American Romanticism


Romanticism (RM) was an optimism over the difficult times of the era.  Although people associate this era with prosperity as well as scientific and technological advancement,  this era in American history was riddled with personal strife, economic hardships, and national conflicts.  Freedom from England meant more than freedom: America was on its own for the first time since its inception...and it was floundering.  The artists and authors of American Romanticism understood this; their works echo the maelstrom that was America from 1800-1865.

Historically in this country...

Religion was on the decline because people were moving west, scattering congregations.  1 in 3 people attended church in the 1830s.  No more Puritan beliefs. No more hell fire and damnation.  No more fear of going against the church.

In 1837 the real estate market crashed, spelling disaster for landowners.  This caused a financial panic through the budding country.

Riots were occurring in New York because banks in New York and Boston stopped redeeming money for gold and silver.

Manufacturing was in decline, unemployment was increasing, and investments/savings were depleted into mysterious "black holes" in the market.

Slavery was becoming a major conflict with a country divided.

Women were more vocal in their rights as individuals and writers.

Many cultures were appearing (especially in urban areas) due to immigration and expansion of the U.S.

Literature and Publishing

Newspapers became more popular in urban areas.

Magazines were plentiful, which spurred a market for literature, mainly stories and poems.

These publications became opportunities for people to air their opinions about controversial topics such as slavery and women’s rights.

Other than Old Farmer’s Almanac, The Saturday Evening Post is the oldest American magazine, dating back to 1729. The founder? Benjamin Franklin.

Many authors became popular through these publications. Washington Irving was the first American Romantic author to be published in a magazine; Hawthorne was the second.

The third author to be published? Edgar Allan Poe.

His short story "Metzengerstein“ was published in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier.

Hawthorne published the most short stories in magazines, followed by Poe.

Despite all the advancements, an author could not survive financially as a writer.

No copyright laws existed, so people could take another’s ideas and publish them—without punishment.

Romantic Themes

¨The basis of RM is a “freeing of the artist/writer from restraints and rules…” (Holman 415).

Some ideas of RM are

¤The dominance of imagination over reason and rules of fact;

¤The psychological desire to escape unpleasant realities;

¤Love of Nature (TCD);

¤Mysticism and the supernatural;

¤Interest in the past;


¤Science and technology (the dark side of it);

¤Feeling and intuition over religion.

Romantic Authors:
Edgar Allan Poe


The Father of the Short Story and Detective Story. Doyle attributes Poe as his inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

Poe’s detective August Dupine was the forerunner for Holmes. “The Gold Bug” is supposedly the first detective story by Poe, but many critics claim “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was the first (since Poe really defined the characteristics of the detective).

Poe had a difficult life, was a brilliant man, was vastly misunderstood.

(One of the few photographs of Poe, perhaps the most famous and reproduced picture of the famous author.)

He was not the lunatic and drug addict people make him to be! He did binge drink, but he did not do drugs. He was a loving, caring man who could not handle the events of his life (and his liquor).

Poe considered himself a poet above all other literary labels.

RM elements: Supernatural, mysticism, desire to escape reality, and imagination.

¤The Baltimore Ravens is named after Poe’s poem. Their mascot, the raven, is affectionately named Poe.

Famous Short Stories:

¤“The Tell-Tale Heart;

¤“The Masque of the Red Death”;

¤“The Black Cat”;

¤“The Pit and the Pendulum”, etc.

Poe’s influence on American literature is under-appreciated. His writing has influenced many authors and directors: Stephen King, Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock, H.P. Lovecraft, to name a few.

Nathaniel Hawthorne


Hawthorne considered himself a novelist, but his short stories were (are) more popular.

He was the Surveyor of the Custom House in Salem. While at the Custom House, Hawthorne created the idea of his most popular work, The Scarlet Letter.

In “The Custom House” section of The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne claims he found letters from a man who recants the tale of a woman branded to wear a red letter on her chest (as a result of an indiscretion). This, however, is false. Hawthorne solely created the novel.

This novel was shocking for 1850 since it dealt with adultery, an uncouth topic at the time.

Hester Prynne is a woman who had a “moment of weakness” and committed adultery with a man—and Hester had a child, Pearl, from that affair.

Although Hester was condemned by the Puritans for her acts, she withstood their abuse and, after many years, was viewed as “Able”, a saint.

Hester Prynne is the first heroine of American Literature. Girls, like your independence? Your strong nature? Thank Hester Prynne.

Quite tedious to read, TSL is one of our most important novels since Hawthorne gave women a sense of their sexuality in a time when women were hardly given a voice.

¨Hawthorne’s short stories: “Young Goodman Brown”; “Rappaccini’s Daughter”;

“Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”; “The Birthmark.”

Novels: The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithdale Romance.

RM Elements: Sexuality in women, Supernatural, science, the individual.