French literary movement: Romanticism.
Period: first half of the 19th century.
Historical context: for France, after the Revolution and the Empire. After this period, artists return to the Catholic religion and are interested in the mysteries of the human soul, unlike the rationality of the Enlightenment and the questioning of religion. Additionally, romantic writers feel as if they were born too late, after the era of great revolutionary and Napoleonic epics.
Major authors: Chateaubriand, Hugo, Lamartine, De Vigny, Nodier, Musset, Dumas.
Major works: Les Misérables (1862), Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), Preface of Cromwell (1827), Hernani (1830) Victor Hugo, Méditations poétiques (1820) Lamartine, Du Génie du Christianisme (1802) Chateaubriand, Confession d’un enfant du siècle (1836), Lorenzaccio (1834) Musset.
Dominant literary genres: the ode, theater, novel, poetry.
Romanticism did not originate in France, but in Northern Europe in England and Germany. Authors such as Walter Scott, Lord Byron, or Goethe popularized this literary movement in England and in the German language. With historical novels such as Ivanhoe (1819) or Quentin Durward (1823), Walter Scott achieved success. Byron promoted romanticism mainly through his adventurous life, including participating in the Greek revolution in 1824. Goethe, on the other hand, truly brought romanticism into literature with his work The Sufferings of Young Werther (1774). In France, pre-romantic writers prepared for the advent of the 19th century, such as Rousseau or Diderot, who portrayed the loneliness of man in nature, or Madame de Staël, who popularized German romantics at the end of the 18th century, beginning of the 19th century.
French romanticism truly began with Chateaubriand, an idol of the entire romantic generation, with his book Du génie du Christianisme (1802). He addressed the theme of God and religion, countering the rationality of the Enlightenment. This tendency to return to Christianity constitutes one of the principles of romanticism. Romanticism takes its name from the novel (the literary genre forgotten in the 18th century), but also from Rome-antic: a return to the Catholic Church and Antiquity. As a result, many romantics traveled to Italy: Chateaubriand, Dumas, Lamartine (consul in Florence)… Animated through the « Cénacle » around Victor Hugo, or in the salon of Nodier, this literary movement placed the individual man at the center. A great defender of individualism and freedom, it portrayed the exaltation of the self (especially with lyricism), and focused mainly on the feelings and emotions of the characters.
This generation also felt orphaned by the great revolutionary and Napoleonic adventures, and did not recognize themselves in the weak and visionless regime of the Restoration (1815-1848, return of the monarchy with Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis-Phillipe). Wishing to integrate themselves into a European movement, their goal was both artistic and political, as Théophile Gautier wrote in his preface of Albertus: « Art is freedom. » Politically, romantics sought to promote freedom and collective struggles. This is evident in the involvement of romantics during the riots of 1830. Especially, the Second Republic of 1848 was partly inspired by them, to the point that it is called the Republic of poets or literary figures. Lamartine and Hugo became members of parliament and became involved in public debate. Lamartine even lost the presidential election to Napoleon III. The figure of Hugo as an engaged intellectual emerges. Works such as The Last Day of a Condemned Man (1829) (against the death penalty), Les Misérables (1862) or his poem Melancholia (1858, in Les Contemplations) (against poverty) or Les Châtiments (1853) (collection of poems directed against Napoleon III) supported by his exile during the reign of Napoleon III (1851-1869) prove his political consciousness.
Finally, the fight of romanticism is also artistic, by still seeking freedom from classical rules. They reject rules of decorum, not hesitating to show violence to audiences, or to neglect social status (by making a valet a powerful man of Spain in Ruy Blas by Hugo). Similarly, the rules of probability are questioned and the abandonment of place and time units in the name of artistic freedom. Again, it is Hugo who theorizes this idea in the preface of Cromwell (1827), and who triggers the controversy during the first performance of Hernani in 1830 during which supporters of romanticism and defenders of classicism fought in the theater. Romanticism triumphs in the first part of the 19th century. It defines itself as a European artistic movement (with painting with Delacroix, or music with Berlioz and Chopin). Its goals are artistic, breaking away from classicism during the « quarrel of Hernani », and political, with the engagement of great figures such as Hugo or Lamartine, with freedom as the first value. This movement left its mark on the 19th century, but in turn was challenged in the second half of the century by realism and naturalism.
Another literary movement: French literary movement : The Surrealism movement.
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