Our idea of the Romantic period of literature has changed almost beyond recognition in the past two decades. Gone are the days when critics could write about the six Romantic male poets dominating an otherwise empty literary landscape, wandering lonely as clouds or singing like nightingales. Now the canon has widened to include female writers, magazine journalists, scientists, travel guide compilers, politicians and polemicists, and the boundaries of the historical period termed “Romantic” have been extended back to the 18th century and forwards to the 19th.
Robin Jarvis’s useful guide is no exception. It is bound, within the criteria of Longman’s Literature in English series, to stick to the traditional chronology for the period: 1789-1830. But in other respects it takes full recognition of current trends in academic scholarship on Romanticism by investigating the political, social and cultural histories of the period and downplaying the poetic.
Politics, revolution, travel, colonialism and science kick-start the book; traditional Romantic topics such as beauty and myth appear towards the end. This is a book about the historical context for literature, rather than literature itself, and readers are invited to make the links for themselves. The chapter on religion marks an important addition to the topics conventionally discussed by Romantic scholars today.
The book, with its wealth of historical detail and up-to-the-minute bibliographies, is an essential resource for understanding the period. It is a good update on Marilyn Gaull’s excellent English Romanticism: The Human Context (1988). But those wanting to connect with the eccentric personalities and creative voices to draw them into the period should mix Jarvis with a dose of Marilyn Butler’s lively Romantics , Rebels and Reactionaries .
Jennifer Wallace is a fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge University.
The Romantic Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature 1789-1830. First edition
Author - Robin Jarvis
Publisher - Longman
Pages - 217
Price - £20.99
ISBN - 0 582 38239 4