Social and historical contexts of any time are influential in the formation of paradigms, which are then reflective in the immediate texts of that time, but also present impressionable ways of thinking that effectively imprint upon the minds of modern audiences. Whether it be contemporary criticism or adulation, there remains a high esteem for texts that were born from certain social circumstances, which become contextually significant in their insightful character, illuminating audiences about changing ideologies that shaped an era’s literature. Though contexts differ from the time of composition to the time of interpretation, parallels will still be drawn, becoming an avenue for understanding those paradigms that evolved human thought and sensibilities.
This perception is certainly applicable to the remarkable literature produced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by extensive social changes, which influenced the emergence of the revolutionary movement of Romanticism. Redefining the fundamental ways in which people thought about themselves and their world, Romanticism saw the paradigm shift from the Enlightenment emphasis on rationalism and science, introducing a shift in ideals towards insight through subjective reflection and sentiment. The rebellious spirit of the French Revolution and the dominance of the manufacturing industry caused by the Industrial Revolution repulsed the Romantics and they channeled their opposition through written expression.
Romantic texts born in this context are studied because of their capacity to unveil the radical ways of thinking and contextual paradigms that influenced composers. Modern scholars still seek new values within intensely analysed texts. M. Scrivener asserts in his article, Inside and Outside Romanticism that regardless of whether the goals of contemporary interpreters have changed, there is still an enthusiasm to read Romantic texts, to better understand the context and influences upon composers: ‘We are still within Romanticism, despite the strenuous efforts to propel us out of its gravitational force...our world is still shaped by Romantic assumptions...’
An examination of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Romantic poems, This Lime Tree Bower My Prison and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner portrays the enduring paradigms that were shaped and have shaped ideologies through composition and interpretation. Christina Rossetti’s poem, Goblin Market, similarly brings to the forefront Christian paradigms that were dominant in the nineteenth century. Another influential text, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey satirically presents a Gothic romance, influenced by Charlotte Lennox’s novel, The Female Quixote that offered an informative commentary on Victorian gender roles, notions of which were evolving through the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. Coleridge’s poetry rejected neo-classicism, detailing the central paradigms of Romanticism: individual experiences, nature, idealism, and imagination. Influenced by philosophies of Platonism, Kant, Locke, and new German idealism Coleridge’s poetry reflected Christian Pantheism and spirituality. Although Coleridge was outraged by the carnage of the French Revolution, he was experimental with poetic style, mirroring the revolutionary tide in Romanticism’s political paradigms, using language as ‘a new source of freedom’.
The Romantic ideologies presented by Coleridge remain impressionable to this day due to the remarkable sentiments he captures in his conversational poems, particularly the desire to return to an intangible, idealised state of autonomy through affliction. This is apparent in This Lime Tree Bower My Prison, where the persona physically confined and in despondency, ‘here in captivity I must remain…I have lost all Beauties and feelings,’ overcomes the confines of his captivity, learning to...