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.
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