Romanticism in Literature: Definition & Characteristics

Romanticism in Literature: Definition & Characteristics
Coming up next: One Summer Night by Ambrose Bierce: Summary & Analysis

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Defining Romanticism
  • 0:43 Breaking Convention &…
  • 2:05 Ruins From the Past
  • 2:51 Emotion & Power of the Senses
  • 3:49 Nature & the Sublime
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Burke

Erin has taught college level english courses and has a master's degree in english.

This lesson will explore Romanticism in literature. We will define the Romantic movement by examining and exploring some of its most important characteristics.

Defining Romanticism

Romantic writers? Those are the people who write Valentine's Day cards, right? Well, not exactly. While most people associate the word romantic with love, in a literary context it is something much different. Romanticism in literature is difficult to define simply. Generally, though, we can say that the Romantic Movement took place in the 18th and 19th centuries, most notably in England and America. The writings of this period reacted in part against the preceding Age of Enlightenment, with its emphasis on clear, rational thought. The Romantics, as we'll see, took a more subjective approach to examining their surroundings.

Breaking Convention

The poets and writers of the Romantic Movement wanted to break new literary ground. This period is full of writers ignoring the traditional rules. The early British Romantics, such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, sought to make poetry more accessible to the common folk. They wrote poems in conversational style in an effort to remove the stigma of pompousness from poetry. Later, when Romanticism flourished in the United States, American Walt Whitman wrote his poems in the radical style of free verse. These poems completely broke with typical poetic conventions such as rhyme and meter.

Rebellion

These Romantics weren't ones to go along with the crowd. They passionately believed in individuality and being true to oneself; hence the business about breaking convention, above. Romantics celebrated rebellion. Walt Whitman saw himself as rebelling against old traditions, creating a bold, new, specifically American style of poetry. His poems celebrate the individual self above everything - his most famous poem is called Song of Myself. We also see the theme of rebellion in British Romantic Mary Shelley's famous novel, Frankenstein. In it, Dr. Frankenstein's monstrous creation rebels against his master but is still presented as a sympathetic character to the reader.

Ruins From the Past

The Romantics loved to brood on the mysteries of ancient civilizations, especially those of Greece and Rome. Their writings often ponder the deeper meaning of life in light of the history of ancient lands. In John Keats' famous 'Ode On A Grecian Urn,' the speaker waxes philosophical as he examines the paintings on an old Greek urn. Another British Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, wrote a chilling poem called 'Ozymandias.' It describes the statue of an Egyptian king named Ramses II from ages ago, now crumbled to pieces in a desert. While Ramses II was all-powerful at the time the statue was erected, the fact that the statue ends up in ruins indicates a deep, terrifying truth about the fleetingness of man's time on Earth.

Emotion

The Romantics were a sentimental, brooding lot. They really, really loved to talk about their feelings. This is a big part of that reaction against the Age of Enlightenment. Literature of the previous age was marked by clear, objective rationality. The Romantics had no interest in this. They used their hearts before their heads. William Wordsworth summed up Romantic Poetry perfectly when he called it 'the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.'

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support