What Are the Characteristics of Romantic Literature?

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An appreciation of emotion, an artist’s unique spirit, a reverence for nature and a skepticism about human society are all characteristics of Romantic literature. These characteristics are all a sharp shift from the Neoclassical literary movement that preceded Romanticism.

After several years of the reigning literary tendencies, which looked back to the past, celebrated human society and strove for formal prowess, the writers of the Romantic movement wanted something simple, authentic and powerful. Around the end of the 18th century, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge collaborated on “Lyrical Ballads,” a collection of poems whose simple, everyday diction, natural settings and focus on emotions stunned the literary world. Working at the same time, William Blake crafted stunning, highly personal poems, like “The Tyger” and “Jerusalem,” which both revered and feared the natural world and excoriated the encroaching “dark Satanic mills” of the Industrial Revolution. This skepticism of human advancement also came out in early horror writing such as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Romantic writers also attempted to plumb the true depths of human psychology, showing the ugliness beneath the surface instead of the pretty superficialities of their Neoclassicism predecessors. Such concerns led them to contemplate the dark and the light sides of life in order to reach an authentic picture of reality.