The Romantic Age In English Literature

The Romantic Age In English Literature


Romantic Age In English Literature is taken to begin with the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge`s Lyrical Ballads and end with the death of the novelist, Sir Walter Scott. The historical and literary contexts and effects covered a broader time span. No other period in English literature displays more variety in style, theme, and content than the Romantic Movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Furthermore, no period has been the topic of so much disagreement and confusion over its defining principles and aesthetics. In England, Romanticism had its greatest influence from the end of the eighteenth century up to 1832, all the way up to about 1870.

Its primary vehicle of expression was in poetry. Because the expression Romanticism is a phenomenon of immense scope, embracing as it does, literature, politics, history, philosophy, and the arts in general, there has never been much agreement and much confusion as to what the word means.

What Is Romantic Age In English Literature

The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is given credit for first using the term romantic age to describe literature, defined it as “literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form Imagination, emotion, and freedom are certainly the focal points of Romanticism.

Any list of particular characteristics of the literature of Romanticism includes subjectivity and an emphasis on individualism; spontaneity; freedom from rules; solitary life rather than life in society; the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty; love of and worship of nature.

Characteristics Of Romantic Age In English Literature

1. THE EXPRESSIVE THEORY OF ART: Literary criticism in the West up to the eighteenth century regarded art as either imitative or pragmatic. Art as imitation means that art reflects the world outside, like a mirror. Therefore there is always an ‘original’ to be found in nature, of which the art is a copy. That is why this theory prioritizes the role of the outside world in the creation of art. Art as a pragmatic project means that art represents the outside world imbued with lessons the artist wants his audience to learn. Thus nature is represented as lit with the glow of the artist’s perception, like a lamp. But with the arrival of the Romantics, art came to be viewed as expressive. This means that art is the expression of the image inside the artist’s mind. It is the spontaneous presentation of emotions and thoughts that the artist wants to communicate with his audience. Apart from this intended communication, art has no other conscious goal.

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2. RETURN TO NATURE: The Romantic age witnessed the initial progress of the Industrial Revolution. England at that time was transforming from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy. This inevitably resulted in the destruction of the pristine rural landscape, and its replacement by factories and their chimneys belching smoke into the sky.

The population felt pangs of nostalgia at the loss of the soothing natural landscape, and hatred towards the ‘ugly’ mechanical. The Luddites are a good example of contemporary technophobia. They operated on the justifiable assumption that technology would snatch away jobs from people. In the feeling of literature, this sentiment manifested as a strong inclination towards a “return to nature”.

From William Wordsworth to P. B. Shelley and Sir Walter Scott, poets and writers alike expressed overt or subtle antagonism towards machines and a love and admiration for nature untainted by the touch of human civilization.

3. THE ROMANTIC REBELLION: In sync with the affinity with a lost natural existence, the Romantics developed a strong anti-establishment stance as the establishment came to represent the much-hated mechanical civilisation.

Outwardly, the chief catalyst in the development of this rebellious worldview was the French Revolution. Beginning in 1789 and paving the way for the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Revolution shook the foundations of European civilisation and brought hitherto trivialised political and social theories into the scope of fervent popular imagination.

The older generation of the Romantic poets lived through it and the younger generation was influenced heavily by it. Every major Romantic poet took this anti-establishment stance, the most notable among them being William Blake, P. B. Shelley, and Lord Byron.

4. EXPERIENCES OF INTOXICATION: As suitable for the exploration of imagination as well as of the supernatural, an interest in the use of narcotics to transcend the limits of common experience was well-known among the Romantics. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the essayist Thomas de Quincey were opium addicts.

The former dedicated some poems to his addiction – the most important being his account of the origin of the poem Kubla Khan – whereas the magnum opus of the latter is entitled Confessions of an English

Although not an addict himself, John Keats contemplated at length about the potential of the intoxicated mind to transcend the miseries of real life and raise one to an ideal plain of blissful existence.

History Of Romantic Age In English Literature

According to Damrosch, Leopold (1985). The romantic age is a philosophical movement during the Age of Enlightenment that emphasizes emotional self-awareness as a necessary pre-condition to improving society and bettering the human condition.

Like German Idealism and Kantianism with which it is usually linked in a philosophical context, Romanticism was largely centered in Germany during the late 18th and early 19th C entur ies. It stands in opposition to the Rationalism and Empiricism of the preceding Age of Reason, representing a shift from the objective to the subjective.

Romanticism in general was a reaction against the scientific rationalization of Nature during the Age of Reason, which left little room for the freedom and creativity of the human spirit, and it stressed strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but it also had a counterpart in philosophical thought.

Philosophical Romanticism holds that the universe is a single unified and interconnected whole, and full of values, tendencies and life, not merely objective lifeless matter.

The Romantic view is that reason, objectivity and analysis radically falsify reality by breaking it up into disconnected lifeless entities, and the best way of perceiving reality is through some subjective feeling or intuition, through which we participate in the subject of our knowledge, instead of viewing it from the outside.

Nature is an experience, and not an object for manipulation and study, and, once experienced, the individual becomes in tune with his feelings and this is what helps him to create moral values.

The roots of Philosophical Romanticism can be found in the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. Rousseau, (who is credited with the idea of the “noble savage”, uncorrupted by artifice and society), thought that civilization fills Man with unnatural wants and seduces him away from his true nature and original freedom.

Kant’s theory of Transcendental Idealism (see the section on Idealism) posited that we do not directly see “things in themselves”; we only understand the world through our human point of view, an idea developed by the American Transcendentalism of the mid-19th Century. The German Idealists, who followed on from Kant and adapted and expanded his work with their own interpretations of Idealism, can all be considered Romanticists in their outlook.

Among these the most importa nt were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and (arguably) Arthur Schopenhauer. Hegel was perhaps the most influential of the German Idealist philosophers, and his idea that each person’s individual consciousness or mind is really part of the Absolute Mind (Absolute Idealism) had far-reaching effects.

After his death, however, the Hegelians were split between the “Old Hegelians” who uncritically accepted Hegel’s Romantic views and the “Young Hegelians” who wanted to continue the revolution of ideas using his concept of dialectics.

The Romantic Age in Literature

In a like manner it is worthy to note the generation of Romantic writers, such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832), William Blake (1757 – 1827), Samuel Coleridge (1772 – 1834), William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850), Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), John Keats (1795 – 1821), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822) and Victor Hugo ( 1802 – 1885); artists such as John Constable (1776 – 1837), Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851), Théodore Géricault ( 1791 – 1824) and Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863); and composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828), Hector Berlioz (1803 – 1869), Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849), Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856), Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886), and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893).


Overall, the Romantics were responsible for giving a new and more democratic direction to English literature. Ever since popular poetry has followed more or less in their footsteps. The modern genres such as speculative fiction and horror owe much to the Romantics.


Damrosch, Leopold (1985). Adventures in English Literature. Orlando, Florida: Holt McDougal. pp. 405–424. ISBN 0153350458. Ruthven (2001) p. 40 quote: “Romantic ideology of literary authorship, which conceives of the text as an autonomous object produced by an individual genius.”

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