Romanticism is a movement that emerged as a reaction against Neoclassicism, the age preceding the Romantic movement. The Neoclassical age was also called the ‘The age of Enlightenment’, which emphasized on reason and logic. The Romantic period wanted to break away from the traditions and conventions that were dear to the Neoclassical age and make way for individuality and experimentation. The Romantic movement is said to have emerged in Germany, which soon spread to England as well as France, however, the main source of inspiration for Romanticism came from the events and ideologies of the French Revolution. Other than this, even the industrial revolution which began during the same period is also said to be responsible for the development of Romanticism. Though Romantic elements were found in art and literature since several centuries, it was the publication of ‘Lyrical Ballads’ by Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798 that marked the beginning of the Romantic period. To understand Romanticism better, it is very important to learn about the Romanticism characteristics.
Characteristics of Romanticism
As literature was the first to be influenced by the ideas and ideologies of Romanticism before spreading to art and music, the characteristics of romanticism in literature are the same for other art forms too. Therefore, let us look at some of the Romanticism characteristics which influenced all the artistic fields of that period.
Love of Nature:
The Romantics greatly emphasized on the importance of nature, and one of the main characteristics of Romanticism in poetry is the beauty of nature found in the country life. This was mainly because the industrial revolution had taken man from the peaceful country life towards the city life, transforming man’s natural order. Nature was not only appreciated for its physical beauty by the Romantics, but also for its ability to help the urban man find his true identity.
Emotions v/s Rationality:
Unlike the Neoclassical age which focused on rationality and intellect, Romanticism placed human emotions, feelings, instinct and intuition above everything else. While the poets in the former era adhered to the rules and regulations while selecting a subject and writing about it, the Romantic writers trusted their emotions and feelings to create poetry. This belief can be confirmed from the definition of poetry by William Wordsworth, where he says that “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. The emphasis on emotions was also spread to music created in the Romantic period, and was seen in the compositions made by great musicians like Weber, Beethoven, Schumann, etc.
Artist, the Creator:
As the Romantic period emphasized on emotions, the position or role of the artist or the poet also gained supremacy. In the earlier times, the artist was seen as a person who imitated the external world through his art. However, Romanticism reverted this belief. The poet or artist was seen as a creator of a piece of work which reflected his individuality and inner mind. It was also for the first time that the poems written in the first person were being accepted, as the poetic persona became one with the voice of the poet.
The Romantics borrowed heavily from the folklore and the popular art. During the earlier periods, literature and art were considered to belong to the high class educated people, and the country folks were not considered fit to enjoy them. Also, the language used in these works were highly poetic, which was totally different from that which was spoken by people. However, Romanticism changed all this. Their works were influenced from the ballads and folklore that were created by the masses or the common people, rather than from the literary works that were popular. Apart from poetry, adopting from the folklore and ballads is also one of the very important characteristics of Romanticism in music. As the Romantics became interested and focused on developing the folklore, culture, language, customs and traditions of their own country, they developed a sense of Nationalism which reflected in their works. Also, the language used in Romantic poems were simple which was usually used in everyday life.
Along with Nationalism, the Romantics even developed the love of the exotic. Hence, in many of the literary as well as artistic works of that period, the far off and mysterious locations were depicted. Though this was completely opposite from the ideal of Nationalism, they never clashed with each other. The reason for this is that just like the exotic locations, the people did not know about the folklore of their places before, and so they seemed to be as vague as the far away places. Exoticism is also one of the most prominent characteristics of Romanticism in art, along with sentimentality and spirituality.
Another characteristic of Romanticism is the belief in the supernatural. The Romantics were interested in the supernatural and included it in their works. This fascination for the mysterious and the unreal also lead to the development of the Gothic romance which became popular during this period. Supernatural elements can be seen in Coleridge’s, ‘Kubla Khan’ and in Keats’ poem ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’.
As no Romantic writer or artist followed any kind of rules or regulations, it is actually a little difficult to define the Romanticism characteristics accurately. Nevertheless, these are some of the characteristics of Romanticism that reflect in the works of that period. Though many writers and critics have said that Romanticism is irrational, one thing that cannot be denied is that it attempted to portray the world, especially human nature in a new light.