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                             STORIES OF HEARTS AND MINDS IN THE 19  CENTURY


            The 19  century conversation: Enlightenment and Romanticism
            Last term we applied the idea of escapism in Victorian culture more widely to explain
            the Victorian era as whole. But Victorian escapism was part of a wider European
            movement called by cultural historians Romanticism. Could we also apply this more
            widely to illuminate 19  century European history?

            The Romantic Movement is often seen as a movement in opposition to the 18
            century Enlightenment: emotion as opposed to reason. However, Romanticism has
            been more accurately described as “the problem child of the Enlightenment”.
            Romanticism arose and grew out of the Enlightenment, albeit as a backlash against
            some of its thinking. For this reason, it is better to see the 19  century as a
            “conversation” between the two, rather than as two distinct and directly opposing


            The background to all this is that the 19  century witnessed a pace and scale of
            change, social, economic, technological, political and intellectual, that was
            unprecedented. This resulted from the seismic waves of change generated by the
            scientific, French, American and Industrial Revolutions which preceded it.

            The speed and scale of 19  century change was unsettling. As we saw in our last
            session, it made many Victorians anxious. Some had the feeling that they were living
            through an age of transition. John Stuart Mill felt they had “outgrown old institutions
            and old doctrines, and not yet acquired new ones”, while poet Matthew Arnold felt
            he was “Wandering between two worlds, one dead/The other powerless to be
            born/With nowhere yet to rest my head”. Religious faith in particular was retreating.
            Arnold compared this to the sound of the shingle drawn by the tide on Dover beach:

            the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of faith. What would replace it was far
            from clear. Everything seemed in a state of flux.

            For this reason, the “conversation” between the two movements had a broad
            agenda. What was human nature? What sort of society did people need? What made
            government legitimate? What was knowledge? What were the purpose of science
            and technology? In these sessions we will look how a number of diverse 19  century
            individuals tried to answer these fundamental questions.
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