Characteristics of Romanticism in English Literature

Written by clare archer
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Characteristics of Romanticism in English Literature
Romantic literature features works punctuated by cultural and philosophical themes. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Romanticism in English literature has little to do with modern concepts of romance or love. The Romantics in literary terms were the fathers of modernism, delving into intellectual topics of philosophy and personal expression. Revolutions in America and France at the end of the 18th century mark the beginning of the Romantic period, which lasted until the mid-19th century. The call for independence and individuality inspired the romantics to explore consistent themes in literature created during this time period.

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An emphasis on personal freedom and liberty is a distinction of Romanticism. Logic, reason and creativity were valued more highly than conformist or clich� topics. Heroes and heroines of Romantic novels often questioned their roles in society and purposes in life rather than following a formulaic storyline. The idea of the individual's imagination as a way of exploring psychology and philosophy also gained popularity during the Romantic period.


Romanticism marked a departure from morals backed by organised religion to nature as a form of divine inspiration. Literature from this period often references nature as a source of inspiration and artistic value. Material and traditional aspects of society were treated as artificial, and appreciation of nature was viewed as a return to the basic elements of human existence. Nature represented an organic connection with the world at large, and often the universe, to Romantics.

Characteristics of Romanticism in English Literature
Themes of nature as a tie to humanity are prevalent in Romanticism. (tree leaves image by timur1970 from

Poetry and Politics

Following the political revolutions in America and France, authors were inspired to write with a greater degree of personal style. Poetry was further explored during the Romantic period, with an emphasis on experimental styles and non-traditional form. Romantics advocated the philosophical concept of the "self," embracing the same upheaval in tradition that the revolutions reflected. The ills of society served as inspiration for Romantics to explore the disastrous side effects of industrialisation, the working poor, loneliness and political satire.


The use of symbolism gained popularity as the Romantics struggled for ways to communicate the complexity of human emotions. Elements of nature were often used as symbolic elements, combining two characteristics of Romanticism. Myths and symbols were used within literature to create visual imagery and further illustrate new concepts and ideas. Romantic poetry in particular explored using words to create symbols which communicated larger philosophical concepts.

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