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The romantics of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century was the reaction against the Enlightenment and Classical rationality. Unlike the rational and analytical thinking of classical thinkers, romantics allowed their emotions to take over. Painters escaped the rigid form of straight lines and proportions and painted swirling and colorful paintings, novelists and composers broke the rigid forms and essentially produced works that expressed feelings, the awe of nature, and the belief that gaining experience is more beneficial to learning. Perhaps the most influential minds of romanticism were the French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Many credit Rousseau as the “Father” of romanticism, due to his belief of spiritual freedom from any power, and his emphasis on expression of emotions. Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther published in 1774 also contributed in the spread of romanticism due to its emphasis on rebellion based on belief and emotions. Another novel, Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelly accurately portrays many aspects of the romantic era. Victor’s quest for knowledge shows the rational side and serves as the foil to the individual emotions and needs. One of the main romantic topics in Shelly’s novel is the concept of an overpowering nature that has the ability to soothe or destroy.
Published in 1818, the novel had aspects of both Gothic and Romantic ideals imbedded within the pages. Shelly’s depiction of nature is shown throughout the novel. In one scene, Victor was “the only unquiet thing that wandered restless in a scene so beautiful and heavenly…tempted to plunge into the silent lake, that the waters might close over me and my calamities forever”. The concept of a sublime nature is portrayed in this scene by the idea that the calmness and serenity of nature has the ability to calm a person down. The romantic nature is idealized as unconquerable, awe-inspiring figure. In addition, the element of suicide is present, which may have been influenced by Werther, in which suicide is presented as a form of expressing rebellion and a voice of freedom from authority. Another example of a soothing nature would be when Victor observed the “the lightnings playing on the summit of Mont Blanc in the most beautiful figures”.
Even though romanticism focuses on the portrayal of nature, it has a deeper meaning.
Other than obtaining utmost calmness, nature also provides a way for authors to express themselves within the novel.
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Within Frankenstein, it has been noted that many of parts of the novel where suggested or written by Percy himself.
The other side of nature, in contrast with the soothing and sublime nature, also depicts the ideals of romanticism as domination over mankind. The Artic chase is a clear example of this in two ways. First, the initial narrator, Robert Walpole sought to traverse the Artic in hope of benefiting society, but in the end, he is fueled like a true romantic, seeking adventure and glory. Secondly, Victor’s death occurs on the Artic plains, signifying that hardships from nature can destroy man who seeks to obtain unlimited knowledge. Another portrayal of nature dominating over man is the Orkney Islands. Victor Frankenstein hoped to create the monster companion in peace and away from the monster, but finds that it was able to follow him to the islands. This could be interpreted as a way in which nature knows everything that one does, as a supreme being would. In order for Victor Frankenstein to escape the monster, Frankenstein thinks to commit suicide, but is only stopped at the idea of his fiancée, Elizabeth. The act of committing suicide for a noble cause is a parallel to Goethe’s Werther, symbolizing a romantic concept.
The Romantic Movement in the late eighteenth affected all levels of society through novels, arts, and compositions. As shown in Frankenstein, each and every work of art at the time followed the Romantic ideal. For example, romantics believe that all man should be able to express himself without restraint based on their true emotions. In addition, they also believed that people should act out without rationalizing, only feelings.
Another example is the constant fear of nature, as well as the imagery of nature as sublime, enabling people to act out in reaction to nature. Of the many artists and novelists during the era, the ones discussed in this paper all were true Romantics, expressing their feelings, emotions, and ideas in their works. Concerning the topic of nature as a whole, the painter Caspar David Friedrich painted “Wanderer on the Sea of Fog”, the poet Sir Walter Scott created “Coronach”, and finally, the composer Saint-Saens composed his masterpiece, “The Carnival of the Animals”. These three artists in their works depicted themselves and their works as truly Romantic.
Sir Walter Scott, a Scottish novelist and poet, was born in Edinburgh on August 15, 1771, and was raised as a lawyer. Many of his Romantic works include poems such as “Marmion”, “The Lady of the Lake”, “The Bridal of Triermain”, and “The Lord of the Isles”. He was presented with the poet laureateship of England in 1813, but refused and suggested another poet, Robert Southey. In addition to his poems, Scott also wrote many novels. His first, Waverley, was published in 1814 and brought about a string of novels.
