The French Revolution, true to its name, completely overthrew the traditional order of French society. At the same time, the impacts of the Revolution were felt on the battlefields of Europe. Another battle raged, namely that of culture, art, and literature. This sample essay explores the French Revolution’s impact on British Romanticism movements of the 1960s, centuries after Versailles fell.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution was a period of radical political and social uprisings that not only changed the course of history in France but also impacted the revolutions of the world. The ideology of freedom spearheaded by the Enlightenment and French Revolution impacted ideologies in the romantic literature by British poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who is often credited with helping to launch the romantic age post-French Revolution.
Also, although the French Revolution was centuries apart from the 1960s social and cultural revolutions in the UK and US; it remained emblematic, even if it was not directly linked. The French Revolution, although violent, brutal, and volatile in every sense, did not cause poets to lose their romantic ideologies of freedom, nor did its cautionary tale lose power completely during the political and social upheavals of the 1960’s civil rights movement.
British romantic ideology
First of all, before an ensuing example regarding British Romantic ideology affected by the French Revolution is discussed, the events of the French revolution that did affect such romanticisms must be pointed out. The French Revolution spearheaded by the Third Estate, which consisted of a revolutionary new assembly of the people whom violently took back freedoms, meant that for one of the first times during that era the power of the people became bluntly obvious in the wake of revolution (Macleod 695, 2007).
The results of the French Revolution were volatile and often failed the people. The subsequent actions of Robespierre in an attempt to stabilize the economy coupled by impending paranoia which resulted in the Reign of Terror and the execution of tens of thousands of French ‘rebels’ caused neighboring countries to take notice. After the repression ended, British scholarly and literary rhetoric shifted from radicalism in opposition of the Tory government to romanticism in 1809, which subsequently became the most respectable voice of opposition towards the Tory government (Macleod 695).
Therefore, subliminal and artistically delivered messages of opposition, characteristic of romanticism, became commonplace due in large part to the actions and consequences of the French Revolution. This does not mean that ideals of freedom were lost; rather, they were translated and often became subtext.
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Increased literary forgery during the French Revolution
British romantic poets very actively presented revolutionary ideals by means of literary forgery. In fact, many British romantic writers would come to see literary forgery to express Jacobin (radical revolutionary) ideology (Wiley, 801).
Samuel Coleridge’s poem The Raven, for example, makes an argument, “…familiar within the much radical writing of the 1790’s, that the denial of sustenance and (social, political, and physical) place will lead to popular disloyalty to the nation and government” (Wiley, 807).
This goes to show that British romantic poets inverted and challenged established representations of authoritative power, and such oppositions, while artfully articulated, were revolutionary within romanticism and literary forgery.
The French Revolution and modern day ideology
We must also consider a more modern-day influence of the French Revolution. The re-upheaval of romanticism in art forms of the 1960’s in the United States and Europe are emblematic of a counter-culture that coupled civil rights movements, youth movements, and the embrace of a variety of social groups (Cambell, 114). Romantic ideals of the revolution were translated once again through artists. One example of particular significance was the work of the Beatles.
However, to a certain extent, coupled with revolution, the cautionary tale of the French Revolution shone through. One way that the cautionary tale of the French Revolution shone through to the 1960’s, however indirectly, was the romantic ideals of peaceful protest. While violence ensued during this romanticized age of revolution and social upheaval, it was not nearly as violent, disorganized, and chaotic as the French Revolution when it came to mortality.
The French Revolution had clear influences on British romantic poets and writers during the time of revolution and post-revolution. While it did not discourage British romantic poets’ faith in revolution, it did sublimate ideology in the forms of forgery and romanticism. The 1960’s, a much later and much different time of the revolution, was influenced indirectly by the repercussions of the French Revolution, but the power of the tale still had force.
Cambell, Colin. “‘All You Need Is Love’: From Romance to Romanticism: The Beatles, Romantic Love and Cultural Change.” Etnofoor ROMANTIC LOVE 19.1 (2006): 111-23. Print.
Macleod, Emma Vincent. “British Attitudes To The French Revolution.” The Historical Journal 50.03 (2007): 689-709. Print.
Wiley, Michael. “Coleridge the s “The Raven” and the Forging of Radicalism.” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 43.4 (2003): 799-813. Print.