American Romanticism (1800-Civil War)

We cannot think about America's early writers, Irving, Cooper, Bryant and Poe, as if they were all writing about the same things in the same way. We should recognize, however, that all four writers shared some of the characteristics of Romanticism, a literary movement that began in Europe in the late eighteenth century and dominated literature on both sides of the Atlantic in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Romanticism was a reaction to Classicism, the Age of Reason movement in the arts that attempted to duplicated the order and balance in the art of Greece and Rome. While Classicism stressed reason over emotion and social concerns over personal ones, Romantic writers stressed personal experience and were often highly emotional. Among the earliest Romantic writers were the British poet William Wordsworth and the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The qualities of Romanticism vary from place to place, and few Romantic writers exhibit all of them. But there are some characteristics that can give us a general definition of Romanticism:
  • a profound love of nature;
  • celebtration of the individual;
  • a fascination with the supernatural, the mysterious and the Gothic;
  • a yearning for the picturesque and the exotic
  • a deep-rooted idealism; and
  • a passionate nationalism, or love of country.
Romantic writers reveal with emotion their own personal visions and delve deeply into the individual personalities of their characters. Poe is representative of this strain of Romanticism, for he often displays the tortured minds and hearts of inward-looking characters (Montresor). Poe also demonstrates a fascination with the Gothic, the dark, irrational side of the imagination.

The following material was copied and gleaned from Literature: The American Experience. Ed. Ellen Bowler. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994.