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Early Romantics



Early Romantic Period—1800-1840—also the period of literary nationalism

I.          Characteristics of the period

A.        Appeal to emotion rather than to reason—Universe was perceived as beautiful; man, basically good—the favored creature in the universe

B.        Interest in nature—nature viewed as good, beautiful, strange, and mysterious

C.        Interest in the picturesque and unusual—writers wrote about quaint out-of-the-way places, unusual customs and habits.

D.        Spirit of nationalism—Writers wrote about the special qualities of their own nation.  American writers wanted to create a truly distinctive literature totally independent of English literature (Poe was the only writer who believed and argued that true are is universal not national).

II.         Classicism (the belief of the Revolutionary period)—emphasized reason over both nature and human nature—believed both were governed by fixed laws (Great Chain of Being).  Writers conformed to a set of rules concerning clarity, balance, and order in their writing.  Emphasized reason over imagination; social order over personal; common good over individual good. 

III.        Romanticism—Emphasized emotions, the individual, and intuition (inner perception of truth independent of reason).  Also emphasized human potential for progress both social and spiritual—that man could by his own efforts raise himself to a higher station in life both socially and spiritually.  Also dealt with the inner world of human nature (Poe and Bryant), encouraging exploration and expression of the writer’s most private being.

IV.        Writers of the period were less concerned with social and political reform and were more concerned with expression of their own personal experience.

V.         Writers wrote about nature, the past, and the inner world of human experience


Early Romantic Prose Writers

I.          Washington Irving (1783-1859)

            A.  Born in the final years of the Revolutionary War and fittingly named after George Washington

            B.  In his youth, he rejected his strict Presbyterian upbringing and enjoyed the arts of the nineteenth century—especially the theatre.  He would go to the theatre in the afternoon, return home for family prayers, and then sneak out of the house to go back to the theatre to see the remainder of the play.

            C.  Left school for good at the age of sixteen, saying that he had learned as little as the teachers allowed.

            D.  Studied law, passed the bar exam, was admitted to the New York bar, but never practiced for he found law to be too dull

            E.  Enjoyed a life of leisure (born into a well-to-do family) with other young men his age.

            F.  Wrote A History of New York…by Diedrich Knickerbocker, which deflates the  heroic events of past American history

G.            Became first professional writer because he needed to support himself after the family business failed—wrote The Sketch Book to help support himself.  This book contains two of his most famous short stories: “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

H.            Irving mixes realistic detail with the supernatural, making his stories seem as if they might possibly be true

I.            Irving said of himself: “I was always fond of new scenes, and observing strange characters and manners.  Even when a mere child, I began my travels…[in] boyhood extended the range of my observations…[to] the surrounding country…I knew every spot where a murder or robbery had been committed, or a ghost had been seen.”

J.            The three narrators:  1) Johnathan Oldstyle, 2) Diedrich Knickerbocker, and 3) Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.

K.            Literary Terms

1. Setting—the physical, geographical, and historical environment in which a story takes place

II.         Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

A.            Wrote gothic tales—stories of the ghastly and horrible, filled with old decaying castles, rattling chains, ghosts, zombies, mutilations, premature burials, etc.—things which we associate with the supernatural.

B.            He also wrote abnormal.  Much of the terror in “The Fall of the House of Usher” may be attributed to R. Usher’s depraves state of mind.  After a while we begin to see the events of the story from his haunted viewpoint.  He is obsessed with the house, unnaturally frightened by it, and ultimately driven by these illogical fears to commit an act that destroys his sister, himself, and the house.

C.            He and Hawthorne are given credit for giving the short story its modern form.

D.            Poe also invented the detective story.

E.            Poe seemed to have an Oedipus Complex—unnaturally close relationship to his mother.  In classical Greek mythology, King Laius of Thebes, a city in Greece, had ordered his newborn son placed on a mountaintop and left to starve because it had been predicted that this only son would kill his father Laius.  The boy was found and reared by a shepherd.  Later, Oedipus arrives in Thebes shortly after Laius has been killed while on a journey.  Oedipus saves the city from the Sphinx, and he is proclaimed King of Thebes, and he marries Laius’ wife Jocasta.  After several years, a plague strikes Thebes, and the oracle tells Oedipus that the murderer of Laius must be discovered to end the plague.  Oedipus finds out that he is the murderer, that Laius was his father, and that he is married to his mother.  The knowledge is so horrifying to him that he blinds himself.  When boys seem “tied to mother’s apron strings,” we sometimes say that they have an Oedipus Complex.

F.            Literary Terms

            1.            Atmosphere—mood or feeling created in a piece of writing.

            2.            Assonance—the repetition of vowel sounds

            3.            Alliteration—the repetition of initial consonant sounds

            4.            Consonance—the repetition of consonant sounds (not initial)

            5.            Refrain—repeated words, phrases, or lines in a poem

III.            William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

A.            Born and bred a Calvinist—refuted early in his life the idea of “fallen” nature and espoused instead the idea that nature reveals the divine spirit and offers “communion” to man.

B.            His poetry reveals a deep childhood influence.  He used to roam the countryside with his father, an amateur naturalist and a country doctor, learning to be an accurate observer of nature and learning to reflect on its meaning.

