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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Romantic Movement

European cultural development, starting in the mid-18C, in which Britain played an important part. The movement involved so many diverging strands, in both literature and art, that a precise definition is impossible. The central theme was perhaps a rejection of the 18C faith in reason, preferring the power of the imagination and the intensity of individual experience. Untamed nature and the mysteries of the supernatural began to seem, from about 1760, more attractive than the orderly middle ground of polite society; and the rich chaos of the Middle Ages set the mind dreaming more fervently than the well-ordered discipline of classical architecture and literature.

Early manifestations of this mood in Britain were the *Gothic Revival and the fashion for the *picturesque. In literature the poems of *Ossian and *Chatterton were fakes, but that hardly seemed to matter when they evoked so pleasantly a distant Celtic twilight. The fustian became more convincing, with greater evidence of solid research, in the influential recreations by Walter *Scott of a historical past. *Frankenstein raised the tingle level above anything available from earlier Gothic novels, but it was in *Wuthering Heights that the dark excitement of Romantic fiction proved its real power in an intensity of genuine feeling.

The all-importance of imagination in the Romantic movement is exemplified in the poetry and painting of William *Blake, a lone spirit in a strange mythological world of his own devising – one which would be ridiculous if not created with such conviction. With another type of artist the style of life becomes in itself a Romantic performance, in a tradition which peaks with *Byron but leads as far as *Wilde.

Four other writers share with Byron the heyday of the Romantic movement in English poetry – *Wordsworth and *Coleridge, *Shelley and *Keats. A good example of how nature and the supernatural can coexist under the umbrella term of Romanticism is *Lyrical Ballads; Wordsworth's poems, concentrating intently on everyday experience, share the volume with the fantastic nightmare of Coleridge's *Ancient Mariner.

There is a similar contrast between Britain's two greatest Romantic painters. *Constable finds magic in the minutely observed fall of light on leaf and water, meadow and cloud; *Turner eventually allows light to overwhelm his images in such an intoxicating blaze of colour that detail vanishes. Between these two extremes of nature and the supernatural lies the area of least interest to the Romantic artist – the drawing-room, so sharply observed at the same period by Jane *Austen.

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