American Romanticism

  • Borger went over the Romanticism part of these notes in class on Tuesday 09/20
  • Be prepared to take a quiz over Romanticism on Thurs. or Fri. 09/22-09/23

American Romanticism: 1800-1860**

Before American Romanticism
Puritans: (1600’s)

  • Broad tem referring to Protestant groups that sought to ‘purify’ the Church of England starting around 1560.
    • Thought religion should be a personal, inner experience
    • Wanted to return to a simpler form of worship
    • Persecuted in England (noses slit, ears chopped off, whipped & jailed, etc.) = journey to “The New World” in 1620
    • Philosophy centered on doubt: humanity is damned for all eternity because of Adam & Eve’s sin = unregenerate / damned. BUTGod is merciful (ergo Jesus) = elect / saved
    • You couldn’t know if you were elect or unregenerate.  Theology was clear about what would happen to saints & sinners but it was fuzzy about who were the sinners & who were the saints
  • Puritan values developed as a way to try to become elect / saved:
    1. Self-reliance
    2. Industriousness
    3. Temperance
    4. Simplicity

Age of Reason: (1700’s)

  • Enlightenment
  • Rationalism: belief that human beings can arrive at truth by using reason rather than religion, past authority, or intuition.
  • Rationalist values:
    1. Arrive at truth using reason
    2. God created universe but does not interfere with its workings
    3. World operates according to God’s rules & people can discover those rules using reason
    4. People are basically good
    5. You can worship God best by helping other people

American Romanticism: (1800-1860)

  • American Romanticism
    • Developed as a reaction to rationalism in light of the Industrial Revolution
      • To rationalists, the city was place of success, prosperity, & self-realization
      • To romantics, the city becomes a place of shifting morals, corruption, & death
    • The imagination was able to discover truths that the rational mind could not reach; favors intuition over reason
    • Romantics didn’t reject logic completely; for art, the emotional, ‘felt’ experience was key
  • Romantic Values:
    1. Value feeling & intuition over reason
    2. Prefer youthful innocence to educated sophistication
    3. Places faith in inner experience & imagination
    4. Finds beauty in the exotic & supernatural
    5. Believes poetry is the highest expression of imagination
    6. Shuns artificiality of civilization & seeks out truth in nature
    7. Believes nature is path to spiritual enlightenment
    8. Defends individual freedom & self worth
  • Romantic Escapism & Nature:
    • Rise above ‘dull realities’ to a realm of higher truth
    • Searched for exotic settings (nature, away from cities, folklore, etc.)
    • Reflect on the natural world to find Big-B-Beauty (and Big-T-Truth)
    • In nature, the ordinary becomes EXTRAordinary / SUPERnatural
    • Nature could provide sense in a chaotic world
    • Nature was the key to God
    • Symbolism is EVERYWHERE in nature
    • How many times have you found perfection walking down SHS’s halls?  Never!  That’s because you’re indoors – go outdoors to nature.  Therein lies truth and beauty (so thought the Romantics).
    • Contemplation of nature = emotional and intellectual awakening
  • Wilderness & the Frontier
    • America = limitless frontiers, westward expansion = idealization of frontier life
    • Frontier is the physical division between civilization & wilderness
    • Frontier = create your own identity
  • American Romantic Hero:
    • Young / youthful qualities
    • Sense of honor based on some higher principal but not on society’s rules
    • Has knowledge of people based on intuition – not on education
    • Loves nature – avoids towns
    • Quests for higher truth in natural world
    • Uneasy with women = domesticity
    • James Finimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo (Last of the Mohicans)
  • Transcendentalists: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau
    • Transcendental: to know the ultimate reality of God, the universe, and the self, one must transcend, or go beyond, everyday experiences in the physical world
    • Roots in idealism: Plato (400 BC) True reality is found in ideas rather than the world perceived by the senses
    • Believed in human perfectability
    • Transcendental Values:
      • Everything in the world is a reflection of the Divine Soul
      • Physical world is a doorway to the spiritual or ideal world
      • Use intuition, the capacity to know things immediately through our emotions, to behold God in nature (or God within)
      • Self-reliance & individualism vs. external authority & blind conformity to tradition
      • Spontaneous feelings superior to deliberate rationality (heart over mind)
  • Dark Romantics: Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville
    • Anti-Transcenentalists: didn’t believe that the “Truths” of nature were good and harmless
    • Explore conflict between good & evil
    • Explore the psychological effects of guilt & sin
    • Explore the madness of the human psyche
    • Believed that horror & evil resided behind the facade of social respectability
    • “Fathers of Psychology”
    • Characterized by horror, tragedy, macabre, supernatural, & the Gothic

**Adapted from: Arpin, Gary Q. “American Romanticism: 1800-1860.” Elements of Literature: Fifth Course, Essentials of American Literature. Ed. Laura Wood. Austin: Holt, 2005. 138-149. Print.

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