What is Romanticism?
The following are a few definitions of Romanticism and related terms that I have found to be very helpful. Please keep in mind that the term "Romanticism" has been used in varying contexts and has come to mean different things to different people. The following definitions are pulled from literary contexts and for the purposes of this web site are merely a jumping pointfor further discussion. The following definitions include the citation to their respective sources.
A movement in art and literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in revolt against the Neoclassicism of the previous centuries...The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is given credit for first using the termromantic to describe literature, defined it as "literaturedepicting emotional matter in an imaginative form." This is as accurate a general definition as can be accomplished, although Victor Hugo's phrase "liberalism in literature" is also apt. 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; and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages.
English poets: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats
American poets: RalphWaldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman
If the Enlightenment was a movement which started among a tiny elite and slowly spread to make its influence felt throughout society, Romanticism was more widespread both in its origins and influence. No other intellectual/artistic movement has had comparable variety, reach, andstaying power since the end of the Middle Ages.
Beginning in Germany and England in the 1770s, by the 1820s it had swept through Europe, conquering at last even its most stubborn foe, the French. It traveled quickly to the Western Hemisphere, and in its musical form has triumphed around the globe, so that from London to Boston to Mexico City to Tokyo to Vladivostok to Oslo, the most popularorchestral music in the world is that of the romantic era. After almost a century of being attacked by the academic and professional world of Western formal concert music, the style has reasserted itself as neoromanticism in the concert halls. When John Williams created the sound of the future in Star Wars, it was the sound of 19th-century Romanticism--still the most popular style for epic filmsoundtracks.
Beginning in the last decades of the 18th century, it transformed poetry, the novel, drama, painting, sculpture, all forms of concert music (especially opera), and ballet. It was deeply connected with the politics of the time, echoing people's fears, hopes, and aspirations. It was the voice of revolution at the beginning of the 19th century and the voice of the Establishment at the endof it.
This last shift was the result of the triumph of the class which invented, fostered, and adopted as its own the romantic movement: the bourgeoisie. To understand why this should have been so, we need to look more closely at the nature of the style and its origins.
Folklore and Popular Art
Some of the earliest stirrings of the Romantic movement are conventionally traced back tothe mid-18th-century interest in folklore which arose in Germany--with Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collecting popular fairy tales and other scholars like Johann Gottfried von Herder studying folk songs--and in England with Joseph Addison and Richard Steele treating old ballads as if they were high poetry. These activities set the tone for one aspect of Romanticism: the belief that products of the...
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