American Literary History: Romanticism, Realism and Naturalism

Romanticism |Realism | Naturalism | Definitions | Works Cited


Definitions

    Gothic literature is marked by a preoccupation with gloom, mystery, and terror. Often, but not always, it may involve the supernatural. A development during the Romantic era, the Gothic novel traces its origins to The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, published in England in 1764. Many other writers followed him, and in the United States, the first well-known Gothic novelist was Charles Brockden Brown. Later, both Hawthorne and Poe wrote in the Gothic mode. (Strickland).

    Romance is a term with many meanings. In the Middle Ages, a romance was a tale in prose or poetry dealing with the adventures of a knight and filled with chivalric deeds and courtly love. In the nineteenth century, a romance was a prose narrative telling a fictional story that dealt with its subjects and characters in a symbolic, imaginative, and nonrealistic way. Typically, a romance would deal with plots and people that were exotic, remote in time or place from the reader, and obviously imaginary. Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables, with its exaggerated characters, its overtones of the supernatural, and its symbolic intertwining of the past and present, is an example of the romance (Strickland).

    Romanticism: a movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that marked the reaction in literature, philosophy, art, religion, and politics from the neoclassicism and formal orthodoxy of the preceding period . . . The term is used in many senses, a recent favorite being that which sees in the romantic mood a psychological desire to escape from unpleasant realities. Perhaps more useful to the student than definitions will be a list of romantic characteristics, though romanticism was not a clearly conceived system. Among the aspects of the romantic movement in England may be listed: sensibility; primitivism; love of nature; sympathetic interest in the past, especially the medieval; mysticism; individualism; romanticism criticism; and a reaction against whatever characterized neoclassicism . . . The term designates a literary and philosophical theory that tends to see the individual at the center of all life, and it places the individual, therefore, at the center of art, making literature valuable as an expression of unique feelings and particular attitudes (the expressive theory of criticism) and valuing its fidelity in portraying experiences, however fragmentary and incomplete, more than it values adherence to completeness, unity, or the demands of genre. Although romanticism tends at times to regard nature as alien, it more often sees in nature a revelation of Truth, the "living garment of God," and a more suitable subject for art than those aspects of the world sullied by artifice. Romanticism seeks to find the Absolute, the Ideal, by transcending the actual, whereas realism finds its values in the actual and naturalism in the scientific laws the undergird the actual. (Harmon, 6th. Edition).

    Romantic Period in American Literature, 1830-1865. The period between the "second revolution" of the Jacksonian Era and the close of the Civil War in America saw the testings of a nation and its development by ordeal. It was an age of great westward expansion, of the increasing gravity of the slavery question, of an intensification of the spirit of embattled sectionalism in the South, and of a powerful impulse to reform in the North. Its culminating act was the trial by arms of the opposing views in a civil war, whose conclusion certified the fact of a united nation dedicated to the concepts of industry and capitalism and philosophically committed to egalitarianism. In a sense it may be said that the three decades following the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson in 1829 put to the test his views of democracy and saw emerge from the test a secure union committed to essentially Jacksonian principles (Harmon, 6th. Edition).

    Works Cited

    Campbell, Donna M. "Naturalism in American Literature." Literary Movements. Last Modified 02/11/2003. 09/15/03. <http://www.gonzaga.edu/faculty/campbell/enl413/natural.htm>. Page relocation: http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/natural.htm (8/13/07)

    Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. 7th. Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1996.

    Harmon, William (contributor) and C. Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. 6th. Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1992.

    Pizer, Donald. "Realism and Naturalism." in Norton Critical Edition Sister Carrie by Theodore Drieser. New York: W.W. Norton. 567-574.

    Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 3: Early Nineteenth Century: Romanticism - An Introduction " PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. Last Modified 09/12/03. 09/17/03. <http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap3/3intro.html>

    Strickland, Brad. "American Literary Romanticism: Concepts and Definitions." Last Modified 1997. 9/17/03. <http://troy.gc.peachnet.edu/www/bstrickl/lit/definit.htm> [page no longer assessible 8/13/07]

    Woodlief, Ann. "American Romanticism (or the American Renaissance)." Last Modified 08/18/01. 9/17/03. <http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm>

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Created by: Carol Scheidenhelm, Ph.D.
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Last updated: August 14, 2007