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
(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 ) 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.