The Romantic period - often defined as beginning in 1780, 1789, or 1798 and ending in 1830, 1832, or 1837 - was a watershed moment for British women’s writing. That statement now seems so self-evident and inarguable that it is difficult to believe that, just a few decades ago, it was neither. The Romantic period has long been characterized as a time of innovation and change in both literary form and content, as well as a momentous era of new political thought and social upheaval. But for most of the twentieth century, the term "Romantic" did not serve to plumb the depths of that innovation and change. Instead, it focused on a small number of writers said to be the greatest ones. The Romantic period separated out the writings of what came to be called the Big Six male poets - William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and Lord Byron - placing them at the center of a new tradition. Despite our pigeonholing them in this way, the Big Six penned more than poetry, and most did not imagine themselves as in league with each other. Writers we now call part of the Romantic period in Great Britain certainly did not label themselves Romantics. That labeling came into wide use later, as critics looked back on this period of literary history. Other so-called minor male writers also came to be considered Romantic, among them Thomas De Quincey, William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and Robert Southey. But prior to the 1980s, as Stephen C. Behrendt’s chapter in this book carefully describes, the study of British Romanticism did not encompass many - or sometimes any - women writers. This is strange, because, as Behrendt notes, between 1770 and 1835, there were at least 500 women publishing poetry in Great Britain.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Arts and Humanities