Print Culture 1800-1889: The Romantics

“The period saw the rise of a new sort of cultural figure, …the professional literary critic” -Gordan

Close Reading

The early 19th century represents a “reading awakening”. Due to advancements in science, travel, and printing techniques the cost of the published media decreased substantially. Moreover, books could be shipped and sold to more remote areas, allowing more individuals the opportunity to read and write. Gordon (2020) explains that with this increase a new cog in the book cycle emerged, “the literary critic”(p.2).

Percy Shelley claimed in A Defense of Poetry that, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (L. 39033). The addition of the literary critic in the book cycle represented a new opportunity for writers to inspire cultural and political change. Gordon notes that with the increase of “quarterly reviews and popular monthly magazines to lavish anthologies and penny newspapers,” concerns about the effects of biases created controversy. Further, states that “Nineteenth century literary historians worried that early criticism was overly political, subservient to patrons, and an instrument of bald careerism” (p. 26). Notably, the literary critic separated the author from their work, allowing the literary critic to interpret their meaning.

Prior to this period, printed material was still limited to the wealthy, educated, or ministerial class. Books were more expensive to produce and propagate. Further, the advances of science and print in the previous century “had shifted attention away from the darkness of the human interior, a zone terrorized by fear of God” (Blanning, 2011). Certainly, print culture contributed to the many political and culture shifts occurring up to the early 1800’s. Revolutionaries spread printed information and propaganda promoting their causes. Science and technologies advanced changing the methods of the production of goods. Finally, printed information on Science and technologies allowed increased understanding and triggered the culture’s inquisitive spirit. These cultural changes inspired a the period of Romanticism writers. While Romanticism is difficult to pin down, notably these writers did not realize they were creating the movement, there are some traits that help identify Romantics. For instance, Romantic writing often valued emotion, humanism, imagination, childhood, the “sublime”- and how you reach it. These poets started building a sense of “self” and created more autobiographical poetry and philosophies. The considered reason as lacking, and often overthrew traditional ideas of religion, hierarchy. They are curious how about how “life” is defined and also inspired by fear and death. Their work continues to interest and trigger debates today among authors, literary critics, and philosophers.

Bibliography of Romantic Book History & the Literary Critic

For more information and Sources visit the References page here.

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