Charlotte Smith’s Relationship to Romanticism
Romanticism was a movement that appeared in late 18th and early 19th century as a response to the prevailing Enlightenment ideals of rational and skeptical. Romantic poetry was of an absolutely new kind: it emphasized the power of intuition and feelings over reason and the rational thought. It praised nature and refused moralization; as a result, new forms of language started to appear in poetry. The most well-known English Romantic poets were male – Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Blake, Keats, Shelley. However, we cannot underestimate the contribution of female poets to Romantic poetry, especially the role of Charlotte Smith (1749–1806). The quality of female Romantic poetry has always been a debatable issue. M. Alexander in her book ‘Women in Romanticism’ (1989:1) refers to the image of a girl in Jean-Jaques Rousseau’s novel who is learning how to write and suddenly catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. The girl is so discomforted with the sight of herself writing that she throws away her pen. I think this example illustrates the public attitude of Smith’s time to woman writers very well – writing was considered to be unfeminine, and ‘unnatural’. In this essay I will try to reveal Charlotte Smith as belonging to Romanticism movement and having a significant contribution to it. As J. Labbe (2003:19) notes, ‘Much of what we have learned about Romanticism from studying Wordsworth’s texts is ultimately traceable, instead, to Smith’s’. In my opinion, this poet reveals the typical features of Romantic poetry characteristic also of male Romantics; however, these features in Smith’s poetry still have some specifics connected to certain extent with gender. To prove my point, I will refer to such features as self-reflectivity, the presentation and meaning of nature, the reflection of social protest and the mood of Smith’s poetry.
One of the main aspects of Romantic poetry is self-inflection, or the Egotistical Sublime. This feature is definitely present in Smith’s poetry, but is different in some aspects from, let’s say, the sublime in Coleridge’s or Wordsworth’s works. As McGann (1985:73) notes, ‘Romantic poems take up transcendent and ideal subjects because these subjects occupy areas of critical uncertainty’. …
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