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American Literature: American Romanticism Overview

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/25/2012

This one page summary provides basic information on the Romantic Period in American Literature. Help students understand Poe, Hawthorne, Emerson, and Thoreau.

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    Romanticism in American Literature brought us some of the world's greatest writers. Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving and Henry David Thoreau are still studied in classrooms throughout America and in Europe. Help students understand the context in which they wrote with this convenient one page handout.

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    Romanticism

    Romance describes strange lands and wonderful adventures. It allows the writer greater latitude to include the marvelous with the real. The romance may include the traditional hero with white hat on the white horse; the evil villain with the long black mustache; the lovely young woman in need of rescue, and the hairbreadth rescue itself. Romanticism as a movement began in the late 18th century, moved to England where it developed an emphasis in the glorification of nature, the supernatural, and the rebel—the individual against society. It spread to America in the early to mid 19th century and is represented in such writers as Hawthorne, Poe, and Cooper.

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    American Romanticism

    In the 1830’s, America began to experience the impact of the Romantic Movement that was transforming European civilization. Like the European movement of which it was an offshoot, American Romanticism was in a broad sense a new attitude toward nature, humanity, and society that espoused individualism and freedom. Many trends characterized American Romanticism. Among the most important are the following:

    • An impulse toward reform (temperance, women’s rights, abolition of slavery)
    • A celebration of individualism (Emerson, Thoreau)
    • A reverence for nature (Cooper, Emerson, Thoreau)
    • A concern with the impact of new technology (locomotive)
    • An idealization of women
    • A fascination with death and the supernatural (Hawthorne, Poe)
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    Important Writers

    • Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882): Self-Reliance
    • Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862): Walden, Civil Disobedience
    • Washington Irving (1783-1859): The Devil and Tom Walker, Rip Van Winkle Tales
    • Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849): The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, The Raven and many many more
    • Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, Doctor Heidegger’s Experiment, Young Goodman Brown