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Characteristics of Romanticism in English Literature


The Romantic period in English literature began in the late 1700s and lasted through the mid-1800s. Romanticism focuses on the emotional side of human nature, individualism, the beauty of the natural world and the simplicity of common people. Romantic authors value sentimental, heartfelt feelings and emotional experiences over historical and scientific facts.

Imagination and Creativity

Romantic-period writers stress the imaginative and subjective side of human nature, according to Carol Scheidenhelm, English professor at Loyola University in Chicago. Characters' thoughts, feelings, inner struggles, opinions, dreams, passions and hopes reign supreme. For example, in William Wordsworth's poem "The Prelude," the narrator is disappointed by his experiences crossing the Alps and imagines unlikely natural phenomenon on his journey, such as powerful waterfalls. Romantic authors don't allow facts or truths to inhibit them from expressing imaginative ideas, especially as they relate to nature.

The Beauty of Nature

Romantic literature explores the intense beauty of nature, and Romantic writers invest natural events and objects with a divine presence, suggests Lilia Melani, English professor at Brooklyn College. For example, in Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself," the poet refers to the grass as a "hieroglyphic" and "the handkerchief of the Lord." Romantic authors understood progress and the changing tide toward industrialization, but they prioritized and glamorized natural beauty over urbanization, commercialism and materialism.

Individualism and Solitude

Romanticism appeals to individualism, rather than conventional norms or collectivism. For example, in "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley, the monster is a Romantic hero because he symbolizes individuality and nonconformity. Shelley wanted readers to sympathize with the monster's plight, praising him for his simplicity, originality and distinctiveness. Even though Frankenstein lives in solitude and experiences rejection, readers see him as a genuine representation of humankind. Romantic authors valued independent thinking, creativity and self-reliance.

Romantic Love

Characters in Romantic-era stories and poems experience deep, emotional, passionate love. They don't typically marry out of convenience or involve themselves in stagnant romantic relationships and are extremely unhappy if they choose to do so. Romantic love is intensely wistful and amorous. For example, Healthcliff -- the primary male protagonist in "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte -- tears open his deceased lover's casket so he can lie beside her. This heart-wrenching display of love and devotion, Melani suggest, demonstrates the unbridled passion of Romantic characters.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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