Helen Of War: Epistles Of The French Revolution

1554 words - 6 pages

Helen Maria Williams was a woman ahead of her time. While writing letters home to England during the French Revolution, the turmoil and political upheaval around her closely mimicked the turmoil she was experiencing personally. An outcast amongst her friends, Williams’ observations and desolation are apparent in her Letters Written in France, in the Summer of 1790, a collection of her writings to friends and family still in England. As a woman effectively on the front lines of war, Williams was able to capture the reality of the revolution and record her observations in Letters, the accepted writing medium of women. Romanticism was an intellectual movement which began around the latter half of the 18th century and is was defined mostly by change. Most arts, like music, poetry, literature, and even politics began to adapt in response to the turbulent social climate seen in France during the Revolution. Romanticism emphasized emotion, imagination, and originality, which was in stark contrast to the science, reason and order defined by the “Age of Enlightenment” which came after the Revolution. Romanticism, as opposed to Enlightenment, concentrated more on the individual writer or artist themselves, as opposed to the state or reason. Both visual arts and literature, from the Romanticism movement, elevated and celebrated Nature as a wild Being, rather than as something that can easily be explained reason or study. The Romanticism movement in literature evolved in response to the French Revolution and rather than focus on reason and rationality to explain nature and man, Romanticism focused more on emotions and feelings to explain and portray them. The poetry and Letters of Helen Maria Williams espouse the Romanticism ideals as they portend the future of feminism and women who live their lives for themselves.
Helen Maria Williams directly confronted the ideals of the Revolution. Williams had relocated to Paris in 1792, and she was imprisoned for a short time in the Bastille during the Reign of Terror. Both her time in prison, and the atrocities she witnessed during the Revolution, personally influenced her and directly influenced the tone of much of her work. While imprisoned, Williams wrote many of her poems, like “Sonnet to the Curlew”, which deal with freedom and longing. In the “Curlew” poem, Williams identifies with a curlew and wishes she could be as free as he is upon the wind. As Williams faced the Revolution of France, she began to face a revolution of her own that was reminiscent of the ideals of both Romanticism and Feminism.
During her early years in France, Williams began a relationship with John Hurford Stone, a married Englishman and radical activist. Though Stone divorced in 1794, it is unclear whether Williams and Stone ever married and their relationship caused a scandal in England which resulted in Williams being personally attacked by the British press. Before Williams first visited France in 1790, she had been celebrated as...

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