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Essay/Term paper: Literature - a mirror of society

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Composition

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The literature of a country

is affected and influenced by how the people of that

country live. This paper will prove that The French

Revolution greatly influenced 19th Century French

Romanticism. First, the cultural values of the revolution will

be identified. Then, the different aspects of Romanticism

will be presented. The cultural values of The French

Revolution and Romanticism will then be linked. Finally,

literary examples will be shown to support this connection

between the two movements. Before the Revolution, the

citizens of France lived in a strict, confined society with no

freedom to express their feelings. Government had imposed

strong, unfair laws on the common people (Compton"s

Interactive Encyclopedia "French Revolution"). They

wanted a voice in a stable government with a strong

economy (Johnson 105) and a strong sense of individuality

and independence within the people. (Moss and Wilson

180) Eighteenth- century literature was much like the

society in which it was produced, restrained. Society was

divided into privileged and unprivileged classes, (Leinward

452) with Eighteenth- century writers focusing on the lives

of the upper class. (Thompson 857) These writers followed

"formal rules"(Thorlby 282), and based their works on

scientific observations and logic (Thompson 895). The

Revolution gave the common people and writers more

freedom to express feelings and stimulated them to use

reason. According to Thompson, The Revolution "had a

major impact on Nineteenth- Century European Life."

(895) It sent a strong wave of emotion and revival

throughout France (Peyre 59). This lead to new laws and

standards for the citizens, including newer, less imposing

literary standards. Romanticism marked a profound change

in both literature and thought. Romanticism, according to

Webster"s Dictionary, is defined as "a literary movement

(as in early 19th century Europe) marked especially by an

emphasis on the imagination and emotions and by the use

of autobiographical material." Although this may be true,

there is no single commonly accepted definition of

Romanticism, but it has some features upon which there is

general agreement. First, it emphasized upon human

reason, feeling, emotion, and expression (Compton"s

Interactive Encyclopedia, "Romanticism") while

emphasizing the love of nature, beauty, and liberty.

(Leinward 528-529) Thompson defines Romanticism as "

a major literary and cultural movement" that was inspired

by the imaginations, inner feelings, and emotions of the

Romantics. (895) If one term can be used to describe the

forces that have shaped the modern world, it is

Romanticism. (Peyre, 2) Romanticism has had such a

profound effect on the world since the late 18th century

that one author has called it "the profoundest cultural

transformation in human history since the invention of the

city." (Compton"s Encyclopedia, "Romanticism") Harvey

and Heseltine state that "The outstanding characteristic of

18th-century French literature had been attached to

reason.... About the turn of the century.... literature became

a matter of senses and emotions." (633) They also say that

the movement of Romanticism "gave practical expression

to the new spirit..." because it recognized that the bounds

on literature were "too rigid". (634) There are many direct

relations how the French Revolution influenced the French

Romanticism that followed it in the Nineteenth- century.

The French Revolution had a major impact on the timeline

and progression of Romanticism. Vinaver states that

"Neither a revolt or a reaction, Romanticism was a

revolutionary fulfillment... And this in turn explains why the

European event known as the French Revolution is at once

the climax [of Romanticism]...It"s [French Revolution}

date, 1789, conveniently divides the Pre- Romanticism

[era] from the full flowering of the new culture." (6)

Romanticism starts in about 1774, but does not take off

until the last decade of the 18th- century, the same time as

the Revolution. The French Revolution provided for many

of the problems and basis for many Romantic literary

works. First of all, the political change brought by the

Revolution, along with the intellectual reverberations

brought upon Romanticism. (Harvey and Heseltine 634)

Also, Thompson states that " [Romanticism was] shaped

by the ideals of the French Revolution." (895) Finally,

Vinaver declares that the Revolution served as "a great

source of the problems and tendencies of Romantic

proper." (6) The Revolution also inspired many writers to

write romantically. Peyre points this out when he says that it

is wrong to call writers "revolutionaries" but when he writes

about revolution- inspired works, he states: "in almost all of

them [revolution- inspired romantic writers] could be

detected a feeling of revolt...inspired by passion and

directed against morals which were considered too

constraining." (59) This shows how the writers stood for

and supported the revolution that had occurred forty years

before. Thompson makes a clear point along this line when

he states that "Romanticism was a major literary and

cultural movement that emerged out of the French

Revolutionary spirit of the late 1700"s..." (895) In France,

the Romantic Poets, especially Victor Hugo and Alfred de

Vigney, gave their attention towards the problems arising

out of the French Revolution. (Peyre 59) Alfred de Musset

wrote philosophically moving lyrics. (Compton"s Interactive

Encyclopedia "French Literature") Alphonse de Lamartine

"delicately analyzed his own emotions". (Compton"s

Interactive Encyclopedia "French Literature") Joseph de

Maistre, another major figure whose strong political views

made him totally oppose the war, still took the Revolution

in to consideration when writing. (60) Leinward supports

this idea when he says "Poets were moved by the great

events 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 the

Romantic Movement. (Harvey and Halestine 350) His

Hernani helped win the revolt against the classic rules of

literature. (Compton"s Interactive Encyclopedia, "French

Literature") His most famous work, Les Miserables, was a

novel 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. His

play, Chatterton, dramatized the misfortune of the poet in a

"materialist and pitiless" society. (Compton"s Interactive

Encyclopedia "Vigny") Alfred de Musset"s philosophical

poetry played a major role in the Romanticism of the

1820"s. (Compton"s Interactive Encyclopedia "French

Literature") Harvey and Heseltine say that "Musset is

usually classed with Hugo, Lamartine, and Vigny as one of

the four great figures of the Romantic Movement..."

(Harvey and Heseltine 502) His lyrical poetry mixed

suffering and passion such as in Le Souvenir. (502)

Lamartine, described by Harvey and Heseltine as "one of

the four great poets of the Romantic Movement" (390),

expressed his appreciation for nature as a "reflection of his

own moods" in his Meditations poetiques. (390) This

shows how Romantic poets could display their love for

nature and human qualities of thought at the same time.

Joseph de Maistre whose "inconsistent and impassioned

ideas [about the Revolution] influenced Vigny, was

impressed 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 and

celebrate it as being divine in Te Deum. (59) The research

presented in this paper has shown that the French

Revolution of 1789 greatly influenced the Romantic

literature of the proceeding 19th century France. The

French cultural values before and during the revolution have

been presented. The different aspects of Romanticism have

been reviewed in detail. Then relations with examples

between the Revolution and Romanticism were presented.

In closing, I have shown how the French Revolution has

had a remarkable effect on French Romantic literature in

the 19th century.  

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