Romanticism

What inspired the iconic poetry of the Romantic period, and how did the Romantic poets portray landscape, class, radicalism and the sublime?
Blake's two chimney sweepers

Blake's two chimney sweepers

Article by:
Linda Freedman

Songs of Innocence and of Experience contains two poems about young chimney sweepers: one in 'Innocence' and one in 'Experience'. Dr Linda Freedman considers how this allows for a complex, subtle engagement with the figure of the sweep.

Read more
Looking at the manuscript of William Blake’s ‘London’

Looking at the manuscript of William Blake’s ‘London’

Article by:
Linda Freedman

In his poem ‘London’ William Blake explores poverty, revolution and the power of the imagination. Dr Linda Freedman examines the original draft manuscript, to discover the meanings behind this iconic poem.

Read more
William Blake's radical politics

William Blake's radical politics

Article by:
Andrew Lincoln

The French Revolution inspired London radicals and reformers to increase their demands for change. Others called for moderation and stability, while the government tried to suppress radical activity. Professor Andrew Lincoln describes the political environment in which William Blake was writing.

Read more
The title page of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence (1789)

The title page of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence (1789)

Article by:
Michael Philips

Michael Phillips compares the title page of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence to an earlier children’s book, in order to reveal Blake's progressive views on the importance and power of childhood.

Read more
The music of William Blake's poetry

The music of William Blake's poetry

Article by:
Julian Walker

One of William Blake’s acquaintances described him singing his songs in social gatherings. Julian Walker considers how Blake intends us to understand the word ‘song’ – and why his volume of poetry is called Songs – rather than ‘Poems’ – of Innocence and Experience.

Read more
William Blake's radical politics

William Blake’s Chimney Sweeper poems: a close reading

Article by:
George Norton

George Norton shows how William Blake’s Chimney Sweeper poems highlight the injustice and brutality suffered by child chimney sweeps in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Read more
An introduction to 'The Tyger'

An introduction to 'The Tyger'

Article by:
George Norton

George Norton's close reading of William Blake’s 'The Tyger' considers the poem's imagery through 18th-century industrial and political revolutions and moral literature.

Read more
William Blake and 18th-century children’s literature

William Blake and 18th-century children’s literature

Article by:
Julian Walker

Julian Walker looks at William Blake’s poetry in the context of 18th-century children’s literature, considering how the poems’ attitudes towards childhood challenge traditional ideas about moral education during that period.

Read more
The Romantics

The Romantics

Article by:
Stephanie Forward

Dr Stephanie Forward explains the key ideas and influences of Romanticism, and considers their place in the work of writers including Wordsworth, Blake, P B Shelley and Keats.

Read more
The Peterloo Massacre

The Peterloo Massacre

Article by:
Ruth Mather

In August 1819 dozens of peaceful protestors were killed and hundreds injured at what became known as the Peterloo Massacre. Ruth Mather examines the origins, response and aftermath of this key early 19th century political event.

Read more
An introduction to ‘Ozymandias’

An introduction to ‘Ozymandias’

Article by:
Stephen Hebron

Stephen Hebron looks at P B Shelley’s 'Ozymandias', showing how his use of form and vocabulary produce a poem that transcends its sources.

Read more
An introduction to 'The Masque of Anarchy'

An introduction to 'The Masque of Anarchy'

Article by:
John Mullan

Professor John Mullan analyses how Shelley transformed his political passion, and a personal grudge, into poetry.

Read more
An introduction to ‘Tintern Abbey’

An introduction to ‘Tintern Abbey’

Article by:
Philip Shaw

Professor Philip Shaw considers the composition of 'Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey', and explains how Wordsworth uses nature to explore ideas of connection and unity.

Read more
‘Proved upon our pulses’: Keats in context

‘Proved upon our pulses’: Keats in context

Article by:
Andrew Motion

Keats is often seen as a purely sensual poet, isolated from the social and political concerns of his day. Andrew Motion challenges this view, exploring how Keats translated political, philosophical and medical questions into physical, immediate language.

