Romanticism was a movement in literature that took place in virtually every country in Europe, North America, and Latin America. The Romantic Period lasted from about 1750 until 1870. Romanticism is characterized by the reliance on imagination and technique, freedom of thought and expression, and an idealization of nature. The term “romantic” first appeared in 18th century England, and originally meant “romance like” (resembling the fantastic character of medieval romances). By the late 18th century in France and Germany, literary taste began to turn from classical and neoclassical to more “romance like” pieces.
The fixed classical conventions were no longer tolerated. For example, writers no longer relied on the three famous unities of a tragedy (time, place, and action). An increasing demand for spontaneity and lyricism, qualities the supporters of romanticism found in folk poetry and medieval romance, led to a rejection of regular meters, strict forms, and other conventions of the classical tradition. In their choices of heroes the romantic writers replaced the static universal types of classical 18th century literature with more complex, peculiar characters.
As the romantic movement spread from France and Germany to England and then to the rest of Europe and across to the western hemisphere. Certain themes and moods, often intertwined, became the concern of almost all 19th century writers. An interest central to the romantic movement is the concern with nature and natural surroundings. Often combined with this feeling for rural life is a generalized romantic melancholy, which is a sense that change is imminent and that a way of life is being threatened.
In the spirit of their new freedom, romantic writers in all cultures expanded their imaginary horizons spatially and chronologically.
They turned back to the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries) for themes and settings. The want for a Gothic past combined with the tendency to the melancholic and produced a fondness for ruins, graveyards, and the supernatural as themes. The trend toward the irrational and the supernatural was an important component of English and German romantic literature. It was reinforced by disillusion with 18th century rationalism and by the rediscovery of a body of older literature such as folk tales and ballads.
Many romantic writers, especially in Germany, were fascinated with this concept, perhaps because of the general romantic concern with self-identity. By about the middle of the 19th century, romanticism began to give way to new literary movements: the Parnassians and the symbolist movement in poetry, and realism and naturalism in prose. The close of Britain’s romantic period is usually set in 1832. However, the ideas of Romanticism remained a strong influence on many writers for years to come. Even today writers use elements of Romanticism in major works of contemporary fiction and poetry.