Primary Characteristics of Romanticism

by Rebekah Smith

Romanticism is a philosophical, literary and artistic movement that significantly changed how individuals viewed themselves and the world. It is not related to “romance” as it's understood today. England and Germany were strongholds of the romantic movement, which lasted from the 1770s through the 1870s. It coincided with the “Age of Revolution,” the period of time in which the French, American and Industrial Revolutions took place. Romanticism changed how all art was perceived and practiced, especially literature, which focused on ideal situations and fantasy.

Nature

In literature, nature became a place where people went to gain solace and refuge. It provided knowledge and spiritual guidance. Nature was spiritual in romanticism. It was also used to punish or reward the characters. Nature is a companion, always there, teaching and comforting the characters. Nature speaks in a human voice and shares human qualities, and it interacted with people through these human elements.

Symbolism

Realism was abandoned and stoic social customs were ignored as a new worldview took shape, transforming the real world itself in literary works. The good characters, the heroes and heroines, always received justice. The "common man" was the primary character. Stories of common people were shared, and writers turned them into legends and songs. The importance of the home and heart became central focuses.

Imagination

Instead of focusing on what is and how people actually are, romanticism challenged the imagination. Everyday people became the heroes of literature. Foreshadowing occurred through dreams and visions to prepare the characters for the upcoming battle. Anything was possible. Humans became forms of deities. They are active. Writers sought to combine reason with emotion but enabled their characters to overcome any obstacle.

Emotion and Self

The plot of romanticism centered around a final battle or crisis that had to be overcome. Individuals were idealized. There was honor and integrity in the heroes and heroines. Romantic love was often explored. Literary characters were emotional, not reasonable. They were individualistic. Characters found themselves searching or living in “ideal” situations. Characters were concerned with developing themselves and their personal journeys.

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