American Romanticism: A Webliography



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.


Major Writers                                    Representative Works

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

                                                                        Deacon's Masterpiece"

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

Common Themes and Elements in Romanticism

Expansive Idealism

Humanitarianism and democracy



Utopian ideals

The noble savage

Dignity of common man


The nature of  good or evil

Conflict between spirit and body

Mysticism, Pantheism, Transcendentalism


abnormal psychology

Exotic settings--time and place

Nature as symbol of Divine

Faith vs, Doubt

Organic unity

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

Manifest Destiny

native history

Call for American literary geniuses, themes, style, subject matter

Freedom in terms of form and convention

Periodicals and Useful Resources:

Atlantic Monthly

Barbour, James and Thomas Quirk, eds.  Romanticism: Critical Essays in American Literature. New York:Garland   

    Publishing, 1986.

Democratic Review

Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, & Religion

Eave, Morris and Michael Fischer, eds. Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism, 1986.

Harper's Magazine

Knickerbocker Magazine

Matthiessen, F.O.  American Renaissance. London: Oxford UP, 1941

North American Review

Southern Literary Messenger

Southern Quarterly Review

Southern Review