First, let’s look at Romanticism in general:
Characteristics of Romantic Literature
Romanticism saw a shift from faith in reason to faith in the senses, feelings, and
imagination; a shift from interest in urban society to an interest in the rural and natural;
a shift from public, impersonal poetry to subjective poetry; and from concern with the
scientific and mundane to interest in the mysterious and infinite. Mainly they cared
about the individual, intuition, and imagination.
1. Imagination and emotion are more important than reason and formal rules;
imagination is a gateway to transcendent experience and truth.
2. Along the same lines, intuition and a reliance on “natural” feelings as a guide to
conduct are valued over controlled, rationality.
3. Romantic literature tends to emphasize a love of nature, a respect for
primitivism, and a valuing of the common, “natural” man; Romantics idealize
country life and believe that many of the ills of society are a result of
4. Romantics were interested in the Medieval past, the supernatural, the mystical,
the “gothic,” and the exotic;
5. Romantics were attracted to rebellion and revolution, especially concerned with
human rights, individualism, freedom from oppression;
6. There was emphasis on introspection, psychology, melancholy, and sadness. The
art often dealt with death, transience and mankind’s feelings about these things.
The artist was an extremely individualistic creator whose creative spirit was
more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures.
Now, Let’s Look at American Romanticism
Conditions that influenced American Romanticism:
Frontier promised opportunity for expansion, growth, freedom; Europe lacked this element.
Spirit of optimism invoked by the promise of an uncharted frontier.
Immigration brought new cultures and perspectives
Growth of industry in the north that further polarized the north and the agrarian south.
Search for new spiritual roots.
Highly imaginative and subjective
Common man as hero
Nature as refuge, source of knowledge and/or spirituality
- Characters and setting set apart from society; characters were not of our own conscious kind
- Static characters–no development shown
- Characterization–work proves the characters are what the narrator has stated or shown
- Universe is mysterious; irrational; incomprehensible
- Gaps in causality
- Formal language
- Good receive justice; nature can also punish or reward
- Silences of the text–universals rather than learned truths
- Plot arranged around crisis moments; plot is important
- Plot demonstrates
- romantic love
- honor and integrity
- idealism of self
- Supernatural foreshadowing (dreams, visions)
- Description provides a “feeling” of the scene
Slave narrative: protest; struggle for authors self-realization/identity
Domestic (sentimental): social visits; women secondary in their circumstances to men.
Female gothic: devilish childhood; family doom; mysterious foundling; tyrannical father.
Women’s fiction: anti-sentimental
- heroine begins poor and helpless
- heroine succeeds on her own character
- husbands less important than father
Bildungsroman: initiation novel; growth from child to adult.