Read more
John Keats and ‘negative capability’

John Keats and ‘negative capability’

Article by:
Stephen Hebron

Stephen Hebron explores Keats’s understanding of negative capability, a concept which prizes intuition and uncertainty above reason and knowledge.

Read more
An introduction to Don Juan

An introduction to Don Juan

Article by:
Stephanie Forward

What does Don Juan tell us about Byron’s view of society and his fellow authors? Dr Stephanie Forward explains what we can learn from the poem’s form, narrator and reception.

Read more
An introduction to ‘To a Skylark’

An introduction to ‘To a Skylark’

Article by:
Stephen Hebron

P B Shelley's 'To a Skylark' was inspired by the song of a real skylark, heard in Italy in 1820. Stephen Hebron considers how Shelley transforms ordinary experience into a plea to move beyond that experience to a deeper poetic understanding.

Read more
Perceptions of childhood

Perceptions of childhood

Article by:
Kimberley Reynolds

In the mid-18th century, childhood began to be viewed in a positive light, as a state of freedom and innocence. Professor Kimberley Reynolds explores how this new approach influenced 18th and 19th-century writers, some of whom wished they could preserve childhood indefinitely.

Read more
John Keats, Poet-Physician

John Keats, poet-physician

Article by:
Sharon Ruston

Keats trained as an apothecary and a surgeon before deciding to dedicate himself to poetry. Professor Sharon Ruston considers how his medical background influenced his writing.

Read more
Representations of drugs in 19th-century literature

Representations of drugs in 19th-century literature

Article by:
Sharon Ruston

Opium was widely available in the 19th century, sold by barbers, tobacconists and stationers. Writers including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens all used the drug, for pleasure or as medicine. Professor Sharon Ruston explores how drugs provided both inspiration and subject matter for the literature of the period.

Read more
Looking at the manuscript of William Blake’s ‘London’

Looking at the manuscript of William Blake’s ‘London’

Article by:
Linda Freedman

In his poem ‘London’ William Blake explores poverty, revolution and the power of the imagination. Dr Linda Freedman examines the original draft manuscript, to discover the meanings behind this iconic poem.

Read more
‘To Autumn’: a city dweller’s perspective

‘To Autumn’: a city dweller’s perspective

Article by:
Daljit Nagra

Poet Daljit Nagra explores Keats’s personification of nature in his final poem, ‘To Autumn’, and how it was influenced by the poet’s experience of suffering and loss.

Read more
Landscape and the Sublime

Landscape and the Sublime

Article by:
Philip Shaw

Professor Philip Shaw considers how Romantic writers thought about the grandest and most terrifying aspects of nature, and the ways in which their writing responded to and influenced theories of the sublime.

Read more
An introduction to 'Ode on Melancholy'

An introduction to 'Ode on Melancholy'

Article by:
Stephen Hebron

What is melancholy? Stephen Hebron examines changing ideas about the emotion, considering Keats’s suggestion that we embrace melancholy as inextricable from pleasure.

Read more
An introduction to ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’: time, mortality and beauty

An introduction to ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’: time, mortality and beauty

Article by:
Stephen Hebron

Stephen Hebron explains how a classical object inspired Keats’s consideration of human experience.

Read more
An introduction to 'Ode to a Nightingale'

An introduction to 'Ode to a Nightingale'

Article by:
Stephen Hebron

The nightingale has longstanding literary associations, but Keats’s famous ode was inspired by a real-life nightingale as much as by previous poetry. Stephen Hebron considers how Keats uses the bird to position poetic imagination between the mortal and the immortal.

Read more
The Romantics and Italy

The Romantics and Italy

Article by:
Stephen Hebron

Stephen Hebron examines how both the idea and the reality of Italy shaped Romantic writing.

Read more
The Romantics and Classical Greece

The Romantics and Classical Greece

Article by:
Stephen Hebron

The Romantic period was one of growing interest in ancient Greece. Stephen Hebron explores how this shaped the subject matter and forms of the era’s poets.

Read more
Lord Byron, 19th-century bad boy

Lord Byron, 19th-century bad boy

Article by:
Clara Drummond

Clara Drummond explains how Lord Byron’s politics, relationships and views on other poets led to his reputation of 19th-century bad boy.

Read more
An introduction to 'Kubla Khan: or A Vision in a Dream'

An introduction to 'Kubla Khan: or A Vision in a Dream'

Article by:
Seamus Perry

Dr Seamus Perry considers the composition and publication history of 'Kubla Khan', and explores how Coleridge transforms language into both image and music.

Read more
Kubla Khan and Coleridge's exotic language

Kubla Khan and Coleridge's exotic language

Article by:
Daljit Nagra

Poet Daljit Nagra explains how Coleridge uses language, form and imagery to create the heady exoticism of Kubla Khan.

Read more
An introduction to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

An introduction to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Article by:
Seamus Perry

Dr Seamus Perry describes the origins of 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' and considers how Coleridge uses the poem to explore ideas of sin, suffering and salvation.

Read more
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Lord Byron and the Battle of Waterloo

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Lord Byron and the Battle of Waterloo

Article by:
Philip Shaw

Professor Philip Shaw traces the influence of the Battle of Waterloo on the third canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, considering how Byron uses it to explore ideas of violence and sacrifice.

Read more
Wordsworth and the sublime

Wordsworth and the sublime

Article by:
Philip Shaw

Professor Philip Shaw explores the role of the sublime in Wordsworth's autobiographical Prelude, explaining how the poet uses the concept to investigate nature, imagination and the divine.

Read more
A ‘cargo of Songs’: Robert Burns, the Hastie manuscript and The Scots Musical Museum

A ‘cargo of Songs’: Robert Burns, the Hastie manuscript and The Scots Musical Museum

Article by:
Robert Irvine

Dr Robert Irvine examines the Hastie manuscript, a collection of manuscript songs by Robert Burns, and The Scots Musical Museum, where they were ultimately published.

Read more
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Villa Diodati

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Villa Diodati

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

Greg Buzwell describes the bizarre circumstances that gave rise to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the other works that emerged from the ‘ghost story challenge’ at the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816.

Read more
'Composed upon Westminster Bridge'

'Composed upon Westminster Bridge'

Article by:
John Mullan

Wordsworth’s vision of London’s serene beauty was composed on the roof of a coach - the poet was en route to France to meet his illegitimate daughter Caroline for the first time. Professor John Mullan explores the background to the poem.

Read more
Robert Burns: a career in verse

Robert Burns: a career in verse

Article by:
Robert Irvine

Dr Robert Irvine considers the career of Robert Burns as a writer driven more by the excitement of writing and collecting verse than the desire for outward success, despite achieving long-term fame as Scotland’s ‘national bard’.

Read more

Further themes

The Gothic

What characterises Gothic literature and what does it reveal about the periods in which it was written?

Childhood and children's literature

Was children’s literature intended to entertain or instruct?

Crime and crime fiction

Why was crime such a popular subject in 19th-century fiction?

The novel 1780-1832

From Georgian gentry to Gothic horror, what characterised the literature of this period?

The novel 1832 - 1880

How did the iconic writers of this period experiment with fantasy, sensationalism, realism and social commentary?

Fin de siècle

How did the literature of this period reflect attitudes to gender, sexuality, immigration, class and scientific discovery?

Victorian poetry

How did the Victorian poets approach composition, form and language, and what inspired their subjects?

Popular culture

From music hall to pleasure gardens, explore the extraordinary range of entertainments on offer in Georgian and Victorian Britain.

Poverty and the working classes

How did Victorian writers respond to the shocking inequalities of Victorian society?

Power and politics

How did writers respond to the tumultuous political events of this period?

Reading and print culture

How did rising literacy rates, libraries and new technologies influence the literature people read?

Technology and science

How did 19th century authors respond to the new possibilities afforded by technology and science?

The middle classes

How were the tensions surrounding social mobility explored in the literature of the period?

Visions of the future

How did the 19th-century literature reflect contemporary fears of social, political and technological change?

Gender and sexuality

How were gender roles embedded in the literature of the period and were they ever subverted?