The Romantic Period

The Stour Valley with the Church of Dedham. John Constable 1814

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
~from "The Tables Turned," William Wordsworth, 1798.

Background & Literature

Romanticism is the term applied to the literary and artistic movement that took place between 1785 and 1832 in Western Europe. Occurring in the context of the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, and the social, political, and economic changes that occurred following the Augustan Age, Romanticism moved away from an emphasis on the importance of an empirical, materilal worldview and looked to the imagination and nature as sources of insight. Writers expressed a great reverence for nature and believed that intuition, emotion, and imagination were more instructive than empiricism and reason. The Romantic Period overthrew the values instilled during the Augustan Age and strove to sever itself from the rigid writing styles of the ancient, classical examples of Virgil, Horace, and Homer. Instead, poets and authors were inspired to write in their own individual and creative voices.

Watch this video featuring professor Charles Robinson of the University of Delaware discussing the imagination in Romantic literature.

Here's a discussion of the Romantics and their ideas of transcendence:

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was a transformation for Britain in the 18th century. In terms of economic growth and technological advances, England was the first country to become industrialized. Machines were changing the agricultural economy of the past that relied on manual labor to this new industrial economy. It led to larger cities, new products, and a better manufacturing process. The growing population, and consequently the growing literacy rate, would also prove to create a huge change in communication as well as politics, technology, religion and society in general. More . . .

The French Revolution

Beginning in 1789 and ending in 1799 the French Revolution played a crucial role in transforming the political and social systems in France. During the revolution, France changed from a monarchy to a republic of free citizens. This Drastic move not only changed the political and social systems, but it also has a huge impact on the literary world. Writers like William Blake saw the revolution as society falling back into perfection where people could express their own opinions. More . . .

The Enclosure Acts

Between 1760-1820, agricultural land in Britain was consolidated and made more compact. "Wasteful" land was then taken from Lords and villagers in order to increase the efficiency of farming, to increase the productivity of the land, and ultimately to increase profits. These Enclosure Acts had many effects on English society, including many Romantic writers. More. . .

Cultural and Literary Contexts

Romantic Authors


Brians,Paul. "Romanticism." 11 Mar. 1998. 6 Mar 2008 < 303/romanticism.html>.

Goodvin, Renee.

"Industrial Revolution," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2007 © 1997-2007

"The Stour-Valley and the Church of Dedham":

Robinson, Charles. Video Interview. Produced by Julie Wigley. May 2008.

Contributors: Alexandra Conway, Lauren Stotz, Julie Wigley