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Transcript of American Romanticism
We will walk on our own feet;
we will work with our own hands;
we will speak our own minds.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
1828- Noah Webster publishes
dictionary of American English
1841- Ralph Waldo Emerson
publishes his collection of essays
1845- Edgar Allan Poe publishes
"The Raven and Other Poems"
1851- Herman Melville publishes
Political and Social Events
1800- Washington DC becomes U.S. Capital
1820-21- Missouri admitted as slave state
Maine as free state
1825- Erie Canal is opened
1826- Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
die on same day, July 4
1845- U.S. Annexes Texas-
leads to war with Mexico
1849- California Gold Rush
One thing it is not is mushy love stories!
What is Romanticism?
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Americans had forged an independent nation, but they had not yet created their own cultural identity. A new generation of writers, who called themselves Romantics and Transcendentalists, took the first giant steps in that direction. Even today we feel the effects of the monumental changes these writers brought about in the ways that Americans view themselves, their society, and
he world of nature.
The Romantic Sensibility:
Romanticism is the name given to those schools of thought that value feeling and intuition over reason.
It developed in part as a reaction against rationalism, in the sooty wake of the Industrial Revolution.
The Romantics believed that the imagination was able to discover truths that the rational mind could not reach. These truths were usually accompanied by powerful emotion and associated with natural, unspoiled beauty.
Imagination, individual feelings, and wild nature were of greater value than reason, logic, and cultivation.
From Dull Realities to Higher Truths
The Romantics wanted to rise above "dull realities" to a realm of higher truth. They did this in two principal ways.
Romantics searched for exotic settings in the more "natural" past or in a world far removed from the grimy and noisy industrial age.
Romantics tried to reflect on the natural world until dull reality fell away to reveal underlying beauty and truth.
The American Novel and the Wilderness Experience
The development of the American novel coincided with westward expansion, with the growth of a nationalist spirit, and with the rapid spread of cities.
These factors tended to reinforce the idealization of frontier life.
James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851):
Explored uniquely American settings and characters: frontier communities, American Indians, backwoodsmen, and the wilderness of western New York and Pennsylvania.
He is credited with creating the first American hero.
A New Kind of Hero
Natty is a triumph of American innocence and an example of one of the most important outgrowths of the early American novel: the American romantic hero. Here was a new kind of heroic figure, one quite different from the hero of the Age of Reason. The rationalist hero- exemplified by a real-life figure such as Ben Franklin - was worldly, educated,
sophisticated, and bent on making a place for himself in civilazation.
The typical hero of American Romantic fiction, on the other hand, was youthful, innocent, intuitive, and close to nature. By today's standards the hero was also hopelessly uneasy with women, who were usually seen (by male writers, at least) to represent civilization and the impulse to "domesticate."
The Lone Ranger
Today Americans still create Romantic heros; the twentieth-and twenty-first-century descendants of Natty Bumppo can be found in dozens of pop-culture heroes.
American Romantic Poetry:
Read at Every Fireside
The Romantic poets wanted to prove that Americans were not unsophisticated hicks. They worked with European literary traditions rather than crafting a unique American voice.
The Fireside Poets:
A group of poets from Boston were the most popular poets America had ever produced. They were called Fireside Poets because their poems were read aloud at the fireside as family entertainment. They were sometimes called Schoolroom Poets, because their poems were memorized in every American classroom.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
John Greenleaf Whittier
Olive Wendell Holmes
James Russell Lowell
Limited by their literary conservatism, the Fireside Poets were unable to recognize the poetry of the future, which was being written right under their noses. Whittier's response in 1855 to the first volume of a certain poet's work (Ralph Waldo Emerson) was to throw the book into the fire.
True Reality Is Spiritual
Transcendental refers to the idea that in determining the ultimate reality of God, the universe, the self, and other important matters, one must transcend, or go beyond, every day human experience in the physical world.
The Dark Romantics
The Dark Romantics:
Some consider them to be the anti-transcendentalists, because their views of the world seem so profoundly opposed to the optimistic views of Emerson and his followers. But, they had much in common with the Transcendentalists. They valued intuition over logic and reason, and they saw signs and symbols in all events. They agreed with Emerson's belief that spiritual facts lie behind the appearances of nature, they just did not think those facts are necessarily good or harmless. Their view of existence developed from both mystical and the melancholy aspects of thought.
The Dark Romantics explored the conflict between:
Good vs Evil
Guilt and Sin
Madness in the human phsyche
The Dark Romantics saw the blankness and the horror of evil. From this imaginative, unflinching vision they shaped a uniquely American literature.
The Devil and Tom Walker Summary:
In 1727, the miserly New Englander Tom Walker meets a mysterious "black man" near a swamp. This personage, who may be the devil, offers Tom hidden pirate gold on certain conditions that Tom never reveals. Later, Tom tells his shrewish wife about the encounter, swearing that he refused the bargain. She decides to deal for herself, but never returns from her second meeting with the black man. It becomes rumored that Tom found her apron in a tree, holding a heart and liver.
With his wife gone, Tom makes his own bargain with the mysterious man. He gets the pirate gold and, as requested by the devil, becomes a moneylender notorious for his hard terms. He prospers, but as he grows old, Tom becomes a zealous and harshly dogmatic churchgoer, perhaps fearing for his soul. Nonetheless, the black man finally summons Tom, who is last seen howling on the back of a horse, galloping into an old Indian fort that is immediately destroyed by lightning.
The Devil and Tom Walker
by Washington Irving (1783-1859)
Natty Bumppo (aka Hawkeye) Hero of the James Fenimore Cooper novel "The Deerslayer" (The Last of the Mohicans)