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A belief in the importance of the individual not only shaped the world of the Romantics, it

was also a major determinant of the concerns, forms and features of the texts they
composed.

In a shift away from the neo-classical traditions of the Enlightenment, the Romantics dispelled
notions of the everyman and instead became preoccupied with articulating their personal
experiences. Following the failure of the French Revolution and the resultant Napoleonic Wars,
writers and artists of the period began to draw more from the inner world of individual
imagination, which not only transformed their ways of thinking, but also their forms of creative
expression. However, the dominance of male writers including William Wordsworth and Samuel
Taylor Coleridge in the Romantic canon, raises questions as to whether individualism was a
masculinist concept, reflecting the entrenched patriarchal values of the Romantics. The female
individual is often lost within the solipsistic manifestations of male individualism and its
representations as wanderer or visionary. An examination of the journals of Dorothy
Wordsworth and artworks of Caspar David Friedrich illustrate the domestic restrictions placed
upon females in the formulation of their individual identities.

Coleridges Kubla Khan illustrates the male brand of individualism in Romanticism through the
depiction of man as visionary. The Mongol warlord Kubla Khan is effectively a poetic, creator
figure and his kingdom is the result of the power of the imagination which is symbolised by
the mighty fountain whose uninhibited flow may also be seen as a distinctly Freudian image of
a male sexual experience. Coleridges deviation from poetic convention is seen in the poems
form as a fragment where the poem is presented as paradoxically complete in its incomplete
form, representing the pleasurable activity of mind excited by the attractions of the journey
itself rather than a restless desire to arrive at the final solution (Biographia Literaria), which
promotes individual introspection and imagination, which is heightened by the supernatural
undertones of the poem. These undertones peak when Coleridge adds the presence of the
woman wailing for her demon lover. An air of desperation and surrounds the woman as she
cries for her assumedly male lover which is contrasted by the dominance of the God-like
emperor with His flashing eyes, his floating hair!, whose air of dominance remains unphased
through the depiction of nature as an overwhelmingly dangerous and sublime force, ultimately
depicting the dominance of the male individual within the period.

Coleridges manipulation of the traditional ballad form in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (as
revived Thomas Percy) allows exploration of similar notions of male dominance and solipsism
by establishing his own individuality as a poet and allowing the emotional depiction of male as
wandering Jew. The Mariner has embarked on what Magnuson has called a spiritual voyage
towards heightened awareness where he finds himself alone, alone, all, all alone/ Alone on a
wide wide sea, with repetition and assonance intensifying his solidarity within nature and
combining with distorted stanzas to augment the effect of the supernatural. While critics differ as
to whether the Mariners heightened awareness brings him salvation, or whether he is doomed
to remain a perpetual exile retelling his tale as the poete maudit, it is apparent that in any case,
the Romantic quest in search of the awakening on the imagination was central within society but
remained an exclusively male opportunity.
The transformation of the quest narrative is clearly evidenced in Wordsworths The Prelude
with his creation of a new form of autobiographical verse, having been influenced by the
tradition of confessional literature such as St Augustines Confessions. Written in the shadow of
his disillusionment with the French Revolution, The Prelude prompted Wordsworth to write
introspectively, thus influencing his alteration of the traditional epic form, adding a distinctly
lyrical quality to enable a psychological investigation of the growth of the poets mind and in
doing so, depicts the subconscious need for man to be dominant over woman. The Boat Stealing
episode of book one is described by feminist critic Daniel Watkins as primarily mastubatory in
nature as he reads the poets rowing of the boat and the rising of the craggy steep before him
through a distinctly Freudian lens, shedding light on their erotic symbolism. In this episode, the
poets individual understanding arises both from his relationship with the grandeur of nature as
it influences his developing psyche, along with his undeniable links with masculinity and the
entrenched patriarchal values of the time. Wordsworth personifies the boat as feminine as he
unloosened her chain, simultaneously asserting dominance over the feminine object and
depicting woman as restricted until freed under the control of man.

