Romanticism Or Romantic Era/Period

Romanticism was more widespread, both in terms of origins and influence. Since the end of the Middle Ages, no other intellectual/artistic movement has had the breadth, reach, and longevity.

Romanticism (or the Romantic Era/Period) was a late-nineteenth-century European artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that emerged in response to the Industrial Revolution. It was partly a reaction to science’s rationalisation of nature and a rebellion against the Age of Enlightenment’s aristocratic social and political norms.

The movement established strong emotion as a legitimate source of aesthetic experience by emphasising new emotions such as trepidation, horror, terror, and awe—particularly that experienced when confronted with the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities, both of which are new aesthetic categories. It elevated folk art and ancient customs to noble status, promoted spontaneity (as in musical improvisation), and argued for a “natural” epistemology of human activities as conditioned by nature via language and customary usage.

Romanticism attempted to transcend the constraints of population growth, urban sprawl, and industrialism by elevating a revived medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived to be authentically mediaeval. It also attempted to embrace the exotic, unfamiliar, and distant in more authentic modes than Rococo chinoiserie, relying on the power of the imagination to envision and escape.

The Byronic ideals of a gifted, perhaps misunderstood loner who follows the dictates of his inspiration rather than the conventional ways of contemporary society can express the modern concept of a romantic character.

Although the movement originated in Germany’s Sturm und Drang movement, which emphasised intuition and emotion over Enlightenment rationalism, the French Revolution’s ideologies and events laid the groundwork for both Romanticism and the Counter-Enlightenment. The Industrial Revolution’s constraints also had an effect on Romanticism, which was a reaction to contemporary realities; indeed, in the second half of the nineteenth century, “Realism” was offered as a polarising alternative to Romanticism. Romanticism extolled the virtues of what it saw as heroic individualists and artists whose pioneering achievements would elevate society. Additionally, it established the individual imagination as a critical authority, allowing for artistic liberation from classical conceptions of form. A strong emphasis was placed on historical and natural inevitability, on a zeitgeist, in the representation of its ideas.

The term “Romanticism” has been applied to a variety of artists, poets, writers, musicians, as well as political, philosophical, and social thinkers during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Additionally, it has been used to refer to a variety of artistic, intellectual, and social movements throughout history. Despite this broad definition, Romanticism has been the subject of debate in intellectual and literary history throughout the twentieth century, with no significant measure of agreement emerging.

Arthur Lovejoy attempted to demonstrate the difficulty of defining Romanticism in his seminal essay “On The Discrimination of Romanticisms” in his Essays in the History of Ideas (1948); some scholars regard romanticism as essentially contemporaneous with the present, while others regard it as the genesis of modernity. Others date it directly following the French Revolution. “Romanticism is precisely situated not in the choice of subject nor in the exact truth, but in the way of feeling.” wrote Charles Baudelaire.


Many intellectual historians regard Romanticism as a pivotal movement in the Counter-Enlightenment, a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment. Whereas Enlightenment thinkers emphasised the primacy of reason, Romanticism emphasised intuition, imagination, and feeling to such an extent that some Romantic thinkers have been accused of irrationalism.

Nature is the focus of Romanticism: a place free of society’s judgement and constraints. After the age of Rationalism, which focused on scientific reasoning, Romanticism blossomed.

Genius, Originality and Authorship

The Romantic movement popularised the concept of absolute originality and artistic inspiration by an individual genius who performs a “creation from nothingness;” this is the so-called Romantic ideology of literary authorship, which gave rise to the concept of plagiarism and the guilt of derivativeness. This concept is often referred to as “romantic originality.” The romantic poets formalised their ideas about originality as “the institution of originality.” The concept’s origins can be traced back to the 17th century English poet John Milton.

This notion contrasted with the preceding artistic tradition, in which copying was regarded as a fundamental practise of the creative process; and it has been particularly challenged since the beginning of the twentieth century, with the rise of the modernist and postmodern movements.

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Romanticism and Music

Although the term “Romanticism” has come to imply the period roughly from the 1820s to around 1900 when applied to music, the contemporary application of “romantic” to music did not coincide with this modern interpretation. E.T.A. Hoffmann referred to Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven as the three “Romantic Composers” in 1810, and Ludwig Spohr applied the term “good Romantic style” to parts of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Technically, Mozart and Haydn are Classical composers, and Beethoven, by most accounts, marks the beginning of the musical Romantic period. By the early twentieth century, the sense that there had been a decisive break with the musical past led to the designation of the nineteenth century as “The Romantic Era,” and it is still referred to as such in standard music encyclopaedias.

Traditional modern discussions of Romantic music include elements, such as the increasing use of folk music, that are also directly related to the broader current of Romantic nationalism in the arts, as well as aspects that were already present in 18th-century music, such as the cantabile accompanied melody, to which Romantic composers beginning with Franz Schubert applied restless key modulations.

