Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries

By Marilyn Butler,

Book cover of Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and Its Background, 1760-1830

Book description

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…

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Why read it?

2 authors picked Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This book about rebels itself rebels against historians such as Abrams, who view Romanticism as a single movement unified by an expressive theory of art. 

Instead, Butler argues, there are many different sorts of Romantics, and they are best understood not through theories of art but through "the fierce personal and artistic politics of an age in the midst of profound change." That Age of Revolution had begun in the 1760s, and the ordering of the arts reflects debates about the social standing of the arts, not any consensus. Butler relishes these conflicts.

She pays attention to the groundswell of…

This is much more interesting than its dull subtitle would suggest. In fewer than 200 pages Butler gives a surprisingly thorough account of the major British writers of the time, not only their works but their lives, their connections with each other, and their opinions about politics as well as literature. She deals with many more writers than Abrams does, though unlike him she does not explore themes at much length. The “background” in the subtitle includes the French Revolution and the industrial revolution, the two greatest events of the modern world, not over yet. 

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