Literature - a Mirror of Society

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 ezdards for

the citizens, including newer, less imposing literary ezdards.

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 outezding

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-


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-