(European) Romanticism 1820-1865: A European artistic and intellectual movement of the early 19th century, characterized by an emphasis on individual freedom from social conventions or political restraints, on human imagination, and on nature in a typically idealized form. Romantic literature rebelled against the formalism of 18th century reason. Many Romantic writers had an interest in the culture of the Middle Ages, an age noted for its faith, which stood in contrast to the age of the Enlightenment and pure logic.
Romanticism differs significantly from Classicism, the period Romanticism rejected. Romanticism is more concerned with emotion than rationality. It values the individual over society, nature over city. It questions or attacks rules, conventions and social protocol. It sees humanity living IN nature as morally superior to civilized humanity: glorification of the "noble savage." It conceives of children, essentially innocent by nature, as being corrupted by their surroundings. Many works emphasize the emotional aspects excessively, moving the piece toward Dark Romanticism and the Gothic. Romantic literature places an emphasis on the individual and on the expression of personal emotions. Literary Romanticism should not be confused with romance literature.
The American Period of Romanticism (1830-1865) was "an age of great westward expansion, of the increasing gravity of the slavery questions, of an intensification of the spirit of embattled sectionalism in the South, and of a powerful impulse to reform in the North" (Harman 454). It has many of the same characteristics as European Romanticism but had several uniquely American aspects.
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
James Fenimore Cooper
Resources on Romanticism:
Created by: Carol Scheidenhelm, Ph.D.
Director, Learning Technologies and Assessment
Loyola University Chicago
Last updated: August 14, 2007