American Romanticism Online Lesson Definitions from A Handbook

American Romanticism Online Lesson
Definitions from A Handbook to Literature, Sixth Edition C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon.
Romanticism: a movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth
attitudes (the expressive theory of criticism) and valuing its
centuries that marked the reaction in literature, philosophy, art,
fidelity in portraying experiences, however fragmentary and
religion, and politics from the neoclassicism and formal
incomplete, more than it values adherence to completeness,
orthodoxy of the preceding period. Romanticism arose so
unity, or the demands of genre. Although romanticism tends at
gradually and exhibited so many phases that a satisfactory
times to regard nature as alien, it more often sees in nature a
definition is not possible. The aspect most stressed in France
revelation of Truth, the "living garment of God," and a more
is reflected in Victor Hugo's phrase "liberalism in literature,"
suitable subject for art than those aspects of the world sullied
meaning especially the freeing of the artist and writer from
by artifice. Romanticism seeks to find the Absolute, the Ideal,
restrains and rules and suggesting that phase of individualism
by transcending the actual, whereas realism finds its values in
marked by the encouragement of revolutionary political ideas.
the actual and naturalism in the scientific laws.
The poet Heine noted the chief aspect of German romanticism
in calling it the revival of medievalism in art, letters, and life.
Romantic Period in American Literature, 1830-1865.
Walter Pater thought the addition of estrangement to beauty
The period between the "second revolution" of the Jacksonian
(the neoclassicists having insisted on order in beauty)
Era and the close of the Civil War in America saw the testings
constituted the romantic temper. An interesting schematic
of a nation and its development by ordeal. It was an age of
explanation calls romanticism the predominance of imagination
great westward expansion, of the increasing gravity of the
over reason and formal rules (classicism) and over the sense
slavery question, of an intensification of the spirit of embattled
of fact or the actual (realism), a formula that recalls Hazlitt's
sectionalism in the South, and of a powerful impulse to reform
statement (1816) that the class beauty of a Greek temple
in the North. Its culminating act was the trial by arms of the
resided chiefly in its actual form and its obvious connotations,
opposing views in a civil war, whose conclusion certified the
whereas the "romantic" beauty of a Gothic building or ruin
fact of a united nation dedicated to the concepts of industry
arose from associated ideas that the imagination was
and capitalism and philosophically committed to egalitarianism.
stimulated to conjure up. The term is used in many senses, a
In a sense it may be said that the three decades following the
recent favorite being that which sees in the romantic mood a
inauguration of President Andrew Jackson in 1829 put to the
psychological desire to escape from unpleasant realities.
test his views of democracy and saw emerge from the test a
Perhaps more useful to the student than definitions will be a
secure union committed to essentially Jacksonian principles.
list of romantic characteristics, though romanticism was not a
In literature it was America's first great creative period, a full
clearly conceived system. Among the aspects of the romantic
flowering of the romantic impulse on American soil. Surviving
movement in England may be listed: sensibility; primitivism;
form the Federalist Age were its three major literary figures:
love of nature; sympathetic interest in the past, especially the
Bryant, Irving, and Cooper. Emerging as new writers of
medieval; mysticism; individualism; romanticism criticism; and
strength and creative power were the novelists Hawthorne,
a reaction against whatever characterized neoclassicism.
Simms, Melville, and Harriet Beecher Stowe; the poets Poe,
Among the specific characteristics embraced by these general
Whittier, Holmes, Longfellow, Lowell, Dickinson, and Whitman;
attitudes are: the abandonment of the heroic couplet in favor of
the essayists Thoreau, Emerson, and Holmes; the critics Poe,
blank verse, the sonnet, the Spenserian stanza, and many
Lowell, and Simms....
experimental verse forms; the dropping of the conventional
The poetry was predominantly romantic in spirit and form.
poetic diction in favor of fresher language and bolder figures;
Moral qualities were significantly present in the verse of
the idealization of rural life (Goldsmith); enthusiasm for the
Emerson, Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, Lowell, and
wild, irregular, or grotesque in nature and art; unrestrained
Thoreau. The sectional issues were debated in poetry by
imagination; enthusiasm for the uncivilized or "natural"; interest
Whittier and Lowell speaking for abolition, and Timrod, Hayne,
in human rights (Burns, Byron); sympathy with animal life
and Simms speaking for the South. Poe formulated his
(Cowper); sentimental melancholy (Gray); emotional
theories of poetry and in some fifty lyrics practiced a symbolist
psychology in fiction (Richardson); collection and imitation of
verse that was to be, despite the change of triviality by such
popular ballads (Percy, Scott); interest in ancient Celtic and
contemporaries as Emerson, the strongest single poetic
Scandinavian mythology and literature ; renewed interest in
influence emerging from pre-Civil War America, particularly in
Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton. Typical literary forms
its impact on European poetry....Whitman, beginning with the
include the lyric, especially the love lyric, the reflective lyric, the
1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, was the ultimate expression
nature lyric, and the lyric of morbid melancholy...;the
of a poetry organic in form and romantic in spirit, united to a
sentimental novel; the metrical romance; the sentimental
concept of democracy that was pervasively egalitarian.
comedy; the ballad; the problem novel; the historical novel; the
In essays and in lectures the New England transcendentalists-Gothic romance; the sonnet; and the critical essay....
Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Alcott--carried the
The term designates a literary and philosophical theory that
expression of philosophic and religious ideas to a high
tends to see the individual at the center of all life, and it places
level....In the 1850s emerged the powerful symbolic novels of
the individual, therefore, at the center of art, making literature
Hawthorne and Melville and the effective propaganda novel of
valuable as an expression of unique feelings and particular
Harriet Beecher Stowe. Poe, Hawthorne, and Simms practiced
the writing of short stories through the period, taking up where
Irving had left off in the development of the form….
At the end of the Civil War a new nation had been born, and it
was to demand and receive a new literature less idealistic and
more practical, less exalted and more earthy, less consciously
Major Characteristics of Romanticism
 Valuing Nature for itself (not merely as a
 The notion of Divinity in Nature;
 Childhood and youth as divine and unfallen;
 The importance of solitude;
 Individualism; Freedom of the individual;
 Focus on heroes or protagonists with
exemplary qualities/ or in extraordinary
 Nostalgia for the remote past;
 Interest in exotic or remote settings;
 Celebration of (a) simpler agrarian/
wilderness life, (b) the strong, individualized
frontiersman, and (c) primitivism or "the
noble savage";
 The notion that the natural world and human
concerns are intertwined, and the idea that
nature sympathizes with human concerns;
artistic and more honest than that produced in the age when
the American dream had glowed with greatest intensity and
American writers had made a great literary period by capturing
on their pages the enthusiasm and the optimism of that dream.
Interest in the sublime (in which the
individual is dwarfed by larger powers);
The value of story, or narrative, or poetry, or
fiction for its own sake;
Pleasure in the supernatural, the fictional,
the unreal;
Focus on emotions, introspection,
Fascination with dreams, myths, mystery,
the unexplainable or the irrational;
Valuing the imagination;
The value of romantic indolence or idleness;
Horror over institutions (slavery, factory
labor) that seem to dehumanize;
Belief in the Divinity or the capacity for
Divinity in humans;
Against conventionality, rules, and
Interest in binaries, doubles, and opposites.
Literary Romanticism often uses binaries, including opposing figures and/or doubles:
light v. shadow,
good and evil,
fair and dark,
sunshine v. storm,
youth and age,
human and animal,
wild or savage v. civilized,
mirth and sadness,
sanity and madness,
attraction v. repulsion,
night and day
sunlight v. moonlight
purity v. defilement,
nature v. culture,
beauty and ugliness,
desire and horror,
pleasure and pain,
fiction v. truth,
natural v. un-natural...
Additional Information
Characterized by the 5 I’s
1) Imagination
2) Intuition
3) Idealism
4) Inspiration
5) Individuality
Imagination was emphasized over “reason.”
This was a backlash against the rationalism that plagued the Age of Reason.
Imagination was necessary for creating all art.
British writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge called in intellectual intuition.
Romantics placed value on intuition or feeling and instincts over reason.
Emotions are important in Romantic art.
British Romantic William Wordsworth described poetry as, the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.
Idealism is the concept that we can make the world a better place.
Refers to any theory that emphasizes the spirit, the mind, or language over matter– thought has a crucial
role in making the world how it is.
Immanuel Kant: German Philospher
The Romantic artist, musician, or writer is an inspired creator not a technical master.
Going with the moment or being spontaneous is more important than getting it right.
This time period celebrates the individual.
Women’s Rights and Abolitionism begin to take root during this time period.
American Poet Walt Whitman later writes, Song of Myself; the first line begins with, “I celebrate myself…”
American Romanticism
Focused on literature
Explored supernatural and gothic* themes
Writers wrote about nature – Romantics believed God was in nature, unlike “Age of Reason” writers like
Franklin and Jefferson, who saw God as a “divine watchmaker,” who created the universe and left it to run
Gothic Romanticism
Rejects the ideal of balance and rationalism
Focuses on the dark, gritty aspects of life and society
Heavy use of hysteria, mystical happenings, terrified characters, death, destruction, ghosts, horror
All stem from the writer’s fascinations with the human psyche.