Revolution, Romanticism and the Long Nineteenth Century
Adriana Craciun is Reader in Literature and Theory and Course Director of MA Cultural and Critical Studies at Birkbeck College research and teaching interests focus on eighteenth and nineteenth-century British literature and culture, particularly Romanticism, Gothic, and women writers. She is the author of Fatal Women of Romanticism (Cambridge, 2003) and British Women Writers and the French Revolution: Citizens of the World (Palgrave, 2005) and the editor of several editions of, and edited collections about, women writers. She is currently writing books on the literature of polar exploration and the significance of Milton's Satan to women writers and feminist literary histories thereof.
In order to consider the future of Victorian literary studies within the long nineteenth century, we must go back to that earlier “period” of the nineteenth century, and the French Revolution of 1789. Drawing on the aesthetic and political innovations of 1790s women's writings, this essay argues that we need to reconceive of nineteenth-century literary studies beyond the period boundaries of Romantic and Victorian. The sexualization of revolutionary Terror, and particularly of Robespierre, in Romantic-era writings by women like Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson and Fanny Burney, offers surprising precedents for the feminization of Terror associated with the retrospectives of Victorian writers like Carlyle and Dickens. In this respect, and given many other aesthetic continuities (for example, the crossgender and cross-period appeal of the “poetess” figure), the “Victorian period” appears increasingly unsatisfactory when compared to the merits of a long nineteenth-century model for literary studies.