All You Need To Know About The Romantic Age (Late 18th to Mid 19th Century)

Romanticism, an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement, originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century and peaked in the first half of the 19th century. Broadly, it prevailed from 1798 to 1850. It was a reaction against the Industrial Revolution, Enlightenment rationalism, and the societal norms of the time. Romanticism emphasized emotion, imagination, individualism, and the awe-inspiring power of nature.

Romantic writers rejected the exaltation of reason and science, emphasizing emotions, intuitions, and mystical experiences instead. They valued nature and praised its beauty through its works in the wake of industrialization that was steadily spreading throughout the world. Their efforts were directed towards creating a sense of shared and collective heritage. The common cultural past ignited nationalism and Romantic writers only fueled this feeling.

Romantic Age Literature Late 18 to Mid 19 Century

This article provides insight into the origins of the Romantic Age and its influence on later 19th-century approaches. Follow this straightforward and organized timeline and description to gain a complete understanding of this transformative era:

Early Influences (Late 18th Century)

The Enlightenment period, spanning from the late 17th to the late 18th centuries, was characterized by a profound emphasis on reason, science, and rational thought. It helped in “enlightening” the people by making them understand how human reason and logical thinking could improve the world. However, this emphasis on rationalism and scientific inquiry also led to a growing disillusionment with the constraints of reason alone in explaining the complexities of human emotion, spirituality, and the natural world. As the Enlightenment unfolded, its critics began to challenge the perceived limitations of rationalism, seeking to explore deeper realms of human experience that went beyond mere logic and empirical observation.

Industrialization Industrial revolution

During this time, various political revolutions took place such as the American Revolution, French Revolution, and Industrialization. George III was the king during the start of Romanticism, under whose rule American independence was won after the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Due to the Industrial Revolution (1760), people started becoming industrialized and ignored the worth of nature in their quest for development. The French Revolution (1798-1799) with the slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” was another major social upheaval that completely changed the relationship between the rulers and those they governed, redefining the nature of political power.

This intellectual climate, which brought about rapid industrialization and urbanization, laid the groundwork for Romantic writers to express their concern towards nature’s well-being, focus on emotions, and give weight to human feelings more than rational thought. The “Graveyard Poets” or “Churchyard Poets” were some of the pre-romantic poets of the 18th century who meditated on the subject of mortality through their works. Also, “Lake Poets” were the ones in the first half of the 19th century who all lived in the Lake District of England and wrote about nature, rural life, human emotions, and the connection between humanity and the natural world. While the former included writers like Thomas Gray, Robert Blair, and Edward Young; the latter included William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey.

Notably, Romantic poets and writers are often categorized into “first-generation” and “second-generation” Romantics based on their periods and literary contributions. While the first generation emphasized a relationship with nature, individualism, and the expression of personal emotions and experiences; the second generation explored more radical and revolutionary themes, including social critique, political activism, and a deeper engagement with the darker aspects of human existence.

Emergence of Romanticism And First-Generation Romantics (Late 18th to Early 19th Century)

Romantic Poets 18 century 19 century

The essay “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” (1798) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth marked the beginning of the Romantic Age. It challenged the formal poetic conventions of the time and emphasized emotional sincerity and a bond with nature. The collaboration between Wordsworth and Coleridge in this collection marked a significant departure from prevailing literary norms, setting the stage for the Romantic movement.

William Wordsworth, a central figure of English Romanticism, emphasized a profound connection between nature and human emotion in his poetry. He celebrated the beauty and spiritual significance of the natural world, portraying it as a source of solace and inspiration. Wordsworth’s use of everyday language, known as “the language of men”, sought to capture the ordinary experiences of common people in a poetic form, elevating the mundane to the sublime.

On the other hand, Samuel Taylor Coleridge delved into the realms of the supernatural and imagination, exploring themes of mystery and the unconscious mind. Coleridge’s works, such as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan”, exemplify his fascination with dreamlike landscapes, symbolism, and the transformative power of the imagination in shaping reality. Together, Wordsworth and Coleridge exemplified the diverse facets of Romanticism, from nature-inspired lyrical verse to imaginative exploration of the supernatural.

From the first generation of Romantic writers, other significant figures were Robert Southey and Charles Lamb. Robert Southey, known for his epic poems like “Thalaba the Destroyer” and “The Curse of Kehama,” explored themes of heroism, folklore, and exoticism. Charles Lamb, though primarily known for his essays and literary criticism, contributed to the Romantic movement through his personal and reflective style, often emphasizing the importance of individual experience and sentiment.

High Romanticism And Second-Generation Romantics (Early to Mid-19th Century)

Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and Mary Shelley were prominent Second-Generation Romantic writers, each making distinct contributions to the movement.

Byron’s poetry reflected his rebellious and adventurous spirit, characterized by themes of individualism, freedom, and defiance against societal norms, as seen in works like “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” and “Don Juan.”

Shelley’s poetry embodied idealism and social critique, advocating for political and societal reform while exploring themes of love, nature, and the pursuit of a better world in poems such as “Ode to the West Wind” and “Prometheus Unbound.”