C.            Influenced by the English poet, William Wordsworth and adopted Wordsworth’s idea that nature had a spiritual and moral meaning.  He saw nature as a reflection of the human spirit and believed that nature speaks to the human imagination,

D.            First American poet to achieve a national literary reputation.  Known as the “father of American poetry.”

E.             Involved in many social issues, such as abolition of slavery, reform of debt laws, free speech, free trade, free press, rights of organized labor, preservation of the Union—reforms for a new rapidly changing nation from rural to industrialized.

F.            Literary Terms

1.            Metaphor—a comparison of two unlike things that does not use like or as

IV.        James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)

A.            First major American novelist—born wealthy, lived on a large estate.  Expelled from Yale because of poor grades and pranks.

B.            First novel written on a dare from his wife to write a better one than the English one which he was reading at the time.

C.            Second novel The Spy established him as a writer—novel about American history.

D.            Created the first great American frontier hero—Natty Bumppo (Hawkeye, Deerslayer, Leatherstocking, Pathfinder) in The Leather Stocking Tales.  These novels record Bumppo’s life from youth until death.  They include The Pioneers, The Last of the Mochicans, The Prairie, The Pathfinder, and The Deerslayer.

Romantic Poets

I.            Fireside Poets—Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, and Whittier—called themselves this because their poetry was read by families sitting around the fireside.

II.            Brahamin Poets—Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes—called themselves this because they were from the high class of New England society.  They took the name from the Brahmin who were the high class (high priests) in Hindu society.  They all had similar backgrounds—religious, education, etc.  All had successful careers outside of literature:  Longfellow, teacher of foreign languages; Lowell, teacher and diplomat; Holmes, scientist, doctor, professor (of anatomy).

III.        Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

            A.            Poetry has been translated into 24 languages

B.            First American poet to have his bust displayed in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, which contains tombs and monuments of such famous English poets as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton

C.            Wore his beard long to cover scars that he received when he tried to save his wife from a fire.  She died in the fire.

D.            States the obvious in his poetry—poetry is not hard to understand

E.            Sometimes called America’s favorite poet.

F.            Literary Terms

            1.            Meter—the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry

                        2.            Scanning—Marking the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem

3.            Foot—the basic unit of meter, which consists of one stressed syllable and one or more unstressed syllables

4.            Iamb—a type of foot that consists of one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable

IV.        John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

A.            Quaker—had little formal education but was educated through his religion

B.            Involved in the anti-slavery movement, women’s suffrage, fair treatment of the Indians, and care for the blind

C.            Wrote many political poems

D.            Was a master of simplicity

E.            Immortalized his family in the poem Snowbound

F.            Literary Terms

            1.            Idyll—a poem that depicts a homey, rural scene

            2.            Imagery—using words or phrases to create mental pictures

V.         Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)

A.            One of the founders of The Atlantic Monthly, which was one of the first successful magazines in America

B.            Devoted his life to science

C.            Received medical degree from Harvard

D.            Was professor of anatomy at Harvard

E.            Became Dean of Harvard Medical School

F.            Two new ideas that he advocated were the use of anesthesia in surgery and the use of more antiseptic procedures in surgery.

G.            Modest about his ability as a poet: compared his poetry to major poetry as a tinkling instrument to the sound of a full band

H.            His first famous poem “Old Ironsides” saved the battleship USS Constitution from being scrapped.  This ship won a famous battle in the War of 1812.  This poem contains an allusion to the harpies which were mythological creatures with the head and body of a woman and the wings, claws, legs, and tail of a bird

I.            Literary Terms

                          1.          Extended Metaphor—a metaphor that extends through several                                           lines of poetry or an entire poem

   2.          Apostrophe—a direct address to an object or person who is         absent as if they were present and capable of responding

3.            Allusion—a reference to something in history, politics, religion, mythology, or culture that the writer expects the audience to know.

E.            Bumppo’s life parallels the movement of the American frontier.  He always stayed on the edge of civilization and was never a part of it.  The stories begin in New York when New York was still part wilderness, and they end on the treeless prairie.  Bumppo even asks to be buried away from the din (noise) of civilization.

F.            The theme running through Cooper’s novels is that of the wilderness which offers an opportunity for man to return to basic (natural) moral law and recover natural virtues (goodness) obscured (hidden) by corrupt society.  Cooper explores this theme through Natty Bumppo, a just (good, honorable, and honest) man, who never loses his innate goodness.  Bumppo learned from nature a deep reverence for God and for the blessings that he has provided for us.  Bumppo killed animals only for food.  Killed another human being only in self-defense or in war.

G.            Cooper realized that the wilderness could bring out both the worst and the best in man.  Man could, however, retain his basic goodness in the wilderness.  Bumppo proved that the wilderness need not corrupt us.  Cooper hoped for the moral renewal of American society.

H.            Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales deal with nature, our nation’s past, emotions, and the individual

            Nature—the wilderness

            Past—the American frontier

            Emotions—love between Bumppo and Indians and Middleton

            Individual—Natty Bumppo, the hero