Romanticism was a movement that encompassed all of the arts during the first half of the 19th century. In many ways, Romanticism was a reaction against the scientific development that occurred during the Enlightenment. Artists, writers, and poets all desired to express more emotion, especially in the characterization of nature within their art. Emotional expression was at the heart of authentic experience during the Romantic era.
Romanticism largely rejected rules, so it becomes difficult to specifically define its beginning and end points. In many ways, Romanticism emerged with the French Revolution (1789), although some earlier examples exist in literature. Certainly Romanticism was in full force by 1800, and can be clearly heard in the music of Ludwig von Beethoven, whose artistic triumph in such pieces as his 5th or 9th Symphonies represent high points of the movement.
In literature, Romanticism first emerged in Germany, represented in the works of Goethe. His works were highly influential in England, where Romanticism was best represented in poetry. Romantic poets of the day were the following:
- William Wordsworth
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
- Lord Byron
- John Keats
- William Blake
In America, the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper can be classified as Romantic.
Many of the people who are now considered to be Romantics were writers and artists. In fact, even though Romanticism affected political discourse at the time, it was in literature and art that the concepts of the Romantics appeared most frequently. Initially, the time period experienced a revolution in publishing that improved the distribution of literature to the masses. The printing press was improved to the point that books could be produced relatively inexpensively and this process allowed a larger number of people to read the works of the Romantics and to be influenced by their ideas.
One of the differences between the literature of the Romantics and literature produced during the Enlightenment period was the ability to produce works that were more experimental and creative than in the past. Things to think about regarding this include the following:
- Was Romanticism an exclusively Western phenomenon?
- What aspects of Chinese, Indian, or African culture might be called Romantic?
- Explain why/how Eastern Romantic aspects reflect the ideas of Western Romanticism.