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Romanticism in literature was defined as a literary, artistic and philosophical movement originating in the late 17th century and early 18th century, a movement against the Neoclassicism of the previous centuries. Neoclassism was characterized by emotional restraint, order, logic, technical, precision, balance, elegance of diction, an emphasis of form over content, clarity, dignity, and decorum (Morner 1997). Originating in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, Romanticism emphasized emotions and individualism, as well as glorifying the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical way of things. Many authors used their voice during this movement to show the five main characteristics of romanticism: interest in the common man and childhood, strong senses, emotions and feelings, awe of nature, celebration of the individual and importance of imagination.
Romanticism in literature began in the 1790 with the first publication of William Woodsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads. Woodsworth, who was considered one of the founders of British Romanticism, preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads became the platform to the Romantic movement. British Romanticism flourished in the glow of Wordsworth’s poetic encounter with nature and himself in The Prelude, Coleridge’s literary theories about reconciliation of opposites, the romantic posturing and irony of Byron, the lush imagery of Keats and the transcendental lyricism of Shelley, even the Gothicism of Mary Shelley and the Bronte Sisters (Woodlief, 2001). The peak years for American Romanticism were form 1850-1855, and it was the British and American culture combined that brought to light many amazing masterpieces such as: Hathorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Melville’s Moby-Dick and Whitman’s Leave of Grass. Romanticism essential goal was to rebel against the rules, laws that surrounded Classicism and Neoclassicism. In the 18th century, romanticism was perceived through science and reason, but by the 19th century it was seen as sentimental, lyricism and emotions. Reason is something all-inclusive and the Enlightenment discovered its models in old style France and Rome: all men are the equivalent in light of the fact that there are largely sensible. Romanticism is a fracture of cognizance, with no universalistic thoughts left. This movement used imagination over reason, emotions over logic and highly recognized authors from this era used romanticism to replace the stigma of classical writing and spoke about unpredictable and peculiar characters. Romanticism underlined the individual, the abstract, the nonsensical, the innovative, the unconstrained, the passionate, the visionary, and the supernatural. Romanticism was introduced by related developments and can be termed as the Pre-Romanticism, because of these developments medieval romance started to get appreciated and that’s where the name, the Romantic movement derived from.
Major authors form this era include Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne among others. Emily Dickinson, was born in December of 1830 and started writing her first poems when she was still a teen, she would share her poems with friends and family, but none became known publicly until after her death, titles such as: Because I could not stop for death, I heard a Fly buzz—when I died, among other famous poems. Emily Dickinson wrote her poems by the end of the Romanticism era, but in her writing, she was able to emphasize the importance of nature to the romantics, in most of her poems she mentions or compares something to nature. Edgar Allan Poe born in January of 1809 was a struggling writer, he tried to submit his stories to different magazines, and they were all rejected, until he finally got a job as an editor where he successfully managed and increased the circulation of the copies and eventually becoming a Dark Romantic. Some of his work include Annabel Lee, A dream Within a Dream and The Raven, among others. His poem Annabel Lee reflects the love that he had for her in a kingdom by the sea and that their love was so strong that supernatural forces and nature could not separate their sole (Richards-Gustafson,2019). Nathaniel Hawthorne born in July of 1804, was an American novelist who used dark romanticism in his short stories and was a major part of the Romanticism era. Notable works included Twice- Told Tales, The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, many of his work feature moral metaphors with an anti- puritan inspiration, his themes often center evil and sin of humanity. These writers all wanted to leave behind the rational world and discover the unsettling truth that lies in the dark.
Nathaniel Hawthorne uses dark romanticism in his story, The Scarlett Letter. A story about young woman named Hester Prynne who has been found guilty of adultery and must wear scarlet A on her dress as a sign of shame. Not only does this woman has to go through this
embarrassment of wearing the scarlet must stand in front of everybody, as she is being exposed
to humiliation. As she is looking out at the crowd, she sees a small figure and recognizes him as
her husband, who had been presumed death at sea. When asked about what happened to his wife, the people start to tell him about her adultery, and he feels as the partner and the baby’s father should both be punished. The husband takes on a new persona and demands to know who the father of the baby is, but Hester refuses. After being released from jail she settles in a cottage a little outside of town, making barely anything to survive in. Her daughter Pearl as an infant becomes very fascinated by her scarlet letter and as she grows older, she becomes very disobedient. The rumors start and the church member would like to have the daughter remove from Hester care. Hester after hearing this, searches for help and the person that is willing to help her and stands up for her, his health is failing. Reverend Dimmesdale health begins to fail and the people in the town are talking because of course they feel as such this is happening because of his unconfessed guilt, the fact that he may be Pearl’s father. After a few days and being consumed by his guilt he climbs onto the same scaffold Hester had to climb and confesses his sins and dies in Hester hands. After leaving for Europe for a few years and then returning Hester is becomes the person to tun to for solace and when she dies, she is buried next to Dimmesdale.
With this story Hawthorne portrays his dark romanticism by exploring the past, supernatural and comparing hat they did to Hester to sort of a witchcraft, where the witches were burn, but in this case, she was just labeled. Reverend Dimmesdale is the romantic hero in the story, he possesses qualities of being naïve, he never suspects of Rogers Chillingworth true intentions. Romanticism values feelings over reason, when Pearl senses Dimmesdale sin and point out to Helen that he holds his heart over his heart, Hester senses that her ex-husband is responsible for Dimmesdale deteriorating health and she promises to speak to him. Romanticism looks at nature’s beauty as the way to spiritual development, the walk that Hester and Dimmesdale take by the forest for him to tell her he’s sorry that he cannot confess his sins publicly but just to her. Romanticism also prefers youthful innocence to educate, Pearl tells her mother to not let the scarlet letter define her, and that’s when Pearl noticed the minister’s health declining as well, “It is the great letter A. Thou hast taught me in the horn-book” ( Hawthorne, Chapter XV). By shunning the artificiality of civilization when once again Hester and Dimmesdale meet, and the forest and Pearl feels free and two are free to talk about anything without having eyes in them and not being worried for at least two seconds of what people are thinking. Romanticism discovers motivation in fantasy, legend, and old stories. Hawthorne discovers motivation for his story with the created legend of the “scarlet letter,” and he creates the Puritan settlement of the times of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. In Chapter XIII, there is an investigation of Hester as an individual Hawthorne expresses, “The red letter has not done its office” (Hawthorne, Chapter XIII). For, Hester yet holds her autonomy and pledges to talk with Roger Chillingworth as she is stunned to see the adjustment in the priest.
By using the five characteristics of Romanticism, authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe were able to portrays amazing stories to today’s world, composed of interest in the common man and childhood, strong senses, emotions and feelings, awe of nature, celebration of the individual and importance of imagination. Romantics believed in the good in people which could sometimes be changed by civilization as well as gaining knowledge through intuition, rather than deduction.
- Uh.edu. (2019). Introduction to Romanticism. [online] Available at: http://www.uh.edu/engines/romanticism/introduction.html [Accessed 24 Jun. 2019].
- “William Wordsworth.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/william-wordsworth.
- Richards-Gustafson, Flora. “Examples of Poe’s Romanticism.” Education, 21 Nov. 2017, education.seattlepi.com/examples-poes-romanticism-5298.html.
- Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “THE SCARLET LETTER.” THE SCARLET LETTER – Free EBook Online, www.literatureproject.com/scarlet-letter/index.htm.
- Woodlief, Ann. Intro to American Romanticism, 18 Aug. 2001, archive.vcu.edu/english/engweb/eng372/intro.htm.
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