Romantic Victorians: English Literature, 1824-1840

By Richard Cronin | Go to book overview

5
Civilizing Romanticism

I

In the space of a few years, from the late 1820s, a series of events changed, and changed radically, the relationship of the citizen to the state. The London University was founded in 1826 (students were first admitted two years later). Before then, there were only two English universities, both of them closed to students who were not members of the Church of England. 1 Robert Browning, for example, was brought up as a non-conformist, but in 1828 he was able to attend courses at the new university. In the same year the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed, extending full civil rights to Dissenters, and in 1829 the Catholic Relief Bill carried Catholic emancipation. Finally, in 1832 the Great Reform Act was passed, increasing from roughly 5 to roughly 10 per cent the proportion of adult males entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections. It is the last of these events that was best remembered. George Eliot, for example, chose the period of agitation leading up to the Bill as the setting for both Felix Holt (1866) and Middlemarch (1871–2). Although Felix Holt, in particular, seems implicitly concerned with the debate preceding the Reform Act of 1867, the fact that the novel is set in the early 1830s in itself registers George Eliot's recognition that the formation of the idea that both novels explore had its origin in the earlier period. It was an idea of which the four events I have described were both a cause and an effect, the idea that membership of civil society at once conferred rights and imposed duties, the idea, in short, of citizenship.

In March, 1845, Aubrey de Vere visited Wordsworth at Rydal Mount, and read to him two of Tennyson's poems, ‘You ask me why, though ill at ease’, and ‘Of old sat Freedom on the heights’. Wordsworth listened with ‘a gradually deepening attention, and ‘after a pause he answered,

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Romantic Victorians: English Literature, 1824-1840
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Memorializing Romanticism 15
  • 2 - Historicizing Romanticism 45
  • 3 - Feminizing Romanticism 67
  • 4 - Fashioning Romanticism 109
  • 5 - Civilizing Romanticism 143
  • 6 - Realizing Romanticism 194
  • 7 - Christening Romanticism 214
  • 8 - Domesticating Romanticism 237
  • Conclusion 251
  • Notes 261
  • Index 289
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