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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
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-
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Romanticism, Literary genres, German idealism, 18th-century French literature, Romantic music, Romantic poetry, Dark romanticism, revolution and romanticism, french romanticism, aspects of romanticism, eighteenth century literature, wave of emotion, interactive encyclopedia, peyre, stable government, profound change, cultural values, common people, french revolution, new laws, individuality, dictionary, revival, 19th century, moss, thompson, feelings
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