Keats, known for his lyrical and sensual poetry, delved into the complexities of beauty, mortality, and imagination, capturing profound insights into the human experience and the transient nature of life in works like “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Together, Byron, Shelley, and Keats exemplified the diversity and depth of English Romantic poetry, shaping the movement with their poetic vision, emotional intensity, and profound philosophical inquiries.

Mary Shelley gothic romanticism Frankenstein 1818

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (1818) also stands as an iconic work of Gothic fiction, encapsulating the Romantic era’s preoccupations with nature, science, and the complexities of the human condition. The novel’s Gothic elements, including eerie settings and supernatural occurrences, are intertwined with profound philosophical questions about the essence of life and the consequences of playing with God. Shelley explores themes like isolation, the pursuit of knowledge, and the struggle between creator and creation in “Frankenstein”.

Nationalism and Revolution (Early 19th Century)

The Romantic Movement has a vital role to play when it comes to invoking the feeling of Nationalism throughout Europe. It portrayed nature as a powerful symbol of national identity and spirituality. Romantic artists, writers, and intellectuals sought inspiration from their own countries’ folklore, legends, and landscapes, viewing them as repositories of authentic cultural expression. By exploring and promoting native traditions and myths, Romanticism helped reinforce a sense of national pride and identity.

Other than England, Romanticism emerged in various other countries of Europe through literary works as follows: 

  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s influential works, particularly “The Sorrows of Young Werther” (1774) and “Faust” (1808), played a pivotal role in the development of German Romanticism.
  • In France, Romanticism manifested in the works of writers like Victor Hugo, whose novels “Les Misérables” (1862) and “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” (1831) emphasized themes of social justice, passion, and rebellion against societal norms. Other French Romantic writers included Alfred de Musset, Stendhal, and George Sand, each contributing to the rich tapestry of Romantic literature.
  • In Italy, the Romantic movement was influenced by figures such as Giacomo Leopardi and Alessandro Manzoni, who explored themes of nostalgia, love, and the search for spiritual fulfillment in their poetry and prose.
  • Also, Spanish Romanticism was characterized by writers like José de Espronceda and Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, known for their passionate and emotional poetry.

Late Romanticism and Beyond (Mid to Late 19th Century)

The Mid and Late 19th Century witnessed some more movements that are worth noting, such as Transcendentalism and Realism.

What is Transcendentalism  19 Century

The Wake Of Transcendentalism:

Towards the mid-19th century, Transcendentalism emerged as a key facet of American Romanticism, spearheaded by figures like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. This movement emphasized the primacy of spiritual intuition over empirical knowledge, championed individualism, and celebrated nature’s power and beauty.

Transcendentalists believed in the inherent goodness of people and the importance of self-reliance, advocating for the pursuit of truth through personal experience and inner reflection rather than conforming to societal norms or institutions. One could say that it was an extension of the already-existing Romanticism. Through their essays, lectures, and writings, Emerson and Thoreau profoundly influenced American literature and thought, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to inspire seekers of truth and advocates for the sanctity of the individual and nature.

Some of the other people connected to the Transcendental Movement (like Bronson Alcott, George Ripley, and Margaret Fuller) contributed to a rich intellectual and literary tradition in America that emphasized spiritual growth, self-exploration, and the quest for deeper meaning in life.

Shift Towards Realism:

The mid-19th century witnessed a significant shift from Romanticism towards realism in literature and art, reflecting a departure from idealized portrayals towards a more objective and detailed representation of everyday life. Realism emerged as a response to the perceived excesses of Romanticism, which often focused on heightened emotions, idealized landscapes, and heroic figures.

Realist artists and writers, such as Gustave Courbet in painting and authors like Gustave Flaubert and Charles Dickens in literature, sought to depict ordinary people and situations with accuracy and authenticity. While realism challenged Romantic ideals by prioritizing truthfulness and rejecting sentimentality, it still maintained a commitment to exploring human emotions and social issues. Realist works often delved into themes of poverty, class struggle, and the harsh realities of urban life, providing a nuanced critique of society.

Despite this shift, elements of emotional depth and social critique persisted in realism, demonstrating continuity with Romanticism’s concern for human experiences and societal challenges, albeit portrayed through a more sober and objective lens. This transition marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of literary and artistic movements, setting the stage for further explorations into the complexities of human existence and societal conditions.

The period from 1837 to 1901 is commonly referred to as the “Victorian Era” or “Victorian Age.” This era was named after Queen Victoria, who became Queen of the United Kingdom in 1837 after the death of her uncle, King William IV. There was a constitutional monarchy at this time in England and the period was associated with a strict sense of morality, industrial expansion, technological advancements, and the flourishing of arts and literature.

Jennis Jacob

Jennis Jacob, a passionate literary enthusiast in her 20s, is a writer and poet. With eight years of experience in literature, she is currently a master in English and finds inspiration in Womanist, American, and Indian Partition Literatures. Her works have appeared in anthologies such as ‘Carved Words Of Creative Minds’ and ‘100 Splendid Voices,’ and she is working on upcoming books. Through LitWithASip, she aims to ignite a love for literature and empower individuals to embrace their true selves.

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