What is Romanticism?
According to the enotes Study Guide on Romanticism:
Romanticism as a literary movement lasted from about 1789 to 1832 and marked a time when rigid ideas about the structure and purpose of society and the universe were breaking down. During this period, emphasis shifted to the importance of the individual’s experience in the world and his or her interpretation of that experience, rather than interpretations handed down by the church or tradition.
Romantic literature is characterized by several features. It emphasized the dream, or inner, world of the individual. The use of visionary, fantastic, or drug-induced imagery was prevalent. There was a growing suspicion of the established church, and a turn toward pantheism (the belief that God is a part of the universe rather than separate from it). Romantic literature emphasized the individual self and the value of the individual’s experience. The concept of “the sublime” (a thrilling emotional experience that combines awe, magnificence, and horror) was introduced. Feeling and emotion were viewed as superior to logic and analysis.
A second entry from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms:
...a sweeping but indispensable modern term applied to the profound shift in Western attitudes to art and human creativity that dominated much of European culture in the first half of the 19th century, and that has shaped most subsequent developments in literature--even those reacting against it.
Romanticism is a proper noun and is capitalized. The most famous names associated with Romanticism are Woodsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. The romantic movement is somewhat synonymous with Romanticism, in case you're more familiar with that.
Romanticism in large part was a reaction against Neoclassicism/The Age of Reason/The Enlightenment. Romanticism rejects virtually every belief or idea associated with the period that preceeded it.
Developing ideas from the previous two posts, a critically essential feature of Romanticism would be its emphasis on the subjective. Prior to Romanticism, Neoclassicism was driven by universality and the use of the mind to logically determine consciousness. Romanticism sought to change this by locating the driving force of being in the world into a subjective one. The Romantic thinkers believed that internal subjectivity can be extrapolated into exterior truth, or even suggested that totalizing truth is impossible to achieve. They stressed that individual experience is the only truth which is reliable because it can be absorbed by the self and experienced into its own narrative. This personalized and subjective approach to the world operated as the basis of many Romantic thinkers and helped to drive the literary movement.
Romanticism is not how we often think of it today, as being about love relationships. Romanticism has to do with being fantasy. It is indicative of a period in the early 1800s.
There are fictional situations and often these are outside of the realm of possibility, but when they are close to reality, they are often so ideal that we have a jealousy of them.
These are dream situations mostly, or visionary type situations.
Literary critics consider 1798, the year when Wordsworth and Coleridge published their "Lyrical Ballads," to mark the beginning of the English Romantic Movement. However, its actual beginnings date back to the poetry of Gray, Collins, Blake and Burns who are regaded as 'Transition Poets' who lived and wrote at the end of the Neo-Classical Age. Critical opinion is divided as to when the Romantic Movement actually came to an end; infact, some critics consider the Victorian age to be a continuation of the Romantic Age and that the English Romantic Age extended till the beginning of the Modern Age in the twentieth century. The characteristic features of English Romantic poetry are:
1. Love and worship of Nature and dislike for the urban life. I quote from Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey":
and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress<
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts.
2. Love for the Medieval Age. Keats' "La Belle de sans Merci" clearly illustrates the fondness Keats had for the medieval form ballad and the medieval age.
3. Love for the supernatural and the mystical. Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" is completely pervaded by a supernatural atmosphere.
4. Poetry came to be regarded as the spontaneous expression of the poet's own subjective feelings and did not conform to the poetic conventions of classical doctrines. Wordsworth's famous definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" is echoed in Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" in which the nightingale "singest of summer in full-throated ease."
5.Completely abandoned the 'Heroic Couplet' and substituted it with simpler verse forms like the ballads which belonged to the English rural Folk. In fact the 'Ballad Revival' is said to have sparked off the English Romantic Movememnt.
6. The 'poetic diction' of the Neo-Classical Age was completely done away with and the language of the ordinary people became the language of Romantic poetry. Wordsworth remarks that the language of the ordinary rustic people was the most appropriate language for a poet to express his feelings because,
"such a language, arising out of the repeated experience and regular feelings is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets."
7. The subjects of Romantic poetry were often ordinary people for instance Wordsworth's "The Idiot Boy."
Characteristics of American Romanticism:
-Values feeling and intuition over reason
-Places faith in inner experience and the power of the imagination
-Shuns the arificiality of civiliztion and seeks unspoiled nature
-Prefers youthful innocence to educated sophistication
-Comtemplates nature's beauty as a path to spiritual and moral develpment
-Finds beauty and truth in exotic locales, the supernatural realm, and the innner world of the imagintion
Sees poetry as the highest expression of the imagination
-Finds insipation in myth, legend, and folk culture
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