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Romantic literature refers to literature written under the impact of Romanticism, (mainly) in the early 19th century . In literature, Romanticism found recurrent themes in the evocation or criticism of the past, the cult of "sensibility" with its emphasis on women and children, the heroic isolation of the artist or narrator, and respect for a new, wilder, untrammeled and "pure" nature. Furthermore, several romantic authors, such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, based their writings on the supernatural/occult and human psychology. Romanticism also helped in the emergence of new ideas and in the process led to the emergence of positive voices that were beneficial for the marginalized sections of the society.

The roots of romanticism in poetry go back to the time of Alexander Pope (1688–1744).[1] Early pioneers include Joseph Warton (headmaster at Winchester College) and his brother Thomas Warton, professor of Poetry at Oxford University.[1] Joseph maintained that invention and imagination were the chief qualities of a poet. The "poet's poet" Thomas Chatterton is generally considered to be the first Romantic poet in English.[2] The Scottish poet James Macpherson influenced the early development of Romanticism with the international success of his Ossian cycle of poems published in 1762, inspiring both Goethe and the young Walter Scott.

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An early German influence came from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther had young men throughout Europe emulating its protagonist, a young artist with a very sensitive and passionate temperament. At that time Germany was a multitude of small separate states, and Goethe's works would have a seminal influence in developing a unifying sense of nationalism. Another philosophic influence came from the German idealism of Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schelling, making Jena (where Fichte lived, as well as Schelling, Hegel, Schiller and the brothers Schlegel) a center for early German romanticism ("Jenaer Romantik"). Important writers were Ludwig Tieck, Novalis (Heinrich von Ofterdingen, 1799), Heinrich von Kleist and Friedrich Hölderlin. Heidelberg later became a center of German romanticism, where writers and poets such as Clemens Brentano, Achim von Arnim, and Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff met regularly in literary circles.

Important motifs in German Romanticism are travelling, nature, and ancient myths. The later German Romanticism of, for example, E. T. A. Hoffmann's Der Sandmann (The Sandman), 1817, and Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff's Das Marmorbild (The Marble Statue), 1819, was darker in its motifs and has gothic elements.

Early Russian Romantism is associated with the writers Konstantin Batyushkov (A Vision on the Shores of the Lethe, 1809), Vasily Zhukovsky (The Bard, 1811; Svetlana, 1813) and Nikolay Karamzin (Poor Liza, 1792; Julia, 1796; Martha the Mayoress, 1802; The Sensitive and the Cold, 1803). However the principal exponent of Romanticism in Russia is Alexander Pushkin (The Prisoner of the Caucasus, 1820–1821; The Robber Brothers, 1822; Ruslan and Ludmila, 1820; Eugene Onegin, 1825–1832). Pushkin's work influenced many writers in the 19th century and led to his eventual recognition as Russia's greatest poet.[3] Other Russian poets include Mikhail Lermontov (A Hero of Our Time, 1839), Fyodor Tyutchev (Silentium!, 1830), Yevgeny Baratynsky's (Eda, 1826), Anton Delvig, and Wilhelm Küchelbecker. Influenced heavily by Lord Byron, Lermotov sought to explore the Romantic emphasis on metaphysical discontent with society and self, while Tyutchev's poems often described scenes of nature or passions of love. Tyutchev commonly operated with such categories as night and day, north and south, dream and reality, cosmos and chaos, and the still world of winter and spring teeming with life. Baratynsky's style was fairly classical in nature, dwelling on the models of the previous century.

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In Spain, the Romantic movement developed a well-known literature with a huge variety of poets and playwrights. The most important Spanish poet during this movement was José de Espronceda. After him there were other poets like Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Mariano José de Larra and the dramatist José Zorrilla, author of Don Juan Tenorio. Before them may be mentioned the pre-romantics José Cadalso and Manuel José Quintana.

Spanish Romanticism also influenced regional literatures. For example, in Catalonia and in Galicia there was a national boom of writers in the local languages, like the Catalan Jacint Verdaguer and the Galician Rosalía de Castro, the main figures of the national revivalist movements Renaixença and Rexurdimento, respectively.

Brazilian Romanticism is characterized and divided in three different periods. The first one is basically focused in the creation of a sense of national identity, using the ideal of the heroic Indian. Some examples include José de Alencar, who wrote "Iracema" and "O Guarani", and Gonçalves Dias, renowned by the poem "Canção do Exílio" (Song of the Exile). The second period is marked by a profound influence of European themes and traditions, involving the melancholy, sadness and despair related to unobtainable love. Goethe and Lord Byron are commonly quoted in these works. The third cycle is marked by social poetry, especially the abolitionist movement; the greatest writer of this period is Castro Alves.

Romanticism in British literature developed in a different form slightly later, mostly associated with the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose co-authored book Lyrical Ballads (1798) sought to reject Augustan poetry in favour of more direct speech derived from folk traditions. Both poets were also involved in utopian social thought in the wake of the French Revolution. The poet and painter William Blake is the most extreme example of the Romantic sensibility in Britain, epitomised by his claim “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's.” Blake's artistic work is also strongly influenced by Medieval illuminated books. The painters J. M. W. Turner and John Constable are also generally associated with Romanticism. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, John Keats and John Clare constitute another phase of Romanticism in Britain.

In predominantly Roman Catholic countries Romanticism was less pronounced than in Germany and Britain, and tended to develop later, after the rise of Napoleon. François-René de Chateaubriand is often called the "Father of French Romanticism". In France, the movement is associated with the 19th century, particularly in the paintings of Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix, the plays, poems and novels of Victor Hugo (such as Les Misérables and Ninety-Three)(also, Victor Hugo, in the preface to "Cromwell" states that " there are no rules, or models" in Romanticism) , and the novels of Alexandre Dumas and Stendhal.

