Back in the early 1700’s there was a major literary movement shoo the very foundation of the world, creating what we have today. This period of course was the age of Enlightenment. It was a time of questioning philosophers, scientific advancement, political strife, and most importantly the birth of a new form of writing. It wasn’t long after the Enlightenment period however, a new era began. In the beginning days of the 19th century, during colonization and slavery, Romantic writing began to appear leading to what we now call the Romanticism era. A time of emotional pieces, creative art, and very outspoken artist. It is hard to say which period was the more impactful of today. Romanticism affects us in America more so, but it could be said the Enlightenment started the hole series of events.
“Why? How?” or even “Who?” Philosophers and scientist of the Enlightenment were focused on answering these questions of the world. There were many conclusions, many went against the churches ideals, such as Issacs Newton’s idea of “God as a watchmaker” (Puchner page 4) or David Hume’s “idea of individual, all had an impact on the society of time. Specifically, the hands and minds of the literary writers. Two notable ones being Moliere and Voltaire. Voltaire, responsible for the story of Candide, questioned the philosophy of mans optimism, his greed, and his denial. He was someone who truly emphasized the ideal of the time in his writing covering all aspects. The story of Candide is a comedy/tragedy that follows the life of a young boy named Candide who is thrown into a constant downward spiral of misfortune. His entire life Candide Lived by the Philosophy of his mentor Pangloss to know that “that things cannot be otherwise than they are, for since everything is made to serve an end, everything necessarily serves the best end.” (Puchner 425) In shorter terms, it means to never hate a moment in life because everything happens for a reason. Candide is tested shorty after when he is exiled from his home and begins his life of torment. He faced death many times, saw his love in a ragged state, heard the story of a poor old women. Even when his master was captured by the inquisitors and supposedly executed, he still tries to claim that “All will be well” (Puchner 436) when he speaks to Cunegonde. It becomes apparent that it isn’t optimism but instead denial that Candide shows. Skipping to the end of the story, Candide comes to a realization that leads to one of the most iconic quotes in Enlightenment literature. After all the hardships in his life Candide seems to finally have accepted that optimism has no place in his world. He makes the statement after speaking to an elderly farmer “That is very well put, but we must cultivate our own garden.” Showing that Candide can no longer be optimistic and hope for the best. He as well as all of us must focus on ourselves and make life as comfortable as possible. The overarching character development in Votarie’s Candide is based on the main character discovering that the way he as lived his life has been flawed and needs to change. This kind of plot development was common for in the time since it matched the trend of society.
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As it was hinted in the story, the church was the overarching power in the time and ruled by very strict guidelines. Many “Enlightenment thinkers sought to curtail the political power of organized religion” (Norton, George). These writers did just that by not only bringing to light the philosophical question like those explored in “Candide” or in Moliere’s “Tartuffe” but another method just as powerful, satire. “Satire calls attention to powerful presence of the irrational, opens that presence with the clarity of the satirist’s own claim to reason and tradition.”(Puchner 19) Another way of stating satire is that it is the authors way of addressing the issues of society with outlandish acts or topics. It was one of the first ways that literature directly address the government and societal issues, but it was the first to lead to a new wave.
If satire was the first step, then the next step would be directly stating the issue. That is the specialty of the Romantic artist. A defining characteristic of the Romanticism period was the transition from thoughts to one of emotion. Artist of the Romantic time made works that were direct expressions of their emotions and /or attempts to appeal to the emotions of their reader. America’s own Fredrick Douglas is a prime example of appealing to readers. He recounts the time he was taken away from his own mother saying, “it was a common practice” (Puchner 810) and gives vivid details of the life he lived such as watching “Kids eat from the trough like pigs” (Puchner 814). Douglas intentionally attacked people’s sense of morality, directly appealing to their humanity. Humans fear being ripped from family and being worked to death. Douglas showed society that those same fears were real for slaves. By doing this he changed the very foundation of American society. Another author who was noted for this was William Blake and his poem “Chimney Sweepers”. Douglas appealed to the emotions of others to make a point, Blake on the other hand used his emotions to change others. Blake was known as a man who would condemn all kinds of authority (Puchner 904). Even going so far as to say, “he admired the devil for his disobedience” (Puchner 904). But Blake was more than a disobedient author, he was also a man who wanted to see change. Particularly he wanted change in the child labor industry. To apply express his emotions Blake wrote “Chimney Sweepers” with the line about the children’s mindset: “And got with our bags & brushes to work…So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.” (Puchner 911) It was a point that the only consultation the kids had was to work hard and well so when they die, they can play with the angles. Blake was so passionate about his beliefs that it became almost contagious through his works. Both authors followed the ideal of Romanticism, to directly address the issue through the emotion and call for change. Whereas the ideas of enlightenment were focused on making people aware and letting them decide.
Enlightenment was all about “Rejecting the ‘truths’ of logic and mathematics” while Romanticism focused “the powers of the ‘underside’ of the human psyche: imagination, emotion” (Pellegrino). One would think the Romantics had the greater impact on society because of their direct influence and control on the socio-political nature of things but that door was opened by the Enlightened period. The Enlightenment period got people thinking about modern issues and got them to question the role of things. In what in this block of confusion and doubt that the Romanticism artist thrived. People were looking for a change and everybody had an idea of what they wanted so the Writers came in and told them what needed to be changed and how to do it. Because of their works, our own modern society is what it is today. We have free thought and the freedom to question because of the Enlightenment period. We are made aware of the issues that need to be fixed because of the Romanticism writers. It begs the question “Where would we be today as a society without those crucial periods in time?”
- Norton, George. “William Blake’s Chimney Sweeper Poems: a Close Reading.” The British Library, The British Library, 13 Feb. 2014, www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/william-blakes-chimney-sweeper-poems-a-close-reading.
- Pellegrino, Joe. “Introduction to Romanticism.” Romanticism, jpellegrino.com/teaching/romanticism.html
- Puchner, Martin. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. 9th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Puchner, 2014