Romanticism Essay

3671 words - 15 pages


"In spite of its representation of potentially diabolical and satanic
powers, its historical and geographic location and its satire on
extreme Calvinism, James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a
Justified Sinner proves to be a novel that a dramatises a crisis of
identity, a theme which is very much a Romantic concern." Discuss.

Examination of Romantic texts provides us with only a limited and much
debated degree of commonality. However despite the disparity of
Romanticism (or Romanticisms) as a movement it would be true to say
that a prevalent aspect of Romantic literature that unites many
different forms of the movement, is a concern with the divided self.

As the empirical Rationalism of the eighteenth century was partially
subverted by the subjective metaphysical reflection in the nineteenth
artists tended to examine wider issues from an introspective starting
point. The idea of the divided self became a motif from Blake's
"Albion" to Byron's Manfred to Keat's musings on the disassociated
nature of the Poetic Self. Some writers personified this division in
distinct physical manifestations, usually a hero and his inverse
doppelganger. Most famously in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the
various "selves" in De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater
and in the complex mirroring of major characters in James Hogg's
ambiguous masterpiece Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified

Although critics (as Andrea Henderson in Romantic Identities) have
debated the extent that Romanticism dramatises divisive crises with
the psychological self , the vast majority of writing on the subject
agrees that "crisis of identity" is certainly a "Romantic concern".
Hugo Donelley draws attention to the "Modernist stance" that the
"central flow of Romanticism" is the "disabling division of
the [intellectual and emotional] personality." (Donelley, 484).
Griffiths agrees that the "central distinctive feature of Romanticism
is the search for a reconciliation between the inner vision and the
outer experience." Duncan Wu asserts that Romantic texts are often
concerned with "division..and reunion between the body and the
spirit." (Wu, xvii). David Oakleaf specifically applies this theme to
Confessions identifying it as Robert Wringhim's "refusal to accept
himself as both a spiritual and corporeal creature." (Oakleaf, 27).

It is worth noting that Hogg himself felt somewhat torn between his
traditional "spiritual" side and his intellectual "corporeal" side. We
shall see that this is a biographical detail of Hogg's life that
spills over considerably in his depiction of a crisis of identity in

It is also worth remembering that what is conveniently termed the
"Romantic period" was one of great social and political division.
Britain itself was undergoing a societal "crisis of identity"
catalysed by the industrial revolution, increased literacy and the
noble beginnings of the French Revolution. As a result the literature

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