Characteristics in the opening of ‘Birdsong’

The opening of the novel ‘Birdsong’ is filled with characteristics of Literature movements. The novel shows elements from both Romanticism and also Gothic. 


Throughout the opening of ‘Birdsong’ characteristics of Romanticism can be found. During the period of which Romanticism was at its peak folk law played a prominent part in the movement. This was where by which people were beginning to listen to the music and poetry not just of those who studied and were professional at the art but those of ordinary people (folk). This was all part of the bigger picture of those of a lower classer or lower profession beginning to break social normality and speak out.. This characteristic can be found in the first section of ‘Birdsong’ through Azaire’s factory and its workers, particularly when they decide to strike: “I ask you at least to sign this declaration of support for your fellow-workers” It is this idea of the lower classes speaking out that complies with the characteristics of Romanticism. 

Another characteristic of Romanticism that can be found in ‘Birdsong’ is the level of Nationalism that can be seen in the novel. It is the idea of patriotic feelings that can be seen through individual characters or in the language that convey to the reader a sense of Nationalism. French Nationalism can be seen in the opening of the novel, in the language used to describe the city of Amiens. It is depicted as a picturesque,  pre-industrialization place: ‘On the damp grass were chestnut trees, lilac and willows’ It is with this use of language that the reader can feel a sense of nationalism, which can also be seen through Azaire’s factory and the way in which he manages it particularly in his meeting with Meyraux: “The government want us to rationalize our operations, to try to bring more of them under one roof” French Nationalism can be seen by the reader here and Azaire strives to make more of a profit by cutting the wages of his employees and by doing this making France’s economy greater. 


It is not only characteristics of Romanticism that can be found in the novel. It also shows aspects of a Gothic novel through its descriptions of buildings and its portrayal of certain characters:

The Gothic movement is one that took affect on many areas, including literature and architecture. Gothic architecture is something that is described within the novel, most prominently in the description if the Azaire household. It is with the ‘unexpected spaces’ and the ‘red creeper that had made its way up to the roof’ that convey to the reader the image that Azaire’s house is one of Gothic architecture. 

Along with Gothic architecture the novel also features many of the characteristics commonly found in a Gothic novel. A characteristic of a Gothic novel is one where by which a dwarf changes shape, this can be seen through the character of Lisette Azaire. She many not change hugely physical however it is psychologically that she seems to change shape. This can be seen when the Azaire family and Stephen take a fishing trip and Lisette attempts to seduce Stephen: ‘I’m a woman – at least almost a woman. My body is a woman’s  body, not a child’s’ It is through her attempts of seducing Stephen that it is made clear to the reader the Lisette is no longer as innocent as she first appears, our perception of her changes which then links to the characteristic of a Gothic novel. 

Another characteristic of a Gothic novel that can be seen in ‘Birdsong’ is the mental and physical imprisonment that some characters face. This can be seen in the Isabelle’s feminism views that are trapped within her marriage to Azaire. Isabelle is depicted as being a modern feminist ‘Isabelle felt herself grow, and she met no resistance’  however her latent feminism is trapped when she marries Azaire and she is under his physical imprisonment as well as his mental. 



Romanticism first appeared in poetry towards the end of the 18th century and in most areas was at its peak in the period from 1800 – 1850. It was seen partly as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution that was taking place, however it was also seen as a revolt against the scientific rationalization of nature. It was William Wordsworth who strengthened the movement through his works of poetry and is still today considered a key figure in the Romantic movement. Some of the important romantic poetry characteristics are a passionate display of emotion, interest in the supernatural, idealism and affinity towards nature.

Characteristics of Romantic Poetry:

Imagination is a key characteristic of Romantic poetry and in the words of William Wordsworth himself, ‘poetry is the first and last of all knowledge’  The occurrence of imagination is the essence and focal point of romantic poetry. According to romantic poets, it is possible to attain a transcendental experience by the means of imagination, they believe  that it takes the reader near to the spiritual truth. 

Emotion is also a characteristic commonly found in romantic poetry as reason and logic tend to take a backseat. One thing that it said to be a prominent characteristic in the world of romanticism is emotion. Romantic poetry is said to be one of the best ways to let loose on one’s emotions through words. Emotion is seen to overflow in works of romantic poetry and it is this that transcends the boundaries of logical reasoning. Pain is also seen as the inspiration for this overflow of emotion. 

The Romantic Movement lasted from about 1750 to about 1870 and is often defined as a second Renaissance. 

Wilfred Owen; Introduction to Poetry

The coursework task set for the A2 English literature course entails a three thousand word essay on two texts and a poet. As previously mentioned the two novels that we will be studying for this, are ‘Catch 22’ and ‘Birdsong’. Now we begin work on the poetry aspect of the task. As the theme in all these pieces of literature is World War One the poet being studied is, Wilfred Owen, a leading poet of the First World War One.

Today was introduction to his works, beginning with his poem ‘Futility’, a poem narrated in third person in an almost story-like manner. The poem uses the semantic field of the sun awakening life and this is conveyed through extended oxymorons of religious and scientific language.

Owen’s work commonly features seven poetic devices. These can be seen in a number of his works and are what makes his poems identifiable:

  1. An opening that creates a scene
  2. Use of nature and religious language
  3. Questions – rhetorical
  4. Punctuation that evokes emotion
  5. Contrasts – extended oxymorons
  6. Para-rhyme that add melancholic sound
  7. Assonance

These seven features can be seen in not only ‘Futility’ but many other of Owen’s works and are what helps us distinguish his work from other World War One poets.


Birdsong: A First Impression

Now that AS English Literature work is all done and dusted, its time to move on to A2 work.

We will be doing work on the novels of ‘Catch 22’, written by Joseph Heller and ‘Birdsong’ written by Sebastian Faulks. We began reading ‘Birdsong’ today and its safe to say, it wasn’t what many of us were expecting..

The novel begins with the description of the rural village of Boulevard Du Cange situated in the city of Amiens, France. The opening language is pastoral and depicts a place of pre-industrialization.

The language used in this opening can be described as feminine as it shows a sense of nurture, fertility and reproduction, this can been in the second paragraph with use of the words ‘damp fertility’  this portrays an image of the womb and the sense that it is the ultimate home.

The language of the opening suddenly changes with the description of the Azaire house. From being feminine in the description of the boulevard, the language now changes to masculine; ‘substantial man’. This language works as a contrast to the feminine language that was used to describe the pre-industrialized image of Boulevard Du Cange.

First impression are important and are prominent from the very opening of the novel. This can be seen with the introduction of the character of Lisette Azaire. It is through the simple description of her smirk that she is depicted as a sinister character. This idea of first impressions can also be seen through the age of Stephen Wraysford’s age. he is at the age of twenty when the novel begins pivotal age as he is still seen as young and naive however also charming.

Moving through into the third chapter of the novel, Stephen’s moral dilemma is made apparent to the reader. He realises the attraction he has towards Madame Azaire and so battles with his conscience on whether or not he should pursue her. The chapter is filled with sexual language that builds up the tension between Stephen and Madame Azaire; ‘The brown petals of a formerly white rose fell away’ This image of a ‘white rose’ convey the sense of Madame Azaire’s innocence falling away as easily as the flower’s petals. The whole of the chapter is filled with language to enlighten the sexual tension between the  two characters and therefore conveys to the reader the moral dilemma that both characters face.

All in all, the novel as a whole has created a positive impression in the sense that there is a deeper meaning behind each description which becomes almost enticing.