In my research of the Romantic Era in England, the years roughly between 1780-1830, I expected to find a world vastly different from my own.
Populated by persons in copious amounts of clothing, riding antiquated coaches for transportation and living in virtual dark or candlelight save for natural daylight, the time period I’m fascinated with what seems somewhat fuzzy, distant both in time and space and for lack of a better term, ‘romanticized’. The literature of the time has proved lofty and often inaccessible, further eluding the picture I want to express in my mind and on the page.
I’ve discovered an Encyclopedia of Romanticism, complied and edited by Laura Dabundo, professor emeritus of Kennesaw State University. No less than 136 contributors wrote on topics such as the ‘frame narrative’, the Luddites, and individuals who made history in literature and art during that time, Samuel Coleridge, John Constable, Mary Lamb, John Keats, the Shelleys, the Brontes, and many others. A daunting endeavor, the book is a wealth of information now some 20 years old. I am indebted to Dabundo, wrote to tell her so, and received a prompt and warm reply via email.
During a recent long car trip (I have a wonderful husband who drives while I read) I have perused and taken notes from entries that served my purpose, cross referencing terms I was not familiar with on the internet. And what surprise, to find most commonly among the artistic class (who were primarily middle class), romantics in the struggle for virtue or the disdain of it, waves of riches, poverty and debt, unforeseen turns of fortune, lovelorn tragedy, physical ailments of all kinds including rampant mental illness, opium addictions, political and journalistic intrigue, conflicts of all sorts including family and religious feuds. In short, they seem so much like us that I’m chagrined to admit to the rosy glasses I’d worn.
Surprise turns to relief however as I realize to the extent that I am able to honestly face my own experiences I will be able to portray with an even hand this very real world. Understanding a culture is an intoxicating venture, because it involves interacting with stories, and such stories￼￼ I find to be so common in our own day as to be found my daily twitter feed.
Humbled and sheepish to declare my intent with modest resources, (I’m an American writing about England for starters) I nevertheless embark on a mission of love. I hope to be able to further illuminate the life of Adele, already immortalized by Charlotte Brontë in her most well-known work, Jane Eyre, whose characters have been living inside my own consciousness for decades.
In attempting a work such as this one may never feel finished, but I am indebted to so many, Dabundo included, for a broad foundation of knowledge and research with which to start.
My work in progress is the culmination of a lifelong fascination with the subject matter. Why and how it has taken me so long to begin is my own story of chance and choice.
Perhaps that will be next.