An Introduction to the Romantic Period

Wanderer above the sea of fog
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"The categories which it has become customary to use in distinguishing and classifying 'movements' in literature or philosophy and in describing the nature of the significant transitions which have taken place in taste and in opinion, are far too rough, crude, undiscriminating—and none of them so hopelessly as the category 'Romantic'" -- Arthur O. Lovejoy, "On the Discriminations of Romanticisms" (1924)

Many scholars say that the Romantic period began with the publication of "Lyrical Ballads" by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge in 1798. The volume contained some of the best-known works from these two poets including Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Wordsworth's "Lines Written a Few Miles from Tintern Abbey."

Of course, other Literary scholars place the start the Romantic period much earlier (around 1785), since Robert Burns's Poems (1786), William Blake's "Songs of Innocence" (1789), Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and other works already demonstrate that a change has taken place--in political thought and literary expression. Other "first generation" Romantic writers include Charles Lamb, Jane Austen, and Sir Walter Scott.

The Second Generation 

A discussion of the period is also somewhat more complicated since there was a second generation of Romantics (made up of poets Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and John Keats). Of course, the main members of this second generation—though geniuses--died young and were outlived by the first generation of Romantics. Of course, Mary Shelley--still famous for "Frankenstein" (1818)—was also a member of this "second generation" of Romantics.

While there is some disagreement about when the period began, the general consensus is... the Romantic period ended with the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837, and the beginning of the Victorian Period. So, here we are in the Romantic era. We stumble upon Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats on the heels of the Neoclassical era. We saw amazing wit and satire (with Pope and Swift) as a part of the last age, but the Romantic Period dawned with a different poetic in the air.

In the backdrop of those new Romantic writers, penning their way into literary history, we are on the cusp the Industrial Revolution and writers were affected by the French Revolution. William Hazlitt, who published a book called "The Spirit of the Age," says that the Wordsworth school of poetry "had its origin in the French Revolution... It was a time of promise, a renewal of the world — and of letters."

Instead of embracing politics as writers of some other eras might have (and indeed some writers of the Romantic era did) the Romantics turned to Nature for self-fulfillment. They were turning away from the values and ideas of the previous era, embracing new ways of expressing their imagination and feelings. Instead of a concentration on "head," the intellectual focus of reason, they preferred to rely on the self, in the radical idea of individual freedom. Instead of striving for perfection, the Romantics preferred "the glory of the imperfect."

The American Romantic Period

In American literature, famous writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne created fiction during the Romantic Period in the United States.

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Lombardi, Esther. "An Introduction to the Romantic Period." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, Lombardi, Esther. (2021, September 7). An Introduction to the Romantic Period. Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "An Introduction to the Romantic Period." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).