American Romanticism Copy

AMERICAN ROMANTICISM (1830-1870)

HISTORY:

  • Struggle for independence is over  – The American War of Independence (1775-1783);
  • The USA is threatened by the rivalry between the North and the South;
  • The Civil War (1861-1865) was caused by the issue of slavery; the North was more industrialised and educated, while the South practised slavery and had an agricultural economy. The Civil War ended with the abolition of slavery.

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY:

  • Massive immigration from Europe and China;
  • The North undergoes an Industrial Revolution based on iron and steel production;
  • The South exported cotton and relied on slave labour;
  • A transport network developed to stimulate trade. Roads, railways, and steamboats were built;
  • Technological inventions: mass production of motorcars (Henry Ford); the invention of the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell -1876);
  • After the Civil War immigration increased and business boomed;
  • By the end of the 19th century, the USA had become a huge, modern, industrialised nation;
  • The segregation after the Civil War transformed the Black population from slaves to second-hand citizens (no education, no right to vote, illiterate).

IDEOLOGY AND CULTURE:

The first decades of the 19th century marked the emergence of truly American literature.

Literature was still derived from British literary tradition, but began to depict American society and explore the American landscape.

                        American Romanticism  
The individual valued over the group;
The subjective valued over the objective;
The personal experience valued over reason;
The wilderness of nature valued over human-made order;
Support for human rights;
Elements of the supernatural;
Reaction against the negative effects of industrialization (commercialism, hectic pace, lack of conscience).
Importance of nature and man’s relationship with it;
The human psyche is observed in different manifestations.  
 Transcendentalism
A sub-genre of Romanticism that developed from Romantic principles but integrated neo-classical views.  
Dark Romanticism
A sub-genre of Romanticism that developed as a reaction against the light feeling of transcendentalist writing and emphasized the dark and the macabre.
Neo-classicism:
Order
Objectivity
Nature
Self-reliance
Transcendent feeling (the reader is transported away from the world).
 
Transcendentalists:
– believed that man, nature, and God are interconnected;
– had a close relationship with nature;
– celebrated imagination and emotions;
– encouraged spiritual well-being over financial well-being.
– Nature is divine and a universal organic mediator;
– Humans possess divinity and wisdom.  
Literary themes:
– Fear of death
– Revenge
– Paranoia from guilt/remorse
Use of Gothic elements:
– Grotesque characters;
– situations;
– Violent events.
The bizarre imagination is the place where the fantastic, the demonic, and the insane meet.
Nature is dark and eerie;
The human being is prone to sin and self-destruction.

LITERATURE

American Romanticism being so diverse, many 19th century writers develop original approaches that combine several literary directions.

Poetry:

  • Henry David Thoreau – Transcendentalist poet.
  • Emily Dickinson influenced by Transcendentalism, but developed her poetry in the direction of spirituality and symbolic understanding of religious truth.
  • Walt Whitman – influenced by Transcendentalism, but defines poetry as a form of knowledge and the supreme wisdom of humankind.
  • Edgar Allan Poe – most influential Dark Romantic poet (“The Raven”).

Prose:

  • Edgar Allan Poe – short prose, Dark romanticism, horror.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne – short stories, novels, Dark Romanticism.
  • Herman Melville – novels, influenced by Transcendentalism.