L332 2117 WILLIAMS
Romantic Literature

11:15a-12:05p MWF (30) 3 cr.

The British Romantic Period (1789-1832) is one that saw revolutions in both literary sensibilities and sociopolitical structures. On the literary side, it signals an explosion of cultural activity of an entirely new variety, particularly in the poetic genres: among the poets and novelists whose careers fall in this period are William Blake (1757-1827), Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1798), William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), Jane Austen (1775-1817), Lord Byron (1788-1824), Percy Shelley (1792-1822), John Keats (1795-1821) and Mary Shelley (1797-1851). In social and political developments, England felt the cataclysmic shocks of the French Revolution (beginning in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille), among whose effects must be numbered the pressure for increased democratization (leading to the vote for adult property-owning males in 1832) and the abolition of the slave trade in England (1807). In addition, the period witnessed the growth in manufacturing which has since come to be known as the Industrial Revolution. This increase in factory production, and the establishment of factory towns belching smoke into the atmosphere, has a direct effect on one of the elements for which Romantic literature is best known: its depiction of nature. Nature will therefore serve as a prime focus for our work during the semester, as we think about the ways in which the Romantics created an idea of nature as a way of criticizing and resisting the dominant tendencies of their time. We will, however, raise crucial questions about the Romantics’ deployment of nature: What are the limits of a Romantic conception of nature? Did nature sometimes serve to divert attention from other, more pressing, political and historical concerns? Did the Romantic conception of nature really lead to a more careful preservation of the environment or was it a contributing factor to the exploitation of that environment? These questions won’t be the only ones we ask, but they will serve as touchstones throughout the semester. 3 essays, a mid-term and a final, will be the basis of assessment for the course.