The heightened contrasts and emotions of Sturm und Drang (German for “turbulence and urge(ncy)”) appear to be a precursor of the Gothic novel in literature, or the sanguinary elements of some French Revolution operas. Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretti for Mozart’s eloquent music convey a new sense of individuality and freedom. Beethoven was viewed as the romantic generation’s ideal of a heroic artist—a man who dedicated a symphony to Consul Bonaparte as a champion of freedom and then challenged Emperor Napoleon by omitting him from the dedication of the Eroica Symphony. In Beethoven’s Fidelio, he creates the apotheosis of the’rescue operas,’ which were a feature of French musical culture during the revolutionary period, in order to hymn the freedom that underpinned the thinking of all radical artists in the years of hope following the Congress of Vienna.

Romantic Literature

Romanticism’s recurrent themes in literature include the evocation or criticism of the past, the cult of “sensibility” with its emphasis on women and children, the heroic isolation of the artist or narrator, and reverence for a new, wilder, untrammelled, and “pure” nature. Additionally, a number of romantic authors, including Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, based their works on the supernatural/occult and human psychology. Romanticism also aided in the emergence of new ideas, resulting in the emergence of positive voices that benefited the society’s marginalised sections.

Romanticism in poetry has its origins in the time of Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Among the early pioneers were Joseph Warton (headmaster of Winchester College) and his brother Thomas Warton, an Oxford University professor of poetry. According to Joseph, the primary characteristics of a poet are invention and imagination. Thomas Chatterton, dubbed the “poet’s poet,” is widely regarded as the first Romantic poet in English. With the international success of his Ossian cycle of poems published in 1762, Scottish poet James Macpherson influenced the early development of Romanticism, inspiring both Goethe and the young Walter Scott.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was an early German influence; his 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther inspired young men throughout Europe to emulate the protagonist, a young artist with an extremely sensitive and passionate temperament. At the time, Germany was a patchwork of small independent states, and Goethe is works had a formative influence on the development of a unified sense of nationalism. Another philosophical influence was Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schelling’s German idealism, which established Jena (along with Schelling, Hegel, Schiller, and the Schlegel brothers) as a centre for early German romanticism (“Jenaer Romantik”). Ludwig Tieck, Novalis (Heinrich von Ofterdingen, 1799), Heinrich von Kleist, and Friedrich Hölderlin were notable writers. Later, Heidelberg developed into a centre of German romanticism, attracting writers and poets such as Clemens Brentano, Achim von Arnim, and Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff to regular literary gatherings.

Travel, nature, and ancient myths are all prominent themes in German Romanticism. Later German Romanticism, as exemplified by E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann (1817) and Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff’s Das Marmorbild (1819), was darker in tone and infused with gothic elements.

The authors Konstantin Batyushkov (A Vision on the Shores of the Lethe, 1809), Vasily Zhukovsky (The Bard, 1811; Svetlana, 1813) and Nikolay Karamzin are associated with early Russian Romanticism (Poor Liza, 1792; Julia, 1796; Martha the Mayoress, 1802; The Sensitive and the Cold, 1803). However, Alexander Pushkin (1820–1821; The Prisoner of the Caucasus, 1822; The Robber Brothers, 1822; Ruslan and Ludmila, 1820; Eugene Onegin, 1825–1832) is the principal exponent of Romanticism in Russia. Pushkin’s work influenced a large number of nineteenth-century writers and eventually earned him the title of Russia’s greatest poet. Mikhail Lermontov (A Hero of Our Time, 1839), Fyodor Tyutchev (Silentium!, 1830), Yevgeny Baratynsky (Eda, 1826), Anton Delvig, and Wilhelm Küchelbecker are additional Russian poets. Lermontov, heavily influenced by Lord Byron, sought to explore the Romantic emphasis on metaphysical discontent with society and self, whereas Tyutchev’s poems frequently described natural scenes or love passions. Tyutchev frequently used dichotomies such as night and day, north and south, dream and reality, cosmos and chaos, and the lifeless world of winter and spring. Baratynsky’s style was fairly classical in nature, drawing inspiration from previous centuries’ models.

In Spain, the Romantic movement produced a renowned literature comprised of a diverse range of poets and playwrights. José de Espronceda was the most important Spanish poet during this movement. Following him were poets such as Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, Mariano Jose de Larra, and José Zorrilla, the author of Don Juan Tenorio. Prior to them, the pre-romantics Jose Cadalso and Manuel José Quintana may be mentioned.

Regional literatures were also influenced by Spanish Romanticism. For example, in Catalonia and Galicia, there was a national boom of writers in indigenous languages, including the Catalan Jacint Verdaguer and Galician Rosala de Castro, respectively, who were the leading figures of the national revivalist movements Renaixença and Rexurdimento.

