Romanticism in Literature: A Renaissance of Writing
They will not hear me as I sing these songs,
The parted souls to whom I sang the first;
Gone is that first response, in vain one longs
For friendly crowds that have long been dispersed
My grief responds to strangers, unknown throngs
Applaud it, and my anxious heart would burst.
Whoever used to praise my poem's worth,
If they still live, stray scattered through the earth (Goethe, Faust 69)
--"Dedication from Faust" Johann von Goethe (1749-1832)
Critics and scholars alike still applaud Goethe for his many novels, poems and plays. Today, he is considered the greatest German writer, and one of the greatest figures in world literature. Little did Goethe know, while writing this dedication, that he and his French counterpart, Jean Jacques Rousseau, would inspire a global, literary movement that would prosper for more than a century. With Götz von Berlichingen in 1773 and The Sorrow of Young Werther in 1774, Goethe opened the doors for the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) movement that would later give rise to German Romanticism.
was not alone in the Romantic movement. The French philosopher,
Jean Jacques Rousseau, preached the importance of the individual,
freedom of the human spirit, and the power of emotions.
However, the full movement in France was hindered by the
revolution and the Napoleanic wars. Romanticism didn't hit
England until the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1800
by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The two
poets abandoned tradition and convention in poetry to suit
the new Romantic philosophy. This revolt against convention
and classicism spread across the hemisphere to America.
With the Revolutions of 1848, Romanticism swallowed Europe
which advocated the rights of the individual, was embraced
by American anarchists and also influenced romantic poetry
and art. Writers also criticized cities, opposed the Industrial
Revolution, and revered nature; as Wordsworth mentions in
The Prelude (1850):
From Nature doth emotion come,
Of calmness equally are Nature's gift
Of peace and excitation, find in her
His best and purest friend; from her receives
That energy by which he seeks the truth,
From her that happy stillness of the mind
Which fits him to receive it when unsought. (Noyes 298)
The American Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and
Henry David Thoreau were extreme advocates of nature as
shown in their respective essays Nature (1836) and Walden
(1854). The triumph of nature over man is often seen in
Romantic literature, especially in Melville's Moby Dick.
On a side note, according to Social Contract, science, which
represented logic, was also frowned upon, as demonstrated
in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Another topic that fascinated Romantics was that of the supernatural, which was seen most often in American Dark Romanticism and British Gothic Romances. This part of the movement was inspired by the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, from which the motif of the doppelgänger (double) sprung. Heinrich Heine, E.T.A. Hoffman, Adelbert von Chamisso, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Edgar Allan Poe wrote novels and short stories on the theme. Perhaps the most well-known short story on the double is "The Fall of the House of Usher," by Edgar Allan Poe. Roderick and Madeleine are twins who share a deadly fate. Through them, Poe suggests that the intellectually-oriented mind (Roderick) cannot live without a physically-oriented body (Madeleine). Simply put, Romanticism in literature was a dopplegänger itself; on one side, the Dark Romantics and Gothic writers believed in the inherent evil of man, and on the other side, the Transcendentalists and Romantic poets believed man was naturally good.
Emotion and intuition, imagination and innocence-these ideas were the cornerstones of the Romantic movement. To ignore feeling in response to logic was a tragic idea, and it fueled the tenets of Romantic literature until Realism sought to evaluate why it was thought this way. In conclusion, the Romantic movement produced individualistic, unconventional, and unrepressed work the world had not experienced before. Needless to say, the Romantic movement was a renaissance that sought to show the world the importance of emotion and nature, the fascinating depths of the supernatural, and the evils of society and industrialism.
Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through
the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
-From "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Faust. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Anchor Books Doubleday, 1961.
"Romanticism (literature)," Microsoft®
Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Noyes, Russell. English Romantic Poetry and Prose. New York: Oxford University Press, 1956.
Whitman, Walt. "Song of myself." Everypoet.com. 2000. <http://www.everypoet.com>