Works that belonged to the male poets of the Romantic era were characterised by their exposition on man’s life itself, relationships, their nature, the world in which this equation existed and the dynamics with which it did. A blend of how the society function, politics that were intrinsic to the set up, traditions and their power, all of it was addressed. For quite a while, these subjects and themes as well as these poets stayed the centre of Romanticism. It wasn’t until the women came along with their viewpoints that their position was dislodged.
At first, the women writers were perceived as softer, less sensible versions of their male counterparts. Critics had a field day and commented on how the works of women poets in this particular era were overtly emotional and bordered on sentimental as well. The tradition of sentiment and sensibility also had gendered associations, of being popular, sensuous, irrational, uncontrolled and written by women ‘scribblers. ’ But women poets could also work critically within the tradition of sensibility. A key example is Charlotte Smith who used the motifs and figures of the tradition while at the same time undermining their structure.
One of the ideas that became crucial to Romanticism’s resolution and consolation was the poet’s recording and remembering of suffering to produce the poem as an edifying and redeeming cultural response to suffering (Women Romantic Poets, Claire Colebrook). Male poets in the Romantic era were also noted for the way in which they perceived things and the world at large, which inevitably affected the way they expressed themselves in their poems. Men for example, had a more artistic view of anything in nature that was magnificent or inspirational.
They praised this style in nature, pointed their readers to the marvel and moved on the next. Women poets in the Romantic era on the other hand were a tad bit different. They did not look at nature merely as an artistic part of life that needed to be exalted. Instead they considered any receptive and approachable part of nature as a means by which mankind could nurture themselves. They were able to relate to it, consider themselves as part of the scene, part of the big picture they saw, and were able to identify where they fit into the plan.
Letitia Landon, writing much later than Smith and Robinson, is a key figure in this argument for a different aesthetic tradition. Her poem The Lost Pleiad is written just before Byron’s death but published the year after (1825). If Keats’ Endymion and Shelley’s Alasto are also poems of loss, and reflections on how poetry emerges from loss, Letitia Landon’s poem is distinct in that the poetic voice is not elevated or transformed through mourning; there is no redemption, and there is a clear sense of a loss that remains unmarked and unnoted by history.
In The Lost Pleiad she laments the fall of Byron’s literary fame and does so by taking on a persona, Cyrene, who is lamenting her love for Cyris. The star or pleiad Cyrene abandons her place in the starry sky for the sake of her love, but she is ultimately abandoned. Landon’s poem is both an allegory of female loss and suffering and a critique of a simple liberty. (Women Romantic Poets, Claire Colebrook). If one were to scrutinize every poem ever written during the Romantic era, the differences between male and women poets will never cease to exist.
While the job of the critic may seem to carry on forever, it is the duty of the appreciative eye to realise that the beauty that lies in these poems is the focus, and not the source. In the words of a poem from an anonymous female poet during the Romantic era, “When we correctly place the glass, and view things truly as they pass, By seeing in a proper light, our conduct may be just and right: But many, who to sense pretend, gazing thro’ the improper end, With pompous arrogance declare, the thing they see is round or square,
Is great or small, is dark or pale, then act, and wonder when they fail. ”(British Women Romantic Poets Project) In conclusion, I return to my initial statement ? writing of any form that came from women writers during the Industrial Revolution ought not to be judged too harshly for the conditions were definitely not the friendliest ones in which they could be creative. The works of art that went on to be produced during this period show stark differences from the works of the male poets.
Women writers took on the onus of giving their readers a blanket to fall back on a layer of dreams that had the perfect blend of reality, works that would go on to touch people across professions and classes. Poetry for women during the Romantic era was more than just a form of expression, it was their platform to speak their mind ? the way Carolina Nairne did when she spoke of male arrogance in the poem The Laird O’ Cockpen. Poetry was a cathartic process to the women who suffered through the Industrial Revolution ? the way it was for Mary Lamb who went through severe mental trauma and used her poetry as part of the recovery process. Surely these women were heroes?
If they could state their point in a male-dominated set up and be able to last the test of time? Yes they do, if we’re willing to set aside the obsession to compare them with every male poet that does exist in the Romantic era. If they were to be seen in their own light, which would suffice, women poets of the Romantic period had achieved something great they had created a niche for themselves, they had started something!
1. The Plight of Women’s Work in the Early Industrial Revolution in England and Wales. 11 Feb. 2006. Women in World History Curriculum. 2 Jan, 2008. http://www.ed.ac.uk