Brazilian Romanticism is divided into three distinct eras. The first is primarily concerned with instilling a sense of national identity through the heroic Indian ideal. Several examples include José de Alencar, author of “Iracema” and “O Guarani,” and Gonçalves Dias, whose poem “Cançao do Exilio” is well-known (Song of the Exile). The second period is characterised by a strong influence of European themes and traditions, particularly those associated with melancholy, sadness, and despair over unattainable love. These works frequently quote Goethe and Lord Byron. The third cycle is characterised by social poetry, particularly the abolitionist movement; Castro Alves is the greatest writer of this era.

In British literature, Romanticism evolved slightly later, primarily through the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose co-authored book Lyrical Ballads (1798) sought to reject Augustan poetry in favour of more direct speech derived from folk traditions. Both poets were also involved in post-French Revolution utopian social thought. William Blake, a poet and painter, epitomises the Romantic sensibility in Britain with his statement “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.” Blake’s art is also heavily influenced by mediaeval illuminated manuscripts. J. M. W. Turner and John Constable, both painters, are also frequently associated with Romanticism. Another phase of Romanticism in Britain is represented by Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, John Keats, and John Clare.

Romanticism was less pronounced in predominantly Roman Catholic countries than in Germany and Britain, and tended to develop later, following Napoleon’s ascension. François-René de Chateaubriand is frequently referred to as the “Father of Romanticism in France.” In France, the movement is associated with the nineteenth century, particularly with Theodore Gericault and Eugene Delacroix’s paintings, Victor Hugo’s plays, poems, and novels, as well as Alexandre Dumas and Stendhal’s novels.

Modern Portuguese poetry derives unmistakably from the work of its Romantic epitome, Almeida Garrett, a prolific writer who helped shape the genre with her magnum opus Folhas Cadas (1853). This late arrival of a truly personal Romantic style would last until the early twentieth century, most notably in the works of poets such as Cesário Verde and António Nobre, before seamlessly transitioning to Modernism. However, an early Portuguese expression of Romanticism can be found in the genius of Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage, particularly in his end-of-the-eighteenth-century sonnets.

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In the United States, romantic Gothic literature began with Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) and Rip Van Winkle (1819), followed by James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales (1823), with their emphasis on heroic simplicity and fervent landscape descriptions of an already exotic mythicized frontier peopled by “noble savages,” a concept similar to Rousseau’s philosophical theory, exemplified by Uncas from The Lonesome Dove (18 Washington Irving’s essays and, particularly, his travel books contain picturesque “local colour” elements. While Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre tales and balladic poetry had a greater influence in France than in the United States, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s atmosphere and melodrama developed the romantic American novel fully. Later Transcendentalist writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as Walt Whitman’s romantic realism, retain elements of its influence and imagination. Emily Dickinson’s poetry, which was virtually unknown during her lifetime, and Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick can be considered epitomes of American Romantic literature. However, by the 1880s, psychological and social realism were challenging romanticism in the novel.


The subject of Romanticism’s relationship with nature is vast and can only be touched on here. There has hardly ever been a time in European history when they did not celebrate nature in some way, but the attitudes toward nature that are prevalent in the Western world today emerged primarily during the Romantic period. Although the Enlightenment referred to “natural law” as the source of truth, such law was manifested in human society and was primarily concerned with civic behaviour. Europeans, in contrast to the Chinese and Japanese, have historically had little interest in natural landscapes for their own sake. Rural scenes were frequently overly idealised in paintings: either well-tended gardens or tidy renditions of the Arcadian myth of ancient Greece and Rome.
Rousseau is a key figure here as well. He adored long walks, mountain climbing, and generally “communing with nature.” Les Reveries du promeneur solitaire is his most recent work. Europe had become more civilised and secure, and its citizens felt more liberated to travel simply for the sake of it. Mountain passes and deep woods were no longer considered perilous obstacles to be traversed, but rather magnificent views to be admired and contemplated. The violence of ocean storms became an aesthetic object in a variety of paintings, musical tone poems, and written descriptions, such as Goethe is Faust’s opening.

None of this was true of previous generations, who tended to regard the human and the natural as diametrically opposed poles, with the natural occasionally wielding an evil power to degrade and dehumanise those drawn to it. The Romantics, in addition to cultivating an awareness of emotion in general, cultivated an awareness of nature in particular. It became apparent that contemplating beside a stream, viewing a thundering waterfall, or even confronting a rolling desert could be morally beneficial. Much of nineteenth-century nature writing possesses a religious quality that is unmatched in any other era. This attitude shift was to prove extremely powerful and long-lasting, as evidenced by the Germans’, Britons’, and Americans’ love of wilderness today.

It may seem paradoxical that this taste developed precisely at the time when the industrial revolution was destroying vast tracts of forest and field and transforming Europe into an unprecedentedly artificial environment, but it could almost certainly not have occurred at any other time. It is precisely urban dwellers who romanticise nature because they are aware of the stark contrast between their daily lives and the existence of wild creatures. They are drawn to it precisely because they are no longer a part of it unconsciously. Faust, for example, is drawn to the moonlit landscape outside his study at the start of Goethe is play largely because he is dissatisfied with the artificial world of learning in which he has previously lived.

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