The Elements of Romanticism A Renaissance in American Literature


The Elements of


A Renaissance in American


The Rise of Romanticism

Reaction to the “cold” intellect (devoid of emotion) of the Age of Reason

Enlightenment and French Revolution refines the role of the individual

Scientific and Industrial Revolutions lead to interest in the unknown and new ways of thinking

Major reform movements such as abolitionism and women’s rights lead to the search for truth and the perfection of the social order

Rise of Transcendentalism and Unitarianism

Attempts to cultivate utopian societies

The move westward adds to American optimism

Elements of Romanticism

The quest for “pure beauty” and truth

The use of antique and fanciful subject matter

Interest in the past

Use of the grotesque, gothic, odd or queer

Escapism from American problems

Interest in external nature as a source of beauty and knowledge

Nature as a refuge and a revelation of God to the individual

Elements of Romanticism, cont.

Emphasis on emotion

Appeals to imagination/ use of the sublime and mystical (otherworldly)

Subjectivity of the speaker as opposed to objectivity

Common people as subject matter as opposed to “the great”

Originality/ New philosophies and ways of doing things

Romantic Techniques

Remote settings

Improbable/contrived plots (inclusion of magical/mystical/unexplained events)

Organic principle: form rises out of content

Authorial subjectivity

Appearance of authenticity

Romantic writing forms: essay, short story. poetry, novel



Everything is a reflection of God

- People are basically good

- People will still sin, but they will repent and will most of the time choose to do the right thing

- People are close to God

- Nature is great!

Contemplating nature can allow you to transcend the real world and go to a higher, spiritual level

- People can get closer to God without church

- Nature is as close as you can get to God

- Society (the opposite of nature) keeps people from getting to a higher spiritual level




A person’s INSTINCT (intuition) can lead them to understand

God’s spirit

Everyone can do this! Wealth, status, prior knowledge not needed.

- Stressed that people were basically good – their gut instincts could lead them to God

Individualism and self-reliance are better than following others or depending on tradition.

- People will make the right choices if given the chance

- Believed that government was not necessary

- Urged people to question tradition

- Materialism was not good; people should not be dependent on money or belongings



A person’s true feelings and intuition are more valuable than book knowledge.

- Average people were able to do this

- Money, wealth, status not necessary

- Trusted people to do and feel good things

American Romantic Authors

Washington Irving

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Henry David Thoreau

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Herman Melville

Edgar Allan Poe

Emily Dickinson

Influence of Romanticism &


Led to the American ideals of individualism and free thought

Celebrated multiculturalism and feminism

Encouraged reform

Emphasized self reflection and exploration

Paved the way for literary creativity of the modern era


How does Emerson’s “Nature” illustrate some of the principles of the Romantic and

Transcendental movements?