Chapter 3: Nineteenth Century to 1865

 A Brief Introduction

Paul P. Reuben
October 15, 2016


Outside Links: |
Journal: Literature in the Early American Republic | Making of America | Wright American Fiction, 1851-1875 |

Page Links: | Elements of Romanticism | Romantic Subject Matter | Romantic Attitudes | Romantic Techniques | The Renaissance in American Literature | Philosophical Patterns | Romantic Individualism | Study Questions | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

Site Links: |  Chap 3: Index  | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page |

Elements of Romanticism

1. Frontier: vast expanse, freedom, no geographic limitations.

2. Optimism: greater than in Europe because of the presence of frontier.

3. Experimentation: in science, in institutions.

4. Mingling of races: immigrants in large numbers arrive to the US.

5. Growth of industrialization: polarization of north and south; north becomes industrialized, south remains agricultural.

Romantic Subject Matter

1. The quest for beauty: non-didactic, "pure beauty."

2. The use of the far-away and non-normal - antique and fanciful:

a. In historical perspective: antiquarianism; antiquing or artificially aging; interest in the past.

b. Characterization and mood: grotesque, gothicism, sense of terror, fear; use of the odd and queer.

3. Escapism - from American problems.

4. Interest in external nature - for itself, for beauty:

a. Nature as source for the knowledge of the primitive.

b. Nature as refuge.

c. Nature as revelation of God to the individual.

| Top | Romantic Attitudes

1. Appeals to imagination; use of the "willing suspension of disbelief."

2. Stress on emotion rather than reason; optimism, geniality.

3. Subjectivity: in form and meaning