The Romantic Period 1789-1832

Key concepts

Key events

Key authors

Wider Contexts

Freedom – political and religious





The particular/the individual /the celebration of the self




The poet




Strict styles and forms rejected

(The spinning mill 1769)


(The American Declaration of Independence 1776)


The Industrial Revolution


The French Revolution 1789


The defeat of Napoleon in the fields of Waterloo (Belgium) in 1815


The Peterloo Massacre 1819 – a workers’ demonstration which was violently suppressed


The First Reform Bill 1832


William Blake (1757 – 1827)


William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)


Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1776-1849)


George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)


Percy B. Shelley (1792-1822)

John Keats (1795-1821)



Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Jane Austen (1775-1817)


Mary Shelley (1797-1851)


Edgar Allan Poe (Am) (1809-1849)


William Blake, “London”, 1794; “The Ecchoing Green”, 1789; “The Garden of Love”, 1794; “The Schoolboy”, 1794; “The Tyger”, 1794


William Wordsworth, “The Tables Turned”, 1798; “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge”, 1802; “My Heart Leaps Up”, 1802


John Keats, “Letter to Fanny Brawne”, 1819 “Bright Star”, 1838


Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813


E.A. Poe, ”The Tell-Tale Heart”, 1843 (American Romanticism 1830-1865)


Walt Whitman (Am), ”When I Heard the Learned Astronomer”, 1865


Historical and Social Context


The political context of the beginning of the Romantic Period is the French Revolution in 1789, the focus of which was to create political and social freedom, equality and brotherhood. The intention was to abolish the power of the ruling classes and create democracy. These ideas were prevalent in America where the Declaration of Independence had been signed already in 1776. In England political reform gradually developed after some minor disturbances, but without a direct revolution, and in 1832 The Reform Act was passed with the intention of increasing parliamentary representation and reducing corruption.



At the end of the 18th century manual labour and draught-animal power had come to be replaced by machine-based production. This development started in the textile industry, but quickly spread to other areas of production. As the development of the railway engine introduced the production of trains, and as factories came to be built away from agricultural centres, people began to move from agricultural areas to towns and cities. Thousands of people moving from country to town between 1750 and 1850 changed England from a society based mainly on farming to a society where urban slums were now visible in many cities. Working conditions were grim: people worked up to 16 hours a day, and the pay was miserable. Add to this inhuman working conditions and child labour. The consequence was, however, that by 1800 England was the most industrialized country in the world, and exports had risen by 500% since 1700. But even if the per capita income increased as a consequence of industrialization, all family members had to work for families to survive. Poverty among the urban population was great, and insufficient housing was common. 


Literary Context

In 1785 the pre-Romantic poet William Cowper [ku:pә] wrote in The Task “that God made the country, and man made the town”. The Romantics were enthusiastic about nature and especially appreciated areas in nature which had not been touched by human intervention. Simple rural life, which had not been influenced or ruined by the Industrial Revolution and in which man still lived in harmony with nature, was seen as ideal. Parallel to this, childhood was considered a pure period in life characterized by freedom and not distorted by adult norms and conventions. This idea spread after the publication in 1798 of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and is reflected in much Romantic poetry. A key idea in Lyrical Ballads was to speak for the ordinary people about other people in a language which could be understood by everybody. The Romantics focused on the individual’s right to imagine and to articulate his emotions and deal with everyday life. In this connection, the task of the poet to express  the ideas and feelings experienced by people became important. This can be seen as a reaction to the previous Age of Reason when the general and the rational had played a dominant part.


Another genre in the Romantic Period was the novel. Three main categories of novel can be defined the first of which is the Gothic novel. Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is a case in point. Gothic novels dealt with fantastic and macabre creatures and incidents and often contained supernatural elements. This novel can be interpreted as a parable of man’s interference with nature, a criticism of some people’s trust in the powers of science or it can be seen as a symbol of alienation. The setting of Gothic literature would often be haunted castles among ruins and graveyards in wild landscapes far away from civilization. We can still see the influence of Gothic literature in fiction and films today.

Another type of novel is the novel of manners. An author whose novels of manners have become extremely popular through their adaptation for film and TV and mash-up novels are those written by Jane Austen.  She was particularly interested in social hierarchies, human relations and people’s treatment of each other.

The historical novel is the last type to be mentioned here, and an important novelist is Sir Walter Scott, who dealt with another important aspect of Romanticism, namely history or the past, as can be seen in Ivanhoe from 1819, his novel about knights and the Crusades . From a literary point of view Sir Walter Scott’s death in 1832 marks the end of the Romantic Period.



draught-animal                 trækdyr, der trak møller m.m. rundt

the Crusades                     korstogene