Characteristics Of Romanticism

What are the six main characteristics of Romantic literature?

Some of the main characteristics of Romantic literature are a focus on the writer or narrator’s emotions and inner world, a celebration of nature, beauty, and imagination, a rejection of industrialization and organized religion, and the inclusion of supernatural or mythological elements.

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The Romantic movement lasted from about the 1770s to the 1850s. While the Romantic sensibility permeated multiple artistic mediums, in literature, it often manifested in passionate poetry and stories of individualism, the sublime, and heightened emotion.

Here are some key characteristics of the movement.

A love of the natural world: Nature was often lionized in Romantic verse. The Prelude by William Wordsworth is perhaps the most famous example of the Romantic appreciation of the spiritual renewal to be found by spending time in the countryside.

An emphasis on the supernatural: Gothic literature came into vogue during the early years of the Romantic movement with Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Later gothic novels such as Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk would refine Walpole's formula, emphasizing the presence of demons, angels, ghosts, and other beings beyond the corporeal world.

A celebration of one's inner world, emotions, and individuality: For the Romantics, the individual's feelings and experiences were of the utmost importance. A novel like Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther focused on the intense emotional pain felt by a young man experiencing unrequited love. The mystical poems of William Blake emphasized an inner world totally freed from worries about convention.

Critical attitudes toward organized religion: Many Romantic writers were critical of organized religion, often finding it oppressive and inconducive to true transcendence or experience with the divine. Some such as Percy Shelley were open atheists, but others like William Blake were unconventional in their spiritual beliefs.

Fascination with the past: For the Romantics, the past was seen as free of the corrupting influence of modern industrialization. As a result, Romantic novels and poetry were often set in antiquity or the middle ages.

Critical attitudes toward industrialization and the city: Hand in hand with their love of nature, the Romantics abhorred industrialization's effects on the natural world as well as its effects on the health of the human psyche. After all, if nature is a spiritual restorative, then an industrial world is its antithesis, as seen in the nightmarish urban cityscape of William Blake's poem "London."

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Lists will vary slightly in how they name the following features of Romantic literature, but those below represent the gist of what the Romantic poets were seeking to write and what makes it different from most poetry that came before. Because Romanticism was such a powerful force in poetry, it often seems today to simply be what poetry is, but it represents a profound break with the past.

An emphasis on nature: If there is one feature that far and away typifies Romantic poetry, it is taking nature as its subject. The Romantic poets loved nature as a expression of the divine, as a sublime force that would bring us close to the Godhead, and as an emotional solace. Nature moves the emotions, lifts the soul to a higher level, is the antidote to civilization's corruption, and is endlessly a subject that the Romantics explored. In a shift from the past, nature is almost never seen as an enemy or dark force, as it is, say, in Beowulf but as a supreme expression of the Good.

An emphasis on idealizing the common person: After nature, idealization of the common "man" is the trait most associated with the Romantic poets. Impressed in various way by the ideals and fervor of the French Revolution, these poets wanted to celebrate ordinary people and show them in the best possible light in order to promote ideals of universal brotherhood. It can't be emphasized enough that, despite a few lone antecedents like Thomas Gray, this is a new thing. Poets before the Romantics used "shepherds" as color or to evoke the Classical age, but these shepherds were never real people. The lower classes were most often depicted as clowns, if depicted as all. The Romantics, in contrast, portrayed the lower classes as filled with dignity and grace, whose simple lives could be a model that the upper classes could learn from.

An emphasis on simplicity: Our language has changed, so sometimes Romantic poems don't seem simple to understand, but the Romantics put great emphasis (on the whole) on using simple, accessible language that everyone could easily understand.

An emphasis on lyricism: Lyricism is the expression of emotion. Over and over again, Romantics try to capture emotions in verse.

An emphasis on the supernatural: The Romantics moved away from the rationalism of Neoclassic poetry to examine the whimsical, including fairies, folktales, and magic.

An emphasis on memory/the past: The Romantics had a special interest in the color and magic of the Middle Ages, but they also emphasized the solace that a store of happy personal memories could bring.

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The following are courtesy of my AP Senior English teacher, Andrelle E. McKinsey, more than a decado ago (and I still use them when I teach seniors for a nice reference)...

Characteristics of the Romantic Age & Romantic Literature

1. Individuality/Democracy/Personal Freedom

2. Spiritual/Supernatural Elements

3. Nature as a Teacher

4. Interest in Past History/Ancient Greek and Roman Elements

5. Celebration of the Simple Life

6. Interest in the Rustic/Pastoral Life

7. Interest in Folk Traditions

8. Use of Common Language

9. Use of Common Subjects

10. One Sided/Opinionated

11. Idealized Women

12. Frequent Use of Personification

13. Examination of the Poet's Inner Feelings

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