As the twentieth century witnesses an exponential growth of knowledge, rationality is able to delineate the different aspects of art and culture. Literature, one of the best creations of the ages, became a target point of these studies. The post-modernist criticism of art and sculpture, including all the fine arts and even literature as well, is an important aspect of this kind. So to say, the reactions of every theory came up as an assertion or a challenge to that peculiar understanding of the very concept of modernism.
The issues of sex and gender are the common suppositions of postmodern era in which the text is understood on these above-mentioned grounds, which are very much realistic and practical in their respective approaches. The ability of expressing knowledge and subject matter doesn’t only come up with the meaning of subjective expression, but the professional and social institutions also reflected themselves in these things. This concept has drawn the attention of readers towards the language of discourse, which Jacques Derrida particularly emphasized on truth, falsity, unity and also diversity of man and woman to understand a text. Therefore, the concept of critical deconstruction of a text (both written and oral) started.
The feminist approach of interpreting the text started as the postmodern responses of all these things and dealt with all these issues in the form of art and architecture. Feminist anthropologists – Francis Mascia, Lees, Patricia Sharpe and Colleen Cohen attacked these studies for centring on the sexist nature for the pretentious search of “truth”. The concept that women have been created and defined as “other” by men has long been argued and explored by the criticism of this kind. However, this concept of ‘otherness’ came basically by the writings of the middle class white women from Europe and North America. Thus, the theory propounded by these scholars “explained” women on the grounds of reality from all classes, races and cultures.
The phenomenon of the “Cult of Sensibility” propelled in the literature of the Romantic period that changed the aesthetic understanding of the work of art as it was a period of sensibilities and sympathies inspired by the outbursts of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’. Definitely, we find this type of literature that “makes sensibility interesting for feminist analysis is that it anticipates the more masculine-oriented high point of Romanticism in many respects. The writers of the Romantic period – William Wordsworth, S.T. Coleridge, P.B. Shelley and John Keats – used sympathy as the most prominent feature of their poetry based on the sensibility, which provided “a way for the artist to imagine human feeling through personal experience”.
The poets of this ‘High Romantic’ school, so to say, were full of sensibility in their mode, genre, topic and state. This included William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Wordsworth’s The Prelude, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Dejection: An Ode, Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, P.B. Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, and John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale.
Read More: Islam as the Harbinger of Feminism
When the feministic principles and approaches are applied on the writers of the Romantic period, we develop a clear idea of the social, economic and political situation prevalent in that particular period. Because the attribution of traditional romantic characteristics such as, poetic sublimity and pastoral nostalgia were some of the yardsticks to be applied on the poets of this age. The definitions of this Romantic period are undergoing a revision on the preview of a feminist lens, which is significant to place man and woman’s text in the contextual relations. S.T. Coleridge used sensibility in order to establish the feminine as a private state of mind. He was able to transform these sensibilities in his poetry through transcending it, which captured the spirit of revolutionary turmoil. Besides this, his famous poem “Dejection; An Ode”, has many qualities of a woman’s text.
This spirit of feminism found its expression in the poetry, and novel of this period. Jane Austen’s writings, therefore, become the narrator in an autobiographical way highlighting the major feministic concerns of that time. Her novel Pride and Prejudice has all the details of such kind, where the problems of middle-class women have been elaborated very successfully.
Pride and Prejudice, as the very title of the novel goes, is full of instances about the problems of marriages. This is the psychologically born social milieu of the novel in which she describes her characters in a typical way. Sensibility has been deeply taken with the theme of the novel – Sense and Sensibility. Besides Austen, writers like Wollstonecraft, and Shelley were subject to gender constraints particular to women. Mary Shelley was equivocal in her private and public identity as an author. Her novel Frankenstein reflected the bleakness and pessimism that derives not only from her personal loss, but also shows her concerns in view of the contemporary readership. It was primarily focused on her own artistic identity into the creature showing how bad and monstrous she felt about that identity.
Wordsworth’s poetry, along with Dorothy Wordsworth, has a good quality of expression, which provides the child as a special social status in the society. And, for this, the role of a mother, by and large, putting good qualities of her own head and heart transfer a child from natural to a social being. Dorothy Wordsworth and Mary Shelley reflected some of these feelings of that age. We understand its relation to the human and natural world. The poems “Address to a Child” and “To My Niece” in which the beginning lines of the poem, “What way does the wind come? What way does he go?” reflect something about the poet’s attention towards ‘the Romantic Wind’ of change not only in literature poetry, but also a change in the sociological order. This is more than Shelley’s “West Wind” in which the poet addresses wind as the major agent of social revolution and reformation essential for the survival of social harmony and revolutionary changes.
Mary Wollstonecraft’s radical thoughts were based on the political philosophy for the emancipation of women. She believed in the cause of women, and met many revolutionaries in France, particularly Olympe de Gouges (author of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Citizen, 1791). These women were trying to bring out the radical changes which came on the basic of Wollstonecraft’s Vindication. Fay rightly spoke about this treatise, which bore the classical examples of this book as the treatise was not on formal education of women’s dehumanized status, but on female rights and manners.
In view of the above discussion on the writers of the Romantic period, particularly the women writers, we can arrive at a conclusion that women were thinking about culture, society, and the individual, as were the male writers of the period. Reading with the yardsticks of critical feministic perspective, these writers played an important role to focus on the contemporary problems and to protect women from their ill-fate.