Where Dante wrote the first vernacular piece of literature in his Divine Comedy (approx 1308), the Romantics pushed the idea even further to incorporate the common people in thier work. Much of this can be attributed to the fact mentioned earlier that this movement was a byproduct of war--the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), the French Revolution (1789–1799), and the first world war, the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).
What does war do to people? It tears lives apart, brings commoners in contact with the social elite, causes a near-universal hardship, and wrenches emotions from bodies that never existed prior.
It is this emotion, this passion, that is Romantic literature.
There are three commonalities in all Romantic lit: nationalism, idealization of nature, and freedom of thought and expression. Nationalism can be conferred as a direct result of the wars which helped bring about the movement in the first place. And, as can be expected, this varied from country to country in its importance. For example, Spanish Romanticism was regional, written in the local languages of the areas inside the country. Therefore, nationalism was a relative term. Braziliam Romanticism, however, came in three parts. The first period was highly concentrated on a national identity and often centered around the heroic Indian. The second was more influenced by Europeans, Byron and Goethe. But the third took on the social problems striking the country such as the abolitionist movement. A national commentary, if you will.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's seminal piece The Sorrows of Young Werther created a tormented protagonist oft-mimicked in Romantic and later works. It was also a highly personal piece of expression. The writer said he "shot his hero to save himself," in reference to his own obsession with a woman. The misunderstood loner living on inspiration rather than societal norms is furthered by famed British Romantic Lord Byron.
Almost as important as the movement itself in America, is the Romantics' influence on Transcendentalists such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. American Transcendentalism began as a protest against society and culture, in particular against the intellectualism of Harvard and Harvard Divinity School. However, where AR concentrated the emotional and physical expression, AT took on the spiritual, claiming this transcends the physical and cannot be reached through organized religion, but rather through the intellect.
Another aspect Romanticism holds in common with Transcendentalism is a concentration on nature. In a world heading toward the Industrial Revolution, it is no wonder artists would grasp onto the seemingly innocent rural life (Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield), the simplicity of the wilderness (James Fenimore Cooper's The Leatherstocking Tales), and human nature in contrast to puritanical New England (Hawthorne's anything!).
these lines from Emily Dickinson.
Wild Nights! Wild Nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild Nights should be
Futile the winds
To a heart in port, --
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart!
Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in Thee!
Top left: La liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix
Next, left: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich
Right: daguerrotype taken of poet Emily Dickinson at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary
Wednesday: a break--The Lion or the Snake?
Thursday: Beat Generation