Colonial Literature

Civil War & Realism


European Romanticim


Harlem Renaissance

American Romanticism

19th century Naturalism

Beat Generation/Whitman

New England Renaissance

American Realism & Regionalism



Anxiety of Influence


American Romanticism (1800-Civil War)

We cannot think about America's early writers, Irving, Cooper, Bryant and Poe, as if they were all writing about the same things in the same way. We should recognize, however, that all four writers shared some of the characteristics of Romanticism, a literary movement that began in Europe in the late eigtheenth century and dominated literature on both sides of the Atlantic in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Romanticism was a reaction to Classicism, the Age of Reason movement in the arts that attempted to duplicated the order and balance in the art of Greece and Rome. While Classiscism stressed reason over emotion and social concerns over personal ones, Romantic writers stressed personal experience and were often highly emotional. Among the earliest Romantic writers were the British poet William Wordsworth and the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

The qualities of Romanticism vary from place to place, and few Romantic writers exhibit all of them. But there are some characteristics that can give us a general definition of Romanticism:

Romantic writers reveal with emotion their own personal visions and delve deeply into the individual personalities of their characters. Poe is representitive of this strain of Romanticism, for he often displays the tortured minds and hearts of inward-looking characters (Montresor). Poe also demonstrates a fascination with the gothic, the dark, irrational side of the imagination.

Click on New England Renaissance to find how American writer began to free themsevles from European models. A convenient historical marker is Emerson's stirring lecture, The American Scholar (1837), often called America's intellectual declaration of independence.

The following material was copied and gleaned from Literature: The American Experience. Ed. Ellen Bowler. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994.