Romanticism – In prose that we term romantic (small R), the style of expression is exaggerated. Look for exclamation points and em dashes. Actions and feelings are often expressed via conventions—symbols the reader and writer would both have “agreed upon,” already understand. For example, when talking about how powerful you, you compare yourself to Julius Caesar.

In addition, the pathetic fallacy is invoked often—the world of the text mirrors the emotions of its protagonist. A bad mood = rain. Writing about emotions vis-á-vis a fictional narrative also engenders personification, as ordinary objects seem to intentionally help or hinder a protagonist. (The pathetic fallacy and personification are closely related.)

The style of content in romanticism is individualistic and often (tragically) heroic. Plots often concerns orphans and other outsiders. Stories of romantic love figure prominently. Love and individual strong emotions are dwelled upon, magnified, exalted. Look for the fantastic.

The movement in the arts called Romanticism (big R) immediately precedes Realism, dating in western Europe from the late 1700s until the mid-1800s and in the Americas from around 1800 to the late 1800s. The Gothic writers (Radcliffe) are all Romantics. Goethe is a Romantic, as are Austen and the Brontes. Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe are exemplary American Romantic writers of fiction. Melville is a late Romantic experimenting with both Realism and Modernism, 75 years too early to be appreciated. And in France, the Symbolists (Huysmans) rekindle Romantic ideas at the end of the nineteenth century.

Romanticism, like most literature preceding it, concerns adventure. Big things happen, in a big way. This makes sense, given that literature began orally and originally concerned the works of kings and gods. With Romanticism, literature fully incorporated the outsider (the mad noble), and with Realism it looked to the everyman and the poor.

For more on Hawthorne, the American Gothic romance, and Romanticism in general, visit this excellent site by Donna Campbell.

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