We live in a very dynamic and colorful world where the concept of art is much broader than it used to be. Artists can express themselves through a wide array of different means, without having to follow any particular rules. That is because art is no longer perceived as a science that needs to satisfy countless criteria in order for artists to be able to spread their messages. In a certain way, the freedom and diversity that characterize today’s society have turned art into a democratic communication channel. Going back in time, there are many important events, eras and trends that have led to this point. The emergence of literary romanticism is a phenomenon that is certainly worth analyzing in greater depth, in view of the important role that it has played in freeing artists from the rigid canons that had been established over the centuries.
As Rosenthal (7) pointed out, the Romantic Age was all about exaggerations, extremes, passions, mistakes, bold ideas and great creativity. Literary Romanticism embodied all of these qualities, which is why it was commonly regarded as a major cause of the religious, political and ideological controversies that characterized the 19th century (Rosenthal 7). In order to fully appreciate the cultural and social significance of literary romanticism, it is important to consider that this trend derived from artists, thinkers and philosophers’ refusal to comply with the classical rules that had been dominating every form of artistic expression until Ancient Greece (Rosenthal 7).
It follows that literary romanticism is much more than a mere literary trend: it is, in fact, a revolutionary movement that aimed to replace the pre-existing canons of beauty and harmony with a more anthropocentric perspective. For the first time in history, those who are different are no longer labeled as dangerous, inferior or untrustworthy. On the contrary, literary romanticism portrays different cultures, traditions and lands as mysterious, fascinating and worthy of further exploration. Lord Byron’s Don Juan (“The Norton Anthology of English Literature”) is an excellent example of British poets’ interest in all things exotic and mysterious. Don Juan is a poem that features many typically romantic elements: a man with questionable moral values is kidnapped by a group of pirates and sold as a slave to one of the Sultan’s concubines; she disguises him as a woman in order to let him walk into her chambers freely, until he joins the Russian army and is involved in many other adventures.
However, as fascinating as exotic themes may be, Romantic poets and writers’ ability to emphasize imagination, introspection and emotions over reality and rationality represents one of the major contributions of literary romanticism to today’s cultural landscape and society. In particular, English writers exhibited a strong interest in mythological tales and the medieval era, which they explored and re-interpreted in such a way to highlight their mystical aspects (The Literature Network, “Romanticism”). During the Neoclassical period, artists were expected to adhere to very rigid rules whose main goal was to set standards concerning the structure and content of every literary work; however, Romanticism encouraged artists to experiment with new styles and re-interpret various classical themes and subjects – i.e. country life, beauty, mythology and romance – from new perspectives (The Literature Network, “Romanticism”).
In view of the above considerations, it is evident that if it were not for Romantic poets and writers’ brave, rebellious and free-thinking approach to art, Western society and culture would have never experienced the divisive tendencies that allowed for the emergence of new forms of art and the abandonment of obsolete canons which restricted and limited artists’ creativity. Today, we are heading towards an increasingly diverse, creative and open-minded society where freedom of speech and expression are perceived as fundamental human rights. Literary Romanticism has taught human beings to use their imagination, realize their full potential and try new things, rather than being afraid of them.
- Lord Byron, Gordon, “Don Juan”, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, The Romantic Period Volume D (9th ed.). By Julia Reidhead. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc. 2012. Pp.672-726. Print.
- Rosenthal, Léon. Romanticism. Ho Chi Minh City: Parkstone International. 2014. Print.
- The Literature Network. “Romanticism”. n.d. Web. 2 December 2015.