Romanticism arose in the mid-1700s in Europe as a means of expression against prevailing trends of the time -- the aristocracies, the politics, and most importantly, the rigid restrictions of the Age of Reason, restrictions which explained all points of every day life in a scientific manner. Romanticism fought such narrow-minded thoughts on several fronts, including literature.
Perhaps the most important aspect of romantic literature was its emphasis on emotions, rather than the often cold logic of the Age of Reason. Writers looked inward in romantic literature. They looked at the psychological effects of events in one's life, at feelings about subjects that often had been ignored in past literature -- death and sadness, for instance. Writers offered varied opinions on such matters in romantic literature, rather than following a strict set of rules grounded in science.
Return to the Past
Romantic literature advocated a return to a simpler age and renewed interest in life during Medieval times. It also generated the quest for knowledge of ancient civilizations, such as those in Greece and Egypt, and helped pave the way for archeology to become a science.
Removal of Class Barriers
Romantic literature did not follow the time honored tradition of praising the rich and monarchies, but rather espoused equality for all. This aspect of the literature was a product of the times, when both the French and American Revolutions took place. Writers of romantic literature weren't bashful about questioning authority or advocating the rights of people to act as individuals rather than as a member of the mindless masses.
Tales From Near and Far
Romantic literature often told tales specific to a nation's history and its people, drawing from legends handed down from generation to generation. Paradoxically, another aspect of romantic literature that was popular was stories of far away locales or places supernatural or in the future. Heroes were a common element in romantic literature no matter where or when the story was based. Romantic literature often emphasized the use of imagination rather than previous experience.