Modern Portuguese poetry definitely develops its outstanding character from the work of its Romantic epitome, Almeida Garrett, a very prolific writer who helped shape the genre with the masterpiece Folhas Caídas (1853). This late arrival of a truly personal Romantic style would linger on to the beginning of the 20th century, notably through the works of poets such as Cesário Verde and António Nobre, segueing seamlessly to Modernism. However, an early Portuguese expression of Romanticism is found already in the genius of Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage, especially in his sonnets dated at the end of the 18th century.

In the United States, romantic Gothic literature made an early appearance with Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) and Rip Van Winkle (1819), followed from 1823 onwards by the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper, with their emphasis on heroic simplicity and their fervent landscape descriptions of an already-exotic mythicized frontier peopled by "noble savages", similar to the philosophical theory of Rousseau, exemplified by Uncas, from The Last of the Mohicans. There are picturesque "local color" elements in Washington Irving's essays and especially his travel books. Edgar Allan Poe's tales of the macabre and his balladic poetry were more influential in France than at home, but the romantic American novel developed fully in Nathaniel Hawthorne's atmosphere and melodrama. Later Transcendentalist writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson still show elements of its influence and imagination, as does the romantic realism of Walt Whitman. The poetry of Emily Dickinson—nearly unread in her own time—and Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick can be taken as epitomes of American Romantic literature. By the 1880s, however, psychological and social realism was competing with romanticism in the novel.

Influence of European Romanticism on American writersEdit

The European Romantic movement reached America in the early 19th century. American Romanticism was just as multifaceted and individualistic as it was in Europe. Like the Europeans, the American Romantics demonstrated a high level of moral enthusiasm, commitment to individualism and the unfolding of the self, an emphasis on intuitive perception, and the assumption that the natural world was inherently good, while human society was filled with corruption.[4]

Romanticism became popular in American politics, philosophy and art. The movement appealed to the revolutionary spirit of America as well as to those longing to break free of the strict religious traditions of early settlement. The Romantics rejected rationalism and religious intellect. It appealed to those in opposition of Calvinism, which includes the belief that the destiny of each individual is preordained. The Romantic movement gave rise to New England Transcendentalism which portrayed a less restrictive relationship between God and Universe. The new religion presented the individual with a more personal relationship with God. Transcendentalism and Romanticism appealed to Americans in a similar fashion, for both privileged feeling over reason, individual freedom of expression over the restraints of tradition and custom. It often involved a rapturous response to nature. It encouraged the rejection of harsh, rigid Calvinism, and promised a new blossoming of American culture.[4][5]

American Romanticism embraced the individual and rebelled against the confinement of neoclassicism and religious tradition. The Romantic movement in America created a new literary genre that continues to influence American writers. Novels, short stories, and poems replaced the sermons and manifestos of yore. Romantic literature was personal, intense, and portrayed more emotion than ever seen in neoclassical literature. America's preoccupation with freedom became a great source of motivation for Romantic writers as many were delighted in free expression and emotion without so much fear of ridicule and controversy. They also put more effort into the psychological development of their characters, and the main characters typically displayed extremes of sensitivity and excitement.[6]

Influence of war on Romantic writingsEdit

The Romantic Era is a time in history that was surrounded by war. The Seven Years' War (1756–1763), the French and Indian War (1754–1763), and the American Revolution (1775–1783)—which directly preceded the French Revolution (1789–1799)—are all examples.

These wars, along with the political and social turmoil that went along with them, served as the background for Romanticism. The strong feelings that wartime produces served as a catalyst for an outpouring of art and literature, the likes of which had never been seen before. The writing was so different in fact, that it sparked its own new "era": The Romantic Era[7]

The works of the Romantic Era are a vast and unique collection of literary works. However, they can all be said to have at least these characteristics: A love of nature, a sense of nationalism, and a sense of exoticism/the supernatural. These simple characteristics can be linked back to the fact that these works were being written in time of political turmoil. For example, the nationalism seen in Romantic works may be attributed to the fact that the authors of the time took pride in their country, their people, and their “cause”. It was the writers’ way of contributing to the fight.[7]

The works of the Romantic Era also differed from preceding works in that they spoke to the “common” people. Romantics strove towards literature and arts that were for everyone, not just wealthy aristocracy. Much of the writing predating the Romantic Era was written for, and in the style of, only the wealthy upper classes. Romantics had a hand in changing this around—and it may have been because they were trying to connect with the commoners. In a time of war and political uneasiness, the writers were reaching out for a connection with their equals, not to those above them, the ones fueling the wars.[7]

During the Romantic period there was an increase in female authors as well. This can be attributed to the fact that this period was submerged in wartime. The women were at home, without a way to express their feelings, fight for the cause, or even connect to those around them. The writings of female Romantic writers, such as Mary Favret, are infused with feeling, and sometime even reference the war itself, e.g. Favret's War in the Air.[7]

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NotesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 John Keats. By Sidney Colvin, page 106. Elibron Classics
  2. 2.0 2.1 Thomas Chatterton, Grevel Lindop, 1972, Fyffield Books, page 11
  3. "Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837)". University of Virginia Slavic Department. http://www.faculty.virginia.edu/dostoevsky/texts/devil_pushkinbio.html. Retrieved 1 August 2011. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 George L. McMichael and Frederick C. Crews, eds. Anthology of American Literature: Colonial through romantic (6th ed. 1997) p 613
  5. "Romanticism, American," in The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists ed by Ann Lee Morgan (Oxford University Press, 2007) online
  6. The relationship of the American poet Wallace Stevens to Romanticism is raised in the poem Another Weeping Woman and its commentary.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Reidhead et. al., "Norton Anthology of English Literature,"The Romantic Period – Volume D" (W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.) 2006
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