The purpose of this paper is to take an in depth look at Romanticism in South America. Romanticism (also referred to as the Romantic Period or Romantic Era), can be described as: an 18th and 19th century movement which marked the response in politics, religion, art, philosophy and literature from the formal orthodoxy and neoclassicism of the previous period (Holman and Harmon). Throughout the course of the paper, there is a discussion on the break between Americanism and European heritage, a number of renowned South American poets and writers, some of whom lived in exile, and the themes that they captured in their writing.

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Literary Romanticism is a literature movement which had a presence in Latin-America along with North America, and practically all of Europe. The period ran from around 1750 to approximately 1870, and was defined by surety of the emotional and imagination subjectiveness of expression, free thoughts, approach, and the glorification of nature. Romanticism gave a underlying accent to originality, spontaneity, sincerity, and self expressive freedom. It stood up to classicism, and writers and artists looked at different artistic styles and subject matter
to gain their inspiration. The Romantic era concentrated on peoples’ commonality, and while utilizing nature and emotion, the writer and their poems and books highlighted the universal nature of individuals. As a movement, Romanticism faded in the latter part of the 19th early 20th century, and was replaced by technological and scientific advancement, along with the
elevating dominance of Realism (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Romanticism in South America’s Spanish-speaking regions was greatly affected by the writer, Esteban Echeverría. He produced well received writing during the 1830s and 40s. The impetus for his work came about from his hate for Juan Manuel DE Rosas, the Argentine dictator. It embraces terror and blood themes using a slaughterhouse metaphor to portray Rosas’ fierce authoritarianism (Echevarría & Pupo-Walker). Echeverría, who hailed from Argentina, had voluntarily left his homeland to study in Paris. He went back to Argentina during the first part of the 1930s, where he took up writing Romantic literature, and backing the democratic process. Although Argentina had gained its independence, it was nevertheless, subject to domestic tyranny. Echeverría set up the “May Association” in 1837. This comprised a liberal intellectual group which: “sought a national literature reflective of their culture and society. By 1841 Echeverría… [went to Uruguay as an exile]… Though a prolific writer and pamphleteer, Echeverría’s place in literary history is secured by a poem [“The Captive,”] and a short story [“The Slaughterhouse”] (Encyclopedia Britannica).

The Romanticism of Brazil is separated and defined by three different periods. The first is essentially centered on generating a feeling of national individuality by employing a heroic Indian ideal. Writers who did this include the poet Gonçalves Dias, who penned “Song of the Exile”, and the writer of “O Guarani and Iracema”, José de Alencar. Ultra-Romanticism, the second period of Romaticism, is evident via its intense effect on European culture and themes relating to the despair, sadness and melancholy which is linked to inaccessible love. Byron and Goethe are regularly cited in these pieces. The third period is pronounced by social poems, particularly from the movement of abolitionists such as Castro Alves and Álvares de Azevedo (Echevarría & Pupo-Walker).

In the early 19th century, colonies in Latin American started to announce their independence from Europe. There was a rebellious environment all around, and this spurred a large number of writers on to creating a new type of literature, one which gave a true reflection on the difficulties and lives and of Latin-Americans. Although the Romanticism traditions which formed in Europe in the 19th century were promoted by early Latin American poets and novel writers, over time, this genre surrendered to a stronger realism, and they up graded their concentration on ordinary peoples’ lives, which included a heavy interest in political and social reformation (Echevarría & Pupo-Walker).

In the 1800s, the culture of Latin America was split between the drive to show Americanism, and European heritage. Decades after Latin America gained independence, the domination by Spanish colonials opened South America to various influences from Europe. For example, there was a strong influence from the tradition of French neoclassical tradition. And Romanticism changed the direction of Latin Americans’ attention to American symbols including slaves, gauchos, and Indians (Woodville).

The pioneering poets of the region who took up this genre included José María de Heredia from Cuba, a renowned poet who started out through his mastery of Neoclassical poetic variants. While he continued to write lyrics using the Neoclassical style, the: “emotional charge of his poetry, the presentation of a self astonished by the beauty and power of nature, and his espousal of the cause for national independence were Romantic to the core” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Heredia, who passed away at a young age, was seen as a romantic castaway, and lived in exile in Mexico and America. He could not come to terms with the Cuban Spanish government’s abuses of power, and his ode: “Hymn of the Exile,” touches on the romantic and physical beauty of Cuba, and these abuses. (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Latin America’s Romanticism was synchronized with the actions which delivered most of the region’s independence from Spain. The exceptions were the Caribbean, and the Cuba of Heredia. The poet, Andrés Bello from Venezuela, embraced the spirit of Neoclassical-ism, and is well known for his: “1826 “Ode to Agriculture in the Torrid Zone”, a Virgilian poem that lauds nature for its generous sustenance of man” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Heredia penned an ode titled: “in a Storm,” in which he addresses a hurricane, and expresses his inner fears and fascination with the licentiously devastating wind. He also produced a Romantic poem entitled: “Ode to Niagara,” which was about the volatile magnificence of Niagara Falls. Conversely, José Joaquín de Olmedo from Ecuador, who was very supportive of the South American independence heroes, and penned a famous lyrical poem to them in 1825, entitled: “The Victory at Junín: A Song to Bolívar.”

Yet when it comes to Romanticism, the most renowned mid-19th century Latin American and Argentinian literary genius, is Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. In 1845, the latter wrote what is regarded as the greatest tome ever penned by a writer from that region: “Life in the Argentine Republic.” Despite the title, the book offered a broad sphere contemplation on the culture of the nation, and included adoring romantic descriptions of the nomadic gauchos, the Pampas, and the Argentine plain. The preference for romanticism in regional human types, local landscapes, and national themes, was carried over in “An Indian Legend of Uruguay,” the well received larger-than-life poem written in 1886 by Juan Zorrilla de San Martín. This was a depiction of the Charrúa Indians’ demise at the hands of the aggressive Spaniards (Encyclopedia Britannica).

In 1841, the much acclaimed lyrical poet Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, whose life was imbued in Romanticism, released a book entitled: Sab: An Autobiography. This recounted the story of forbidden love between a white mistress and her house slave. This was just one of a set of 19th century South American novels which boasted a masterpiece on Cuban customs by Cirilo Villaverde, entitled: Angel’s Hill (Encyclopedia Britannica).

In summary, while Romanticism as a movement only lasted from 1750 to around 1870, it had a strong impact in South America, and the works of the famous writers and poets of that era are still enjoyed and studied today.

  • Echevarría, Roberto & Enrique Pupo-Walker. The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature: Brazilian Literature (1996) vol. 2 p. 367
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. “Latin-American Literature.” N.d., Accessed 10 Oct 2017.
  • Holman, Hugh & Harman, William. “Definitions from A Handbook to Literature, Sixth Edition.” N.d., Accessed 10 Oct 2017.
  • Woodville. “Latin American History from 1800 to 1914.” N.d., Accessed 10 Oct 2017.