Dr. Hareshwar Roy


Romanticism has very little to do with love. It is a complex artistic, literary, and intellectual movement. It originated in the second half of the 18th century in Western Europe. It might best be described as anti-Classicism. It can be seen as a rejection of the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality. This movement stressed human emotion and thoughts and emphasized the individual, the imaginative, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental. Popular romantic authors include people like Burke, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Byron, Gordon, Burns, Southey, Cowper, Shelley, Scott, Goethe, Lamb, De Quincey, Carlyle, Bronte sisters and Jane Austen.


Romanticism arose so gradually and exhibited so many phases that a satisfactory definition is not possible. The German poet Friedrich Schlegel defined it as "literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form." Victor Hugo's phrase "liberalism in literature" is also apt. The Romanticism can be viewed as an artistic movement, or state of mind, or both. It is a revolt against the Neoclassicism of the previous centuries and rebellion against established social rules and conventions.


The word Romanticism has a complex and interesting history. It gained momentum as a literary movement in Britain in the early decades of the 19th century and flourished until mid-century. It started with the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads in 1798. The “Preface” of the second edition of Lyrical Ballads appeared as the manifesto of the English Romanticism. William Blake is considered to be the third principal poet of the movement.  The second phase of Romanticism started in about 1805. At this time English Romantic poetry had reached its zenith in the works of Keats, Byron, and Shelley. The romantic era was also rich in literary criticism and other non-fictional prose. All the romantic characteristics can also be found in the prose works of Lamb, Hazlitt and De Quincey.  The revived historical appreciation was translated into imaginative writing by Sir Walter Scott. Austen delineated human relationships within the context of English country life.


To discuss the general characteristics of Romanticism is very difficult because they are numerous. The fascination for Nature, imagination, past, individualism, spontaneity and freedom from rules are some important characteristics of Romanticism.

[a] Interest in the common man and childhood:  

Romantics believed in the natural goodness of humans which is hindered by the urban life of civilization. They believed that the savage is noble, childhood is good and the emotions inspired by both beliefs causes the heart to soar.

[b] Strong senses, emotions, and feelings:

Romantics believed that knowledge is gained through intuition rather than deduction. This is best summed up by Wordsworth who stated that “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”

[c] Awe of nature:

"Nature" meant many things to the Romantics. They stressed the awe of nature in art and language and the experience of sublimity through a connection with nature. They rejected the rationalization of nature by the previous thinkers of the Enlightenment period.

[d] Celebration of the individual:

Romantics often elevated the achievements of the misunderstood, heroic individual outcast. They asserted the importance of the individual, the unique, even the eccentric. Consequently they opposed the character typology of neoclassical drama.

[e] Importance of imagination

Romantics legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority. They tended to define and to present the imagination as our ultimate "shaping" or creative power. According to them imagination is the primary faculty for creating all art.


.           Finally, it should be noted that the revolutionary energy underlying the Romantic Movement affected not just literature, but all of the arts. It has its spread from eastward to Russia and from westward to America. It is clear that Romanticism has transformed Western culture in many ways. Some of its major precepts have survived into the twentieth century and still affect our contemporary period.      


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