Romantic Period—1800-1840—also the period of literary nationalism
I. Characteristics of the period
Appeal to emotion rather than to reason—Universe was perceived as
beautiful; man, basically good—the favored creature in the universe
Interest in nature—nature viewed as good, beautiful, strange, and
Interest in the picturesque and unusual—writers wrote about quaint
out-of-the-way places, unusual customs and habits.
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).
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
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.
Writers of the period were less
concerned with social and political reform and were more concerned with
expression of their own personal experience.
Writers wrote about nature, the
past, and the inner world of human experience
Romantic Prose Writers
Washington Irving (1783-1859)
Born in the final years of the Revolutionary War and fittingly named
after George Washington
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.
Left school for good at the age of sixteen, saying that he had learned as
little as the teachers allowed.
Studied law, passed the bar exam, was admitted to the New York bar,
but never practiced for he found law to be too dull
Enjoyed a life of leisure (born into a well-to-do family) with other
young men his age.
Wrote A History of New York…by Diedrich Knickerbocker, which
deflates the heroic events of past American history
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
Irving mixes realistic detail with the supernatural, making his stories
seem as if they might possibly be true
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.”
The three narrators: 1)
Johnathan Oldstyle, 2) Diedrich Knickerbocker, and 3) Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
1. Setting—the physical, geographical, and historical environment in which
a story takes place
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
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.
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.
He and Hawthorne are given credit for giving the short story its modern
Poe also invented the detective story.
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.
Atmosphere—mood or feeling created in a piece of writing.
Assonance—the repetition of vowel sounds
Alliteration—the repetition of initial consonant sounds
Consonance—the repetition of consonant sounds (not initial)
Refrain—repeated words, phrases, or lines in a poem
William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)
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.
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.
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,
First American poet to achieve a national literary reputation.
Known as the “father of American poetry.”
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
Metaphor—a comparison of two unlike things that does not use like
James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
First major American novelist—born wealthy, lived on a large estate.
Expelled from Yale because of poor grades and pranks.
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.
Second novel The Spy established him as a writer—novel about
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.
Lowell, Holmes, and Whittier—called themselves this because their poetry was
read by families sitting around the fireside.
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).
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Poetry has been translated into 24 languages
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
Wore his beard long to cover scars that he received when he tried to save
his wife from a fire. She died in
States the obvious in his poetry—poetry is not hard to understand
Sometimes called America’s favorite poet.
Meter—the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry
Scanning—Marking the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem
Foot—the basic unit of meter, which consists of one stressed syllable
and one or more unstressed syllables
Iamb—a type of foot that consists of one stressed syllable followed by
one unstressed syllable
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
Quaker—had little formal education but was educated through his
Involved in the anti-slavery movement, women’s suffrage, fair treatment
of the Indians, and care for the blind
Wrote many political poems
Was a master of simplicity
Immortalized his family in the poem Snowbound
Idyll—a poem that depicts a homey, rural scene
Imagery—using words or phrases to create mental pictures
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
One of the founders of The Atlantic Monthly, which was one of the
first successful magazines in America
Devoted his life to science
Received medical degree from Harvard
Was professor of anatomy at Harvard
Became Dean of Harvard Medical School
Two new ideas that he advocated were the use of anesthesia in surgery and
the use of more antiseptic procedures in surgery.
Modest about his ability as a poet: compared his poetry to major poetry
as a tinkling instrument to the sound of a full band
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
Extended Metaphor—a metaphor that extends through
lines of poetry or an entire poem
Apostrophe—a direct address to an object or person who
is absent as if they were present and
capable of responding
Allusion—a reference to something in history, politics, religion,
mythology, or culture that the writer expects the audience to know.
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.
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.
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.
Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales deal with nature, our nation’s
past, emotions, and the individual
Past—the American frontier
Emotions—love between Bumppo and Indians and Middleton
Individual—Natty Bumppo, the hero