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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

April A-Z: Romanticism and Folklore

Today's topic may seem a bit contrived, but please do bear with me! I find Romanticism very interesting, but it's clearly too big a topic to tackle in a single blog post. However, having turned to folklore and the theory of storytelling for several of these 'A to Z challenge' posts, I thought I'd look at how the Romantic drive to celebrate the simple, the pastoral and the 'natural' leads to a resurgence of interest in folk and oral tradition.

Our current knowledge of fairy and folk tales owes much to the Grimms' collection undertaken in the nineteenth century. True, this was an attempt to catalogue and characterise a living oral culture which, naturally, changed it in the process, but without the Grimms' work, much of our current understanding of folk and fairy tale wouldn't exist.  Perrault, of course, had begun this work almost two centuries earlier, but his work was more focused on using the existing tales to moralise, while the Grimms' concerns seem to have been more about preservation. Later, this cataloguing drive would manifest in Propp's narrative theory of folk tale, which has resonance with Campbell's 'monomyth' theory discussed in yesterday's "Quest" post.

Similarly, our repertoire of folk songs is largely due to Child's work in the same century: a cataloguing exercise which describes 'types' and 'variants' and identifies many familiar tropes in the traditional folk songs of Britain.

Without interest in such 'original' and 'natural' forms blossoming in the Romantic period, the essentially analytical, Enlightenment-style undertakings would not have been possible. The Romantic interest in 'folk' art is also apparent in music, with peasant dances influencing Romantic composers such as Dvorak and Liszt, while the first attention to traditional story - which would eventually lead to the Grimms' massive project - can be traced back to Goethe and Schiller in the Sturm und Drang pre-Romantic period.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post! I've never linked romanticism and folklore preservation before. But now that you mention it...


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