American Romanticism

Text pages 138-149
The journey- no pattern so
common in all literature.
 Franklin
wrote about his journey to
Philadelphia in 1771
 In 1799, Charles Brockden Brown
described his trip in his Romantic novelArthur Mervyn
 In this a young farm boy left home looking
for a place to make his dreams come true
 Found a plague-ridden urban world of
decay, corruption, and evil (MUCH
different than Franklin’s)
 The
differences between these stories
represents the differences between the
views of the rationalists and those of the
 To Franklin (and other rationalists), the city
was a place to find success and selfrealization
 To Romantic writers the city was far from
civilization- it was a place of shifting
morals and corruption and death.
 The
characteristic Romantic journey is to
the country side
 Associated with independence, moral
clarity, and healtful living
 Sometimes (like with E.A. Poe), the
Romantic journey is a psychological
voyage to the country of imagination
 Whatever the destination- flight from
something and to something
The Romantic Sensibility:
Celebrating Imagination
 Romanticism
is the name given to schools
of thought that value feeling and intuition
of reason
 Romanticism developed as mostly a
revolt against rationalism
 Romantics believed imagination could
discover truths the rational mind could not
 To Romantics, imagination, individual
feelings, and wild nature were of greater
value than reason, logic, and cultivation.
Romantic Escapism:
From Dull Realities to Higher Truths
 Romantics
wanted to rise above “dull
realities” to a realm of higher truth
 Two ways:
- searched for exotic settings in the more
“natural” past (or away from the grimy
and noisy industrial age). Sometimes
discovered this in old legends or folklore.
- tried to reflect on the natural world until
dull reality fell away to reveal truth and
The American Novel and the
Wilderness Experience
 Big
question: Would American writers
continue to imitate the English and
European models, or would they develop
a distinctive literature of their own?
 Romantic poets were staying close to
traditional forms, but novelists were
discovering different subject matter
 Development of the American novel
coincided with westward expansion,
growth of a nationalists spirit, and rapid
spread of cities.
A New Kind of Hero
 Franklin
tried to change the stereotype of
Americans being unsophisticated and
 Romantics took no such pains
 Took insults from Europeans and made it
the other way
 Said virtue was American innocence, not
European sophistication
 Cooper’s
Natty Bumppo is a triumph of
American innocence and is one of the
most important outgrowths of the early
American novel: The American Romantic
 The typical hero of American Romantic
fiction was youthful, innocent, intuitive,
and close to nature
 Still today lots of examples: Lone Ranger,
Superman, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jonesother western, detective, and fantasy
Characteristics of the
American Romantic Hero
Young or possesses youthful qualities
Innocent and pure of purpose
Has a sense of honor based not on society’s
rules but on some higher principle
Has a knowledge of people and life based on
deep, intuitive understanding, not on formal
Loves nature and avoids town life
Quests for some higher truth in the natural
American Romantic Poetry:
Read at Every Fireside
 Claimed
to look for new subject matterbut the opposite tendency appears in
their works
 Used American settings/people, but used
European techniques
 Wrote in a style that a cultivated person
from England who had recently
immigrated to America might be
expected to use.
 Fireside
Poets (a group of poets from
Boston)- became the most popular poets
America produced
 Called Fireside because their poems were
read by firesides all over America
 Also called Schoolroom Poets because
they were memorized by school children
The Transcendentalists:
True Reality Is Spiritual
 The
heart of America’s coming-of-age
were the Transcendentalists (led by Ralph
Waldo Emerson).
 Transcendental refers to the idea that in
determining the ultimate reality of God,
the universe, the self, and other important
matters, one must transcend, or go
beyond, everyday human experience in
the physical world
 For
Emerson, Transcendentalism was not a
new philosophy but “the very oldest of
thoughts cast into the mold of these new
 The “oldest of thoughts” was idealism
 Idealists said that true reality was found in
ideas rather than in the world perceived
by senses
 Americans who called themselves
Transcendentalists were idealists but in a
broader, more practical sense
Emerson and
Transcendentalism: The
American Roots
 Though
he was skeptical of the
Transcendentalists’ ideas and projects, he
was the most influential and best known
member of the group
 Its American roots included the Puritan
thought, the beliefs Jonathan Edwards,
and the Romantic tradition exemplified
by William Cullun Bryant
Emerson’s Optimistic Outlook
His mystical view did not come from logic, but
- our capacity to know things spontaneously
and immediately through our emotions rather
than through our reasoning abilities
An intense feeling of optimism was one
product of Emerson’s belief that we can find
God directly in nature
His optimism and hope appealed to
audiences who lived in economic downturns,
regional strife, and conflict over slavery
The Dark Romantics
 Emerson’s
idealism was exciting for his
 Not all writers and thinkers agreed with
 Some think Hawthorn, Melville, and Poe
are anti-Transcendentalists because their
views of the world seem so different from
the views of Emerson and his followers
 Actually had a lot in common:
- valued intuition over logic and reason
- saw signs and symbols in all events
 Dark
Romantics didn’t disagree with
Emerson’s belief that spiritual facts lie
behind the appearance of nature; just
did not think those facts are necessarily
good or harmless
 Their view of existence developed from
both the mystical and melancholy
aspects of Puritan thought
 In their works, explored the conflict
between good and evil, the
psychological effects of guilt and sin, and
even madness in the human psyche
Characteristics of American
 Values
feeling and intuition over reason
 Places faith in inner experience and the
power of the imagination
 Shuns the artificiality of civilization and
seeks unspoiled nature
 Prefers youthful innocence to educated
 Champions individual freedom and the
worth of the individual
 Reflects
on nature’s beauty as a path to
spiritual and moral development
 Looks backward to the wisdom of the
past and distrusts progress
 Finds beauty and truth in exotic locales,
the supernatural realm, and the inner
world of the imagination
 Sees poetry as the highest expression of
the imagination
 Finds inspiration in myth, legend, and

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