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What was the Romantic Era?

Ngainunmawi Sonna, Audrey Farley
  • Author
    Ngainunmawi Sonna

    Mawi Sonna has taught elementary to college level students. She graduated from K-State with her BA and MA in English Literature and Creative Writing, minors in Spanish and Art, and also hold a Primary Text Certificate.

  • Instructor
    Audrey Farley

    Audrey is a doctoral student in English at University of Maryland.

Explore the characteristics of the romantic period. Along with the aspects of romanticism, also discover when and where did romanticism originate and end. Updated: 02/08/2022

Table of Contents


Romanticism: Overview

Romanticism isn't the same as the lower-case word "romantic". In fact, the meaning of this intellectual, literary, and artistic movement is quite different. Romanticism began in the late 18th to 19th century in Europe and North America, most notably in England and Germany. Romanticism was a response to the Age of Enlightenment, which saw reason and skepticism as essential to society's development. In contrast to Enlightenment thinkers, the Romantics saw the consequences of the Enlightenment, such as the scientific advancements that led to inhumane conditions during the industrial revolution. The hope to reconnect with the healing qualities of nature and to step away from the busyness of life were aspects of Romanticism that differed from the Enlightenment.

Another way the Romantics responded to Enlightenment rationalism was through transcendentalism, the idea that the divine is within people and nature, thus making the highest authority God rather than the government. Notable Romantic poets and writers, such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord George Byron, William Blake, and Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, would go on to influence characteristics of Romanticism, including artistic and literary themes, mythology, aesthetics, point-of-view, personification, and works that reflected the social issues of their time.

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  • 0:04 Overview of Romanticism
  • 0:27 Individuality and…
  • 1:15 Emotion and Intuition
  • 1:48 Sublime Awe of Nature
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Characteristics of The Romantic Period

Two central characteristics of the Romantic period are nature and the sublime, which both emphasize the powerful role of nature as a source and place of tranquility, transcendence, and healing. Yet, equally, the sublime presents nature as an awe-inspiring force, allowing the viewer to be swept by their emotions and senses. In addition, emotion and intuition serve as the main ways of knowing and gaining knowledge about oneself. These senses are connected to nature through another romanticism characteristic, imagination, which was defined as having the creative capacity and power to shape the mind and elevate it through nature.

Furthermore, spirituality and the supernatural are qualities of romanticism that allow the reader to feel their human emotions and have new experiences, rather than reasoning and expecting the outcome. In rejecting the ideas of the Enlightenment, the Romanticism movement celebrated childhood and saw it as a time that should not be rushed by adulthood, because children are not bound to demands and rationales.

Lastly, personification was a romanticism era characteristic that allowed the Romantics to attribute human emotions to nature, stretch the boundaries of the imagination, and show the connection humans could have to the natural world.

The possibilities with the Imagination

Imagination Drawing

Individuality and Self-Awareness

An important characteristic of the Romantic era is its emphasis on individuality and self-awareness, which can be derived from Rousseau's ideas that an individual who is uncorrupted by society is free. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss-born philosopher and writer of the early 18th century. Although he was a part of the Enlightenment era, his ideas sparked the rise and formation of Romantic thought. One of Rousseau's most famous concepts was the idea of "the noble savage". During his time, this was not necessarily meant as a derogatory term, but one that illustrated an individual or group of people who were neither corrupted by industrial nor technological societies. Ultimately, to Rousseau, a "noble savage" remained free from selfish desires, symbolizing innate goodness.

Emotion and Intuition

Another characteristic the Romantics valued was emotion and intuition. To the Romantics, unlike the Enlightenment thinkers, the ability to fully experience the world through the senses meant being able to understand the full range of human experience. The literature of the Enlightenment focused heavily on epistolaries (letters) and encyclopedias: essentially, work absent of all emotion except reason.

An essential figure of this time period was William Wordsworth, one of the English poets responsible for ushering in the Romantic era. Wordsworth spoke about emotion in relation to the power of poetry in his work, Lyrical Ballads, as "the spontaneous overflow of feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility".

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the aspects of Romanticism?

Aspects of Romanticism are the Sublime, Nature, Individualism, Imagination, Childhood, Emotion, Intuition, Spiritual and the Supernatural. These aspects connect and elevate the human experience to the Divine and the natural world around them.

What was the main feature of romanticism?

Romanticism is an intellectual, literary, and artistic movement focused on nature and the imagination. A main feature of romanticism is its response to the Enlightenment's push for reason and science. Unlike the Enlightenment, Romanticism's focus on nature and the individual lead to societal change and attention to causes such as child labor and slavery.

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