The Romantic Period: Celebrating the Individual Imagination

Filled with Wordsworth and Shelley, the Romantics shaped our favorite literature. Let’s look at the beginning, middle, and end of the Romantic period.

Book Culture Classics Recommendations Romance

The Romantic Period encompassed everything from painting and architecture to music and art all while embracing the struggles of freedom and equality. The Romantic Period in literature, to me, still is one of the most transformative times in all of literature. You read that right and I’ll die on this hill too. Beginning with romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to iconic female authors like Mary Shelley and the Brontë sisters, I just can’t get enough of this romantic era. Am I a hopeless romantic? Sure. Do these writers and works fuel this aspect of myself? Also yes. How can you not engulf yourself with poetry and Wuthering Heights and not fall in love?

Romanticism was a movement in the arts and literature which originated in the late 18th century, emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual.

Oxford Reference

Have you ever wondered more though? Even down to the very last small detail that makes this period what it is? Let’s look at what started the Romantic Period and how this era celebrated the individual imagination while shaping a world of freedom, individuality, and art for ages to come.

The Romantic Period

Pity by William Blake- visual arts in the Romantic Period
Courtesy of the trustees of the Tate, London; photographs, G. Robertson, A.C. Cooper Ltd.

“Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.”

— Charles Baudelaire

To properly celebrate Romanticism, let’s look first at where it all began. Critics, August and Friedrich Schlegel, first used the term Romanticism in the late 1700s when they wrote of romantische Poesie or “romantic poetry”. It wasn’t until 1815 that William Wordsworth, an English poet, became the major voice we all know in the Romantic movement. As a writer of poetry, I couldn’t agree more with Wordsworth when he said poetry should be “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Isn’t that what we know poetry to be now?

Romanticism affected literature, art, music, and many other mediums. While the term surfaced in the late 1700s, it really took flight between 1800 and 1840. Romanticism eventually became other things, but some artists and authors held onto pieces of the romantic era, which moved the aspects into other genres. Romanticism had lasting changes that can still be seen today.

Characteristics of Romanticism

“I must stay alone and know that I am alone to contemplate and feel nature in full; I have to surrender myself to what encircles me, I have to merge with my clouds and rocks in order to be what I am.”

— Caspar David Friedrich

We know what Romanticism is, but what makes something specific to this movement?

Think of Romanticism as a sort of rejection of the ideas that came before it in Classicism and Neoclassicism. Order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality were all challenged by this new movement as well as, in a way, a reaction to the Enlightenment. 

Romanticism stresses the importance of the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental. Emotion and passion are being recognized and people are in awe of nature. It truly celebrated individuality in the best way possible.

Romantic Authors

William Wordsworth - authors during the Romantic period
cr. The Times UK

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

— William Wordsworth

You will absolutely recognize some if not all of these names, as these poets and authors paved the way for the literature we read even now.

William Blake

Not only was William Blake a poet, but he also was a printmaker and painter. While he wasn’t recognized much during his life, he is now a crucial figure in the history of poetry and the Romantic movement.

John Keats

Keats died of tuberculosis at the young age of 25. His poetry received rapid recognition after his death.

Mary Shelley

Shelley brought supernatural elements to her writing as you may know with her most widely recognized novel Frankenstein.

William Wordsworth

Wordsworth is one of the founding fathers of Romanticism and also, has a joint publication with Coleridge titled Lyrical Ballads.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge, along with Wordsworth, founded the Romantic movement in England. He was a poet, literary scholar, philosopher, and theologian.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley’s work highlights both the joyous ecstasy of Romanticism along with its brooding despair. He was also married to Mary Shelley.

A few more iconic names within this movement include Lord Byron, The Brontë Sisters, Caspar David Friedrich, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Romantics in Literature

“It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility; they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.”

— Charlotte Brontë

In the 1790s, William Wordsworth published Lyrical Ballads with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and thus, Romanticism hit literature. Later, Wordsworth’s “Preface” included the quote describing poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” which perfectly describes the motives of the Romantic movement. 

There were different phases of Romanticism in literature, the second one from 1805 to about the 1830s. This phase included Sir Walter Scott, John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. These writers paved the way for the iconic female writers we love like Mary Shelley and the Brontë sisters. This movement opened doors for the supernatural to make its way into romanticism with Frankenstein, The Castle of Otranto, and many others.

What would be a deep dive into Romanticism without some book recommendations? Add these works by some of my favorite Romantic writers to your TBR!

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Rime of the Ancient Mariners by Coleridge
cr. Goodreads

Written in the late 1700s, this is the longest major poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and was published in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. It tells the experience of a mariner who has returned from a long sea voyage. The mariner stops a man while he is going to a wedding ceremony and begins to tell his story. 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
cr. Goodreads

Wuthering Heights was originally published under Emily Brontë’s pen name—Ellis Bell. This always fascinates me. Do you remember that scene in The Vampire Diaries where Stefan gives Elena a first edition? Amazing. This passionate and iconic novel follows the love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. You may recognize this quote from the novel:

“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

I am swooning just at the thought of a reread.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley book cover
cr. Goodreads

It is truly no secret how much I love Frankenstein. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, you know this. Setting the stage for everything to come after, Shelley really gave us something iconic with this one. You might have already read Frankenstein, and if so, click here to see what other books Mary Shelley has written!

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole book cover
cr. Goodreads

This was a recent read for me during grad school a few years ago and it didn’t disappoint. I’m honestly shocked it took me that long to finally read it! Regarded as the first Gothic novel, Romanticism is found sprinkled throughout in the supernatural elements and the confrontation the reader has with fear. Including things like trap doors, secret passageways, and twisted family secrets, Walpole’s novel set the stage for Gothic novels to follow. 

Want to read more? Click here to read about the genre we all know and love–Supernatural Romance!