The Romanticism Movement (1790-1850)

“I consider myself bit of a romantic,” you’ve probably heard somebody say in movies or cheesy television dramas. Every time I hear it, I immediately think of beautiful poetry and prose and an era dominated by escapism and spirituality—a sort of new frontier of intellectual integrity. Today, we are going to take a closer look at this era, so buckle up and let’s dive into the Romanticism Movement!

History of the Movement

So, as we know, the Neoclassical-era ended around 1798 with the ending of the French and American Revolutions and the publication of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth. These were a few of the major factors moving society away from the classics. Other contributing factors to the Romantic Movement included immigration, which helped create an “American” identity due to the massive amount of foreign cultures entering the country and a sort of “melting pot” idea of new literature arising from the mix. From this style, we see a sort of relaxed view of complex diction and a need to convey literature to the common man, so complex styles were turned down for more approachable voices.

This movement really wanted to challenge the ideas of the Age of Reason for its more cold and calculating thought process in regards to man and nature. With the romantics, we see a great reverence for nature itself and for man—even if they are flawed via “irrational, emotional impulses” –and the exaltations of women. The transcendentalists (we’ll talk more about them) arose from this time, so we see Ralph Waldo Emerson discussing ideas of Self-Reliance and the spirt of man and nature, too.

“The term Romanticism does not stem directly from the concept of love, but rather from the French word romaunt (a romantic story told in verse)” (Thoughtco.com).

A piece of Romantic verse that is relevant across the fold of the movement is thanatopsis byWilliam Cullen Bryant. In this poem, Bryant discusses nature and how it can guide humans spiritually (there seems to be some overlap from the transcendentalists). Another poet, John Keats (from the second generation of Romanticists) wrote the poem To Autumn, which does well to encapsulate the movement in application.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?

   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

   Among the river sallows, borne aloft

      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.”

To Autumn by John Keats

Poetryfoundation.org

When we think of characters in the literature of the Romantic period, we might think of James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumpo and his intuitive, ethical nature as he is a great example of what Romantic characters stood for in theme.

We can also look at the female authors of this time and the women in books for an understanding of the movement. We have the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley—all who contributed great works to the movement even though they had to publish under male pseudonyms to get published.

In literature, women were often treated as the goal or pinnacle men’s passions, from Edgar Allen Poe’s lost Lenore, to Dr. Frankenstein’s murdered wife, and so on. This era is definitely a good one for feminist critique (I mean, they all are, but this one just seems so much more overt in an unrealistic perception of women in society).

Notable Authors from the Romanticism Movement:

  • William Wordsworth
  • Sir Walter Scott
  • Percy Bysshe Shelly
  • Mary Shelly
  • John Keats