His most famous novel, Ivanhoe, published in 1819, was a historical fiction based upon the Saxon and Norman medieval age, being one of the first major historical novelists. In his poem, “The Lady of the Lake”, published in 1813, is about the Arthurian Legend. In Canto III, shown below is titled “Coronach” and is about the mourning of a passing friend.In this poem, the villagers are mourning over the death of a friend who has died and is no longer able to aid the village. To clarify, “font” is abbreviated from fountain, and “correi” the hollow side of the hill where game usually lies. The most noticeable significance of nature is portrayed in the beginning and the end. “He is gone on the mountain/he is lost to the forest…. Like the dew on the mountain/like the foam on the river”. This idea of nature devouring the human being is similar to the romantic point of view about how nature can either destroy or calm the human soul. However, the poem does not mean that nature had taken the man, but rather it has taken shelter of the lost soul.
The German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, was born on 1774, and painted “Wanderer on the Sea of Fog” in 1818. This painting (look at last page), ultimately depicts the human desire for peace and calmness. The wanderer, after climbing up a rugged mountain looks out and observes a sea of fog, and is probably thinking how large the world really is, and is also staying in a state of spiritual isolation, away from mankind, separated by fog and rock, and obtaining the knowledge through true experience. Another opinion on the painting could be that the wanderer has wandered across the globe in search for the meaning of life and after climbing the mountain, he realizes that life’s only purpose is to enjoy the beauty of nature, and look at life as a period of time in which man can experience as much as possible. This point of view counters the enlightened and classical thinkers in a way since they believed that all occurrences should be analyzed and rationalized.
Finally, the composer, Saint-Saens, in 1886 composed what he thought was “amicable” and “private”. In his Carnival of the Animals: A Grand Zoological Fantasy, Saint-Saens composed fourteen movements based upon the animals at a zoo, including a “pianist” and “persons with long ears”. In his first movement, Introduction and Royal March of the Lion, the piano solo is depicted as a herald, announcing the entrance of the royal king, the Lion. The strings are the Lion, strutting across the parade grounds, and the chromatic scales running up and down could represent the roar of the Lion. In Hens and Cockerels, the violins and viola screech and mock the hens and cockerels. The Wild Asses are represented by the frantic playing on the piano as they usually appear in nature.
The next movement, the Tortoises are depicted by the low strings in a slow six eight tempo. The Elephant is shown as the double bass telling a story about his life. The Kangaroos are jumping around as the piano plays its arpeggios, in quick succession after each other, mocking the springy and jumpy motions of the Kangaroo. The Aquarium is a mysterious piece, with the glockenspiel in the background playing full arpeggios while the flute and oboe play fourths and fifths, giving a mysterious tone. The Persons with Long Ears is an annoying piece for those with out-of-tune notes. The glissando of the violins represents the sound of an annoying person who talks and talks. The Cuckoo in the Depths the Woods is telling its sad story of how it is giving its young to another bird to raise, as the cuckoo bird does in nature. The Aviary can be imagined with the flutters of the flute representing a bird in flight, along side with the piano. The Pianists are represented as animals showcased in a zoo playing repeated scales, an essential practicing skill for all musicians. In Fossils, the bones are represented as the xylophone beating outs its story. Oddly, a trace of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is heard in the middle of the piece. The Swan, the only piece allowed to be heard before Saint-Saens death is also the most commonly known. The Cello represents the Swan as a large, mellow and beautiful bird in the pond. Finally, the Finale incorporates many of the animals portrayed, including the Lion, Hens, the Aviary, Wild Asses, Kangaroos, and Fossils, truly making this the Carnival of the Animals. Saint-Saens is truly a romantic composing a piece that would have been ridiculed as a joke. Unfortunately, it was declared his best work. The idea of depicting each animal using only fourteen instruments was ingenious, and depicts the living nature as a common being that also feels emotions.
The Romantic era and nature was simple, yet also emotional. People began to realize what profound effect nature had on themselves and society, and sought to imitate or enhance the beauty of it. In Frankenstein, beauty of nature is combined with is destructive powers and soothing calmness, while in Scott’s “Coronach”, it is the shelter for lost souls and the confinements of love. Also, compared to Frankenstein, the painting by Friedrich, “Wanderer in the Sea of Fog” parallels to Victor Frankenstein, lost in life, and finds that nature can reveal that experience in life is far more important that obtained knowledge. And finally, the “Carnival of Animals” by Saint-Saens represents the closeness that humans share with animals as we can represent them through instruments.
The Romantics has brought upon society a feeling and closeness to nature far better than analyzing has done.