Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries : English Literature and its Background 1760-1830, Paperback

Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries : English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 Paperback

Part of the Opus series

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


The Age of Revolutions and its aftermath is unparalleled in English literature.

Its poets include Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats; its novelists, Jane Austen and Scott. But how is it that some of these writers were apparently swept up in Romanticism, and others not?

Studies of Romanticism have tended to adopt the Romantic viewpoint.

They value creativity, imagination and originality - ideas which nineteenth-century writers themselves used to promote a new image of their calling.

Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries puts the movement in to its historical setting and provides a new insight in Romanticism itself, showing that one of the most dynamic and stressful periods of modern times fostered a literature that was itself various and contradictory.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 222 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Literary essays
  • ISBN: 9780192891327



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Wonderful history of the English romantics: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Austen, Scott, Bryon, Shelley and Keats.Romanticism has often been tagged revolutionary: its adherents boldly rejecting literary rules. Butler argues that the real revolutionaries were the neo-classicists or primitivists of the preceding period: 1760-1790, when belief in freedom, progress and reform was widespread. The neo-classical style, championing noble simplicity, was identified (or at least associated) with political enlightenment. According to Butler, Blake and Wordsworth (the Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth) were not romantic innovators. They were firmly attached to the tradition (alas, a recently new tradition) of neo-classicism and noble simplicity. What was so special about them wasn’t their content or their style, but the fact that they still employed it in the late 1790s. That is: after the big, fat counterrevolution that started in late 1792. This is Butler’s second important point: neo-classicism and the revolutionary spirit where almost eliminated in the 1790s. After the fall of the bastille, the assassination of Louis 16 and the start of the english-french war, the english no longer favoured ideas of freedom and progress. In fact, the very idea of ‘ideas’ became suspicious, associated with radicals, anarchy, atheism. Coleridge is a key example of this new zeitgeist: apolitical, anti-intellectual, very religious, attached to ‘old english’ values, retreated into a private world of melancholic personal feelings. Austen also belongs here: her books a defense of ‘good old-fashioned’ gentry values. Scott is more bi-partisan, but still opposed to political reform (on the other hand he resembles the juste milieu-type exemplified by restoration-france politician Guizot). Later on, in the 1810s, a new generation of literary radicals takes the stage: Shelley, Byron, Keats. Again, they link classicism’s clarity with the revolutionary cause. But they’re not so optimistic anymore. Ok, a better society may be eventually, but surely not in their lifetime. However their melancholy is not like Coleridge’s. Their private pessimism is concealed by a public embrace of comical satire, an ironic and detached commentary on society (Byron’s Beppo and Don Juan for instance). To them Coleridge seems a shady weakling, wallowing in german mysticism, an egoistic hermit. I really love how Butler weaves together the literary, the personal and the political (and one hundred other factors). Her style is great: smooth, clear, fresh, to the point and sometimes a bit poetic. She’s a cool and razor-sharp observator of literary careers, but between the lines you feel her compassion with these small men caught up in history. Recommended.

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