This masculinist view of individualism is further portrayed in Wordsworths Tintern Abbey


wherein the introspective tone of the poem, makes it difficult for the reader to identify the
presence of the poets dear, dear sister until the final stanza. When her presence is known, it
appears as if Wordsworth is attempting to project his old self onto his sister, for which critic John
Barrell accuses him of infantilising Dorothy and preventing her from becoming fully
autonomous. Lost in the solipsistic nature of male individualism, Wordsworth aims to capture
"the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" through the language really used by men, and
in doing so creates individualised and personal poetry, allowing the exploration of the poets
attainment of the thoughts of more deep seclusion. The use of first person language within
Wordsworths variation of the 18th century tradition of topographical verse helps to establish
what Keats described as the egotistical sublime, adding credibility to the poets highly
individual experience which reaches its reaches its climax in the poets realisation of the role he
has in the creation of his own experience; Of eye, and ear,both what they half create, / And
what perceive, which aligns with Kants philosophies of the mind as active rather than passive.
The poet is able to create his own individual experience as he wanders amongst nature with his
thoughts of more deep seclusion, but in doing so, he runs the risk of infantilising his sister,
reflecting once again the masculinist nature of the Romantic individual.

Dorothy, who relied heavily upon her brother for financial and emotional stability, depicts in her
Grasmere Journals a graphic and detailed record of destitution in wartime Grasmere with her
concern for the half crazy old man and the numerous other beggars being one of the focal
aspects of the journals. Given Dorothys personal context (having been orphaned and sent away
at age six), we can see her persistent preoccupation with the idea of home and thus the domestic
nature of her individuality. Her attunement to William is evident in the journals where she,
having read and transcribed her brothers poetry pretty well daily, adopts iambic pentameter the
wind was up & the waters sounding, particularly in her descriptions of nature. Otherwise, the
journals feature a sequence of details or thoughts strung together by dashes, documenting with a
tone of immediacy the quotidian goings on of her life. Dorothys sense of self is made up of her
attunement with the community seen in her entry about the daffodils: some rested their heads
upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced. Her
experience is one of consciousness of others and complete immersion and is contrasted by
Williams documentation of the same event where he describes the daffodils as an entirely
separate and unified body over which he dominates.

This dichotomy between male and female concepts of the individual during the Romantic
movement is evidenced in Friedrichs paintings Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) and
Woman at a Window (1822) wherein we are once again presented with male as wanderer and
woman as bound to individuality within domesticity. Wanderer is the very image of the
egotistical sublime, with the mans dominance illustrated through his placement in the exact
centre of the image, with all vectors leading to him. The paintings vertical composition was
unusual for landscape paintings of this time, but is here employed by Friedrich to emphasise the
figures uprightness and height above the landscape. The use of the Rckenfigur (the figure
turned backwards) adds a tone of mystery to the painting and serves to establish a point of view
perspective, allowing the viewer to slip into the wanderers perception. The fog may be taken as
a symbol for the Sublime, masking the landscape and causing the figure (along with the viewer)
to half create his experience.The woman is also forced to half create her own individual
experience, however this is not due to a mystical and symbolic mist. She is instead restricted by
domesticity and the traditional northern European tradition of rigid geometry, and thus sees little
of the natural world through her small window. The painting also features vertical composition
and the Rckenfigur, with the woman positioned at the bottom of the frame, visually dominated
by the vastness of the sky above her and the rigid verticals that frame her. Separated from nature
by windows and walls, the woman is not given the chance to flourish or discover her individual
power. Breaking the geometry of the painting is right tilted mast of a ship outside the window,
creating the illusion of forward movement which comes to metaphorically represent the passing
by of the womans life while she remains domestically confined. When contrasting these
paintings, it becomes clear that within the Romantic period, the male individual is dominant, and
the female individual remains dominated by both her surroundings and by the roles forced upon
her by the patriarchy.

In the Romantic period, a belief in the importance of the individual was significant in shaping the
concerns, forms and features of the texts composed. However, the notion of individualism varied
significantly in its manifestations, and was a largely masculinist concept serving to further
entrench the patriarchal values of the period and place continual domestic restraint upon women
and their development of individuality.