What was the social background of the Romantic period?
On March 20, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte, purveyor of revolution and liberalism, escaped his exile from Elba and re-entered Paris with a thousand soldiers. He had championed the once disenfranchised bourgeoisie, and they received him with a hero's welcome. But his blind ambition again clouded his romantic vision, and at the end of his famed Hundred Days' rule, he was defeated and then exiled.
Romantic poet Lord Byron welcomed Napoleon's Hundred Days rule and said of his defeat at Waterloo: "I'm damned sorry for it." That same year also brought defeat for Byron: the separation of his wife and rumors of "insanity, incest, and sodomy" by English critics, politicians, and poets alike (Wolfson 601). In April 1816, Byron exiled himself from England, later saying to those who opposed Napoleon and revolution: "O ye! who teach the ingenious youth of nations, Holland, France, England, Germany or Spain, I pray ye flog them upon all occasions, It mends their morals, never mind the pain" (Don Juan, Cato II).
He and Shelley, along with Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont, moved to Geneva, where he began writing the experimental closet-drama Manfred in 1817. After the "Shelleys" returned to England and Claire bore Byron an illegitimate daughter, Byron left for Venice where he finished Manfred in 1818. Again surrounded by relationship scandal, Byron's Italian exile produced Childe Harold's "longest and most sublime [canto], and its invocation of Freedom's torn banner streaming 'against the wind' fixed his revolutionary reputation". Byron later died in Greece fighting for revolution there, and while his poetry (and even letters) have come to symbolize the Napoleonic spirit of Revolution, his closet-drama stand forgotten, like the despairing Manfred, as a censure against his nation, his critics, and his own exile and guilt.
Some of the important features of the social background of the Romantic Period (1770-1850) are as follows:
1. At the beginning of the Romantic Period Britain was still largely an agrarian economy. However, by the end of the period it had become a rapidly industrializing nation. This was possible because of both the agrarian and industrial revolutions of the time.
2. During this period the population of the country more than doubled. This dramatic increase in the population expanded the labor force and it increased the demand for goods and services. This indirectly further spurred the industrial revolution which proved economically beneficial.
3. The rapid industrialization and the increasing population contributed to the process of urbanization and soon Britain became the world's first urbanized society.
4. There were remarkable developments in the transportation system. Better roads and the canal system enabled goods to be transported cheaply and quickly. The revolution in transportation culminated in the beginnings of the railway system.
5. The Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions resulted in the rise of a newly rich bourgeois or middle class. However, ownership of land was the single important marker of social status. The newly rich industrial and commercial class often tried to purchase social status by buying up land from the rural gentry.
6. Gender roles and sensibilities were clearly defined. Society was organized along patriarchal lines with the women confined to the domestic sphere so that men could play an active role in the public sphere.
7.In religion, Wesleyan Methodism led to an evangelical revival which led to a large number of poor down trodden people becoming Christian believers. Scholars believe that this to a large extent prevented a revolution like that of the French Revolution taking place in Britain.
8. A major historical and political event of this period was the French Revolution. All the Romantic poets initially supported the French Revolution with its promise of 'Liberty Equality and Fraternity.' However, this was soon followed by a reaction against the French Revolution by these same poets because of the excesses committed during the revolution which was followed by the rise of Napoleon who wanted to invade England.