Basic Characteristics of the Romantic Period in Literature

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" is an example of Romantic literature.Edgar Allen Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" is an example of Romantic literature.

The late 1700s saw a change in literary form, a change that reflected new ways people thought about themselves and their place in society. Literature was becoming a thing of the common people, who wanted their stories to reflect their lives, not just those of royalty and military generals. Major writers in the Romantic period included Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth, William Blake, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Nature and the Common Man

It was the age of the "noble savage." The Romantics had had enough of rationalism and their literature reflected a glorification of nature, the common man and the emotions inherent in each of them. The ideals of the Romantic period were to simplify and return to a less complicated way of life which, because it was more "natural," was considered to be superior. The heroes of romantic literature didn't have to be royalty or "great" people, but the every day common person who found wisdom in the world around her and chose a lack of sophistication that was thought to be more honest and forthright.

Classical Ideas and Mythic Imagination

As the authors of romantic literature eschewed rationalism, they turned to mythic imagination to create their stories. When they turned to classical ideas of Greek and Roman literature, it was the mystical elements that they drew upon. The myths were the stuff of great stories and those ideals were woven into the literature of the romantic period. Romantic authors were often fascinated with the supernatural and were the forerunners of the horror genre. Literature of the period attempted to evoke fear.

Heroes and Nationalism

Whereas neoclassicism had demanded that heroes be noble, the heroes of the romantic period were drawn from the common people. They were also distinct in nationality, with literature drawing upon the history and folklore of the country from which the author came. The heroes were often patriots or folk heroes who helped to form a nation and protect it from outside influences.

Unusual Settings

Romantic literature didn't limit itself to just rural settings or those of a particular nationality, though that was definitely one of the characteristics. Authors of this school often chose unusual settings from the past or future, settings with magical or mythic elements or even off-planet. Just as romantic literature was the forerunner of the horror genre, it was also the forerunner of the fantasy and science fiction genres.

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About the Author

As a professional writer since 1985, Bridgette Redman's career has included journalism, educational writing, book authoring and training. She's worked for daily newspapers, an educational publisher, websites, nonprofit associations and individuals. She is the author of two blogs, reviews live theater and has a weekly column in the "Lansing State Journal." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University.

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