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The term “sublime” refers to any form which expresses noble or elevated feelings and behaviours. Edward Burke, in the
19th century, wrote a book showing the difference between beautiful and sublime: while beautiful is a feature of
harmony, something perfect because it reflects the classic canons, sublime is something that can be beautiful only for a
single person. The sublime is what causes astonishment, it produces admiration, reverence, respect and terror. We are
terrified by the vastness of the ocean, by the obscurity which the extent of a danger from us, by what is powerful, by
what is infinite. In art, Burke lists as sources of sublimity: magnitude, unfinishedness, difficulty, magnificence, colour
(sublime excludes white, green, yellow, blue, pale red, violet, while requires black, brown or deep purple. The sublime
has its roots in the feelings of fear and horror created by what is infinite and terrible, like void, obscurity, loneliness,
silence; the night is sublime whereas the day is beautiful. The taste for obscurity, terror and introspection became the
distinguishing feature of the Gothic novel. Burke’s theory was developed by Immanuel Kant in his “Critique of
Judgement”, in which he stated that the sublime derives from the free conflict between sensibility and reason.


The concept of the sublime influenced the so-called Gothic novel. The adjective “gothic” was first applied in
architecture, the writer Horace Walpole used this term in the first Gothic novel “The Castle of Otranto”, because he was
obsessed by the miniature castle at Strawberry Hill and so he established a link between the Gothic architecture and
Gothic literature. Gothic novels aimed the fear in the reader and the nature of this fear seems reflected this historical
moment. The most important Gothic novel was “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley.

Mary Shelley was born in 1797, and, during her life, she was influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution. Her
emotional life was troubled, while her intellectual life was very successful: in fact, her house was often visited by
Romantic poets (like Coleridge). He went to France with her husband, and there she found the inspiration to write her
masterpiece “Frankenstein”, which at first was published anonymously. Later he returned to England; she died in 1851.
Scientific subjects always influenced Mary Shelley, like science, chemistry, scientific theories and experiments (in fact
“Frankenstein” deals with a scientific experiment).
Frankenstein is the masterpiece of Shelley. The story tells about a doctor, Victor Frankenstein, who tries to create a
human being with many parts selected from other bodies. To make this experiment, he uses electricity and chemistry.
This experiment was not a success, in fact the monster turns out to be a murdered, and he even destroys his creator.
For Rousseau, Frankenstein is considered as a rational man, in a primitive state without civilisation. The themes in the
novel are: social prejudices, usurpation of female roles, penetration of nature’s secret, the double, the overreacher and
the quest for forbidden knowledge.

English Romanticism covers the period between the French Revolution and the coronation of Queen Victoria; it was a
movement different from Enlightment: where Enlightment had emphasised objectivity and reason, Romanticism valued
subjectivity and irrational human nature (emotion, imagination, introspection). The Romantic writers (like Coleridge
and Wordsworth) gave voice to a period full of social changes.

In the last thirty years of the 18 century, a new sensibility became dominant, known as Romanticism in literature. This
sensibility was composed by feelings, emotions, individualism, introspection and nostalgia. There was a new view of
the man in the universe. The relationship between reason and emotions expressed itself with nature. There was a new
taste for past reality and a new concept of nature that was perceived as a manifestation of a divine power. Imagination
became an experience not bound to reason. In this period the Romantic poets thought that a child was purer than an
adult because of his distance from civilisation, and this brought him closer to God.


In this period the Romantics emphasised the significance of the individual and they exalted the atypical, the outcast, the
rebel and the figure of the hero. Rousseau said that the individual personality was influenced by evil and corruption.

William Wordsworth was born in 1770 in the English Lake District, and later he went to France, where he developed
his democratic ideals. He remained disappointed by the war between France and England. His masterpiece was “The
Prelude”, while other works are “Lyrical Ballads” and “Preface”. He died in 1850.
Wordsworth was interested in the relationship between the human consciousness and the natural world, and in his works
there is an interaction between man and nature, that were inseparables, and man is an active participant in it. The five
senses had great importance, because they could help to perceive nature. For him, poetry took origin from tranquillity
and the power of memory, and emotions could be purified in a poetic form. The power of imagination enabled
Wordsworth to communicate his knowledge.
Daffodils is an important poem written by William Wordsworth; in it we can see the importance of the nature for the
author. In the first line, the speaker is described as a lonely cloud (spirit of isolation). The poem is rich of visual imagery,
which describes the appreciation of nature by the author. The words are simple and profound, and his work is related
with nature and universe. He uses natural phenomena as ways to speak about his feelings and his emotions.


Samuel Coleridge was born in Devonshire, and later he was influenced by the French Revolution ideals. He was a
republican, and when he tried to make a community in Pennsylvania, he failed. He published the collection “Lyrical
Ballads”, which includes his masterpiece “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Biographia Literaria” (a classic text
written as an autobiography).
For Coleridge “imagination” had a great importance; there were a “primary imagination” (images produced by the
fusion between perception and human individual power) and a “secondary imagination” (which makes new worlds with
its power). Imagination was based on the power of association of material already provided.
A new view of nature
According to Coleridge, nature is not a moral guide or a source of consolation. His contemplation of nature wasn’t
identified with a divine power because of his strong Christian faith. He saw nature and the material world as the
projection of the “real” world of ideas on the flux of time.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The ballad is made up of seven parts and is set in a boundless sea with days of pitiless sun and nights lit by the moon. It
is introduced by an “Argument” containing a short summary of the whole poem.