5 Romantic authors to make you fall in love with 19th century literature
While there was certainly no lack of soppy love poems during the Romantic period, meet five of the most transgressive and radical writers of the late 18th and 19th century who will make you fall in love with Romantic literature
The long 18th century and 19th century have long been heralded by literature lovers as the Romantic literary period. Appalled by Britain’s industrial revolution and impassioned by France’s socialist one, many writers of this period reacted literarily and voraciously, penning some of the sauciest, soppiest and sarcastic works England has ever seen, in a daring yet articulate defiance of authority that remains inspiring today.
From the obnoxious, ostentatious and very often opium fuelled, to the quietly subversive, sentimental and sublime, here are five of the best English writers of the long 18th century and 19th century who will make you fall in love with Romantic literature.
1. Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)
Lord Byron on his Death Bed, Credit: Joseph Denis Odevaere
Lord Byron was “mad, bad and dangerous to know” (according to his mistress Lady Caroline Lamb) and the epitome of the Byronic hero who encompasses everything that was so irresistibly outrageous about the Romantic period.
"Lord Byron was 'mad, bad and dangerous to know'"
Although celebrated as one of the greatest Romantic poets of his time by modern readers, many 19th century readers reviled Byron and his work as unbearably scandalous. This only sought to reinforce his status as a radical heartthrob—one of his lovers even sent him her bloody pubic hair enclosed with a love letter!
Selling 500 copies of his epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in just three days, Byron became the first major celebrity virtually overnight, invoking Byronmania long before Beatlemania hit the scene.
He died in Greece at only 38 years old, where he’d travelled to fight in the Greek war of independence, leaving a legacy both romantic and radical that remains as yet unrivalled.
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2. Jane Austen (1775-1817)
Jane Austen. Credit: Cassandra Austen
Romantic idealists can blame Jane Austen for their unrealistically high expectations of everlasting romance and coquettish chivalry. The male love interests in her novels are, generally speaking, usually pretty useless when it comes to romantic relationships, but nevertheless always manage to get the girl in the end with an earnest declaration they make her work for.
Although originally writing under the pseudonym "A Lady", Austen is one of the most prolific authors of the long 18th century, her novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion inspiring dreams of Darcy and lamentations of lost love throughout generations of readers.
"Jane Austen's quiet conservatism is actually a satire upon the lives of the upper class"
What people often forget about Austen though, amidst her literary proficiency and romantic revelations, is that her quiet conservatism is actually a satire upon the lives of the upper class. She certainly doesn’t shy away from humorous sarcasm in order to poke fun at those she disagrees with.
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3. Anne Brontë (1820-1849)
The Brontë sisters. Credit: Branwell Brontë
The lesser known Brontë sister, but nevertheless a true 19th century Yorkshire heroine—and in my opinion far more deserving of the title than her sisters Emily and Charlotte.
Born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, Anne moved to Haworth with her family when she was still a baby. The parsonage where the Brontë family lived is now open to the public as a biographical museum of their lives.
"Charlotte even blamed Anne’s premature death on the intensity of one of her novels"
Anne Brontë appalled her eldest sister Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre) with the gothic realism of her work, which depicted brutish husbands and economically independent women. Charlotte even blamed Anne’s premature death on the intensity of one of her novels.
Read Anne Brontë
4. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and Mary Shelley (1797-1851)
The Lover's Seat. Credit: William Powell Frith
Although this is technically two authors in one, it’s almost impossible to think of one Shelley without the other, especially considering the wealth of heart-wrenching, politically charged literature they collectively contributed to the world. After his death, Mary even kept Percy's heart in a little drawstring bag on her desk.
Although you might not know the name, you might know one of PB Shelley’s most famous lines from the Labour party’s political slogan For The Many Not The Few, taken from The Masque of Anarchy. A young radical and acquaintance of Lord Byron, Shelley wrote this poem to express his horror and anger at the murder of innocent civilians at the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester.
Mary Shelley is the author of Frankenstein, a gothic story about the pain of loneliness as a monster tries to find a sense of belonging. Instead of friendship, he finds himself ostracised as people look on him with disgust.
Mary was also the daughter of prolific author and mother of feminism, Mary Wollestoncraft.
Read PB Shelley:
Read Mary Shelley:
5. Robert Browning (1812-1889) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Credit: Thomas Buchanan Read
Sneaking in another famous literary couple to round off this list, Robert and Elizabeth (who often published under the pseudonym EBB) eloped just one year after they first met. Both were renowned Romantic poets during the 19th century, Robert for his dramatic monologue and physical portraiture, and Elizabeth for her passionate sonnets.
Robert Browning often included dark, gothic themes into his poetry. His poem Porphyria’s Lover tells the story of a murderous love affair resulting in the strangulation of the poem’s eponymous mistress.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning is perhaps most famous for her epic poem Aurora Leigh, a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age piece) which follows Aurora from her youth in Italy and England as she pursues a literary career.
Read Robert Brownin
Read Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
Banner credit: Theodoros Vryzakis
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