Tyger"
the same question of "who made thee?" comes up (Norton 37). This
vicious animal and hunter is he too one of Gods creatures. This asks the
question "What king of immortal hand or eye/ could frame thy fearful
symmetry?" The questioning of what kind of god made you, the lamb and tyger.

Then the next question asked is "Did he who made the lamb make thee?"
seemingly the answer being yes it is the same god. Blake seems to question God
several times within his poetry. The next one that sticks out particularly is
"The Divine Image" where he continues to question what God really is.
"To mercy, Pity, Peace and Love" sets the tone for the rest of the
poem. He tells of how we are all God's children so we better be good to one
another. He stresses the idea of equality here. There are also two stories that
come to mind when discussing God as a new subject. The first is the "Rime
of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Colleridge. In this short story we see a
man on a journey. His journey starts not at the beginning of the trip to the

South Pole, but it begins when he kills a bird. He shoots it with a crossbow.

The symbolism behind the crossbow may mean he killed Jesus. Then when He goes
through all the pains and anguish, he is forgiven for killing one of God's
creatures. The next story that comes to expresses God in the area of new
subjects is Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. This novel shows God in a very
different light. Victor is shown as a God because he has created a creature
outside of his own blood. Victor is faced with a choice whether or not to
destroy or create a new creature. The Frankenstein book looked at the idea of

God in a new fashion. Shelly tries to show us that our obsessions draw great
light upon us. Mary Shelley shows how our obsessions draw light upon us in two
ways. If we are obsessed with doing something when it happens we are let down.

The second way that obsession affects us is that if we do not do something it
may kill us. There were many new subjects that were addressed by Romantic poets
and authors alike in regards to new subjects. The subject area of children is
still being explored today. Once the subject area of children was opened the
writing world has not been the same. In the area of women Vindication came when
that work was published. It did not free women but gave them rights that they
had not ever had before. In the area of God there was a great deal of
questioning taking place. The entrance of Darwin and its legitimization raised
questions pertaining to god. These new subjects were vital to the Romantic
period and every piece of writing afterward.

Bibliography

Norton Anthology of English Literature, The. New York: Norton, 1993. Randall,

Anne. "Review in Gentleman's Magazine of letter to the Woman of

England." Gentleman's Magazine p311. April 1799 http://www.otal.umd.edu/rc/elecd/robinson/mrlettsrfst.html.

Shelly, Mary. Frankenstein. Chicago Press, 1974. Wollstonecraft, Mary.

Vindication of The Rights of Woman. London: Penguin, 1985.