Study Guide

Romanticism

Romanticism Introduction

Ah, romance.

Bouquets of roses, Valentine's Day treats, smooching over a candlelight dinner…

Okay, did you get that out of your system? Good. Because for the rest of this guide, you're going to throw all your associations with romance out the window and buckle down on what Romanticism is really about.

That's' right: the Romantics were a group of poets writing and publishing in the late 18th and early 19th century in Britain—and their poetry didn't start with "roses are red."

Why do we call them "Romantics," then, if these guys weren't, you know, romantic? Well, we use the term "romantic" because they were really into emotions: happiness, sadness, joy, loneliness…you know the drill. They got especially emotional about Nature (capital N!)—a lot of their emotions were inspired by natural goodies…as opposed to a really sexy shade of lipstick. They were coming off the heels of the Enlightenment, when folks decided to value reason over emotion, and they were not cool with it.

What else set them apart? They were unconventional. Since they believed in being true to their emotions, they refused to be constrained by social or literary or political conventions—conventions of any kind, for that matter. They were rebellious, they were individualistic…and their writing reflected it. They were all about poetic experimentation, which means that the most important Romantic writers revolutionized the way poetry was written.

Nitty gritty aside, some of the greatest poets in the English language came out of this movement. And once you learn their names (hint: Keats, Byron, Shelley, oh my!), you'll be invited to more dinner parties than you can fit on your calendar.

What is Romanticism About and Why Should I Care?

We can't escape it nowadays. Television, Internet, ads, movies: everyone is telling us what we should be doing with our lives, what we should want, what we should look like, and what we should feel. Of course we should want to be rich. Of course we should want to be skinny. Of course we should want to get married and have kids and live in the suburbs.

It gets tiring living in a culture that's always putting pressure on us to conform, to be like other people, and to want what everyone else wants. And we begin to question ourselves: are we weird for not wanting to take that job? For not wanting to dress like that? For not wanting to behave in that way?

If you've ever had those questions, you've got more in common with the Romantics than you might have thought possible. Their big message to us readers is you do you.

And they did pretty well for themselves, didn't they? So why not follow their lead? Not that we'd want you to conform…

Romanticism Resources

Websites

Nature is a big theme in Romantic literature, and this book untangles just how big it is.
A nice little summary of Romanticism and its rise and influence in Europe. You can learn more about some of the most important Romantic writers by clicking on the "Related Authors" links.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period
A more in-depth introduction to Romanticism—and on the sidebars you can click to learn more about themes and topics related to Romantic literature.