Kate Gardy 08/09/14
Wordsworth's Romanticism and the French Revolution
Very rarely has the larger movement of history impinged with such force on the private experience of individuals, as it did during the years of the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century. The French Revolution gave rise to "an intensity of political debate and popular initiative that exposed previously unsuspected fractures, contradictions and conflicts of interest in the social fabric of England" (Everest, 1990: 12), and the English Romantic poets were able to exercise the imagination in this "electrifying atmosphere of elation and crisis" (12). Evaluating and interpreting Books Six, Nine and Ten of William Wordsworth's autobiographical poem, The Prelude (1850), this essay will detail Wordsworth's experiences in France and his subsequent responses to the course of events during the Revolution. His initial elation and enthusiasm, and his succeeding doubts and feelings of gradual disillusionment and despondency, were to result ultimately in an embittered rejection of social revolution as a false deity and an alternative escape to nature.
The Romantic period in English literature came into being from approximately the mid-1780s and spanned close to thirty years until the mid-1820s. Rich in diversity, this European cultural movement, labelled 'Romanticism', embodied a "sense of newly exhilarating freedom from prescribed and agreed forms of expression, and from prescribed categories of perception and response" (Everest, 1990: 2). Rejecting ideals of order and rationality of the precursory Neoclassical movement, the Romantics withdrew from 'reality' in placing emphasis on the individual and the subjective, on the imagination and emotions. Characteristically found in Romanticism are attitudes of deep appreciation of nature's beauty, reverence of the senses over intellect, and heightened introspection to facilitate the investigation of the capacities of humankind (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014).
Flourishing during the time of the French Revolution, the poets of...