The Romantic Era & Gothic Ideas

Romanticism was a philosophical movement during the early eighteenth and late nineteenth centuries in Europe that made its mark on literature, art, politics and religion. A single definition of Romanticism is hard to pinpoint, as it went through many stages gradually over time. Several ideas flowed from Romanticism and Gothicism that contributed to the philosophy.

Opposition to the Enlightenment

One way to define Romanticism is to consider why the Romantics pitted themselves against the Enlightenment movement across Europe, which celebrated reason. According to The History Guide, the Romantics opposed the Enlightenment because of what Romantics considered the single-minded, robotic, all too objective "philosophes" of which the Enlightenment was composed of. These "philosophes," according the the Romantics, prevented self-consciousness, playfulness and freedom of expression and creativity. Emotions and spontaneousness were stifled by the Enlightenment ways of thinking, which were considered vital, basic human rights to Romantics.

Earth Science

Whereas the Enlightenment sought out the study of celestial bodies, Romanticism sought out the science of nature and life on Earth, according to The History Guide. The Romantics considered the study of physics and nature on Earth to be an adequate study of the human condition, which relates to John Keat's writings: "O for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts." Whereas the Enlightenment scholars studied the mechanics of celestial processes beyond this planet, the Romantics reined back to studying the natural and spiritual life on Earth, and repopularized mysticism and supernaturalism.


The first Gothic novel appeared in the Romantic era, in 1765, entitled "The Castle of Otranto" by Horace Whapole. This book, along with the movement of Gothic literature, featured supernatural and medieval aspects that made the novel fresh and widespread in its time. Similar bits of Gothic literature were set in medieval times. Most Gothic literature also included supernatural and mystical elements, such as omens, soothsayers, characters driven by emotional and passionate motivations instead of reason and logic, as well as great drama and suspense.

Gothic Architecture

The term Gothic, once used as a word of contempt during the Renaissance era due to its association with barbaric tribes, returned fresh in the Romantic period. Gothic architecture, often intricate and embellished, is characterized by ribbed and domed vaults, vaulted ceilings, pointed arches, narrow spires and stained windows. The very high ceilings represent high aspirations to the heavens. Many castles and churches were built in this fashion during the Romantic period, especially after publication of Whapole's novel, after which he rebuilt Strawberry Hill as a Gothic-style castle.

About the Author

Jane McDonaugh has been a professional writer and editor since 2010, with expertise in literature, television, film and humor. She is a freelance reader for Author Solutions Film and has held many other positions in television and film production. McDonaugh holds a Bachelor of Arts in television production and English from Emerson College.

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