I thought I'd look back over the history of art and literature, to understand the influences which informed romanticism and later, romance novels
The Basics of Romantic Art - 1800-1860
CASPAR DAVID FRIEDRICH Wanderer above the Sea of Fog
Romanticism - or the Romantic Era, first appeared in the second half of the 18th Century. It was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement, a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, and a revolt against the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment. It was also a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature.
The strong emotions of horror, terror, awe and trepidation became an authentic source of aesthetic experience. When confronting nature, untamed and picturesque, it was called 'the sublime'. An example is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Mont Blanc - the awe and spirituality the mountain inspires:
The secret Strength of things
Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome
Of Heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!
And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human mind's imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?
The Industrial Revolution took hold in the latter part of the 18th century, beginning in England and spreading to France and America. This revolution, which although more peaceful than the French Revolution, wasn’t entirely free of violence, and brought with it a new market economy, based on new technology. The machine began to replace human tools and animal power. Villages became urban centers drawing people from farms and the countryside to work in the new factories. Not yet regulated, men, women, and children worked fourteen hour shifts, going weeks without seeing the sunlight. Cities grew and became dirty and crowded, the poor living in squalor, the air polluted by soot from smokestacks.
There were those who looked back with nostalgia to a romantic vision of the days when people worked the land under a clear sky, using animals to draw the plough.
Romantics rejected the philosophy of reason, turning instead to emotion, imagination, and intuition. A life filled with deep feeling, spirituality and free expression were seen as a way of dealing with the dehumanizing effects of industrialization. Human beings were infinite, with godlike potential.
This was reflected in poetry such as Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey:
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking Towards the East Window, by JMW Turner, 1794. Tintern Abbey was a monastery founded in 1131 and rebuilt in the 13th century. Abandoned in 1536, it was left to decay for two centuries. Artist Joseph Mallord William Turner paid two visits to the site, and it inspired him to paint this piece which juxtaposes the smallness of man alongside and wildness of nature, the unstoppable power of which has reclaimed this man-made edifice. The haunting abbey was a popular muse for many Romantics
Turner was fascinated by the mood of nature, her ever changing effects. He was always sketching the clouds, the sky, and his natural surroundings. Turner was particularly fascinated with the power of the ocean and said that he had once asked to be lashed to the mast of a ship in order to “experience the drama” of a mighty storm at sea. Romantics believed that God’s presence was embodied in nature and evidence of His existence. Turner saw light as a divine emanation and played with it in pictures to evoke that truth
Art began to demand an emotional response from the viewer, and a nostalgic yearning for a rural, pastoral life, the stirrings of life’s mysteries and an awareness of the power and grandeur of nature.
Frenchman Eugene Delacroix Liberty Leading The People. Art of this period also depicted the romantic ideal of Nationalism
The Norton Anthology of Poetry
Part II coming soon: The Romantic Novel