Literature 2


Literature – A Mirror Of Society Essay, Research Paper

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-

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.


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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