Faeries and Visions: The Use of Medieval Conventions in Romantic Literature

Asha Alexandra Azariah-Kribbs​


One of the most fascinating aspects of Romantic literature is the recurrent use of medieval literary conventions as a means of illustrating a particular theme or emotional situation that is as relevant to the present as it may have been to the past. Some of the period’s best works, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to John Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” utilize a medieval setting to this specific end. Yet Coleridge and Keats both revise these respective poems in order to soften some of their original archaisms. This paper explores this interesting retraction as both fulfilling the Romantic idea of appealing to mankind on a common, comprehensive level, without any imposed separation in diction, and likewise as a means of hearkening back to an idealized past. Considering that several other authors of the Romantic period, including George Gordon, Lord Byron, Joanna Baillie, and Matthew Lewis, regarded a medieval setting as best to illuminate errors of the present or sentiments that transcend time and place, there is little doubt that there is a certain quality in medieval legend that appeals to the Romantic imagination. The illusion of a window to the past, created with no immediate reflection on the current lives of men and women, inspires the same sense of open and unoffended credulity that we find in fairytales, and allows the author to steer the reader towards a specific theme fundamental to humanity as a whole. So it is that in Romantic literature we find the earliest roots of the modern fantasy genre, mixing truth with the seeming unreal, and discovering in escapism the very feelings or difficulties of the real world that we may have taken up the book to avoid.


Fantasy, Romanticism, Medieval

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