Cultural Values as a Mirror of French Literature
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 economy (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 Europe) 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