Like other terms describing literary movements, the term Romanticism defies simple definition for a number of reasons. It was a movement that arose gradually, evolved in many ways from where it began, went through so many phases and was practiced by so many disparate writers that any simple definition is "slippery" at best. In addition, the terms we use to describe literary movements are really terms that are much broader and vaster, reflecting large scale thinking in the arts, in general, philosophy, religion, politics, etc.
American Romanticism, like other literary movements, developed on the heels of romantic movements in Europe. Its beginnings can be traced back to the eighteenth century there. In America, it dominated the literary scene from around 1820 to the end of the Civil War and the rise of Realism. It arose as a reaction to the formal orthodoxy and Neoclassicism of the preceding period. It is marked by a freedom from the authority, forms, and conventions typical in Neoclassical literature. It replaced the neoclassic emphasis on reason with its own emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and the neoclassic emphasis on authority with an emphasis on individuality, which places the individual at the center of all life. See the list of themes and elements below for a clearer description of the elements of Romanticism.
Name & Genres
Charles Brockden Brown, novels Wieland, Edgar Huntley
Washington Irving, essays, sketches, satire The Sketchbook, The Knickerbocker Tales, "Legend of Sleepy
Hollow," "Rip Van Winkle"
James Fenimore Cooper, novels The Pioneers, The Prairie, Last of the Mohicans, The Deerslayer
William Cullen Bryant, poetry "Thanatopsis," "To A Waterfowl,"
Nathaniel Hawthorne, fiction The Scarlet Letter, House of Seven Gables, "Rappacini's Daughter,"
"Young Goodman Brown
Edgar Allen Poe, poetry, fiction, criticism "The Philosophy of Composition," "The Raven," "Ligeia," "The Fall of
the House of Usher"
Herman Melville, fiction Moby Dick, "Benito Cereno"
Ralph Waldo Emerson, essays "Self-Reliance," "The American Scholar," "Nature" "The Divinity School
"The Poet," "The Over-Soul," "Hamatreya," "Uriel," "The Rhodora"
Henry David Thoreau, journals and essays Walden, Maine Woods, A Week on the Concord & Merrimac
Margaret Fuller, essays, "Woman in the Nineteenth Century," "American Literature; Its Position in the Present
Time, and Prospects for the Future"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, poetry "My Lost Youth," "Mezzo Cammin,"
John Greenleaf Whittier, poetry "Snowbound"
Oliver Wendell Holmes, poetry "Old Ironsides," "The Last Leaf," "The Chambered Nautilus," "The
James Russell Lowell, poetry "To the Dandelion," "A Fable for Critics"
Harriet Beecher Stowe, fiction Uncle Tom's Cabin
Abraham Lincoln, speeches
Frederick Douglas, autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave
Harriet Ann Jacobs, autobiograhy Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Lydia Maria Child, poetry, fiction, essays "Slavery's Pleasant Homes" (1843) , Appeal in Favor of That Class
of Americans Called Africans
Sidney Lanier, poetry Poems of Sidney Lanier "The Symphony," "Song of the Chattahoochee,"
"The Marshes of Glynn"
Emily Dickinson, poetry
Walt Whitman, poetry Leaves of Grass
Humanitarianism and democracy
The noble savage
Dignity of common man
The nature of good or evil
Conflict between spirit and body
Mysticism, Pantheism, Transcendentalism
Exotic settings--time and place
Nature as symbol of Divine
Faith vs, Doubt
Individual soul as as part of the greater soul of God
Great Chain of Being
Ways of Knowing--Reason/Imagination, spirit/senses, mind/external reality
Conformity vs. nonconformity
Sentimentalism, sensibility, and melancholy
Call for American literary geniuses, themes, style, subject matter
Freedom in terms of form and convention
Barbour, James and Thomas Quirk, eds. Romanticism: Critical Essays in American Literature. New York:Garland
Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, & Religion
Eave, Morris and Michael Fischer, eds. Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism, 1986.
Matthiessen, F.O. American Renaissance. London: Oxford UP, 1941
North American Review
Southern Literary Messenger
Southern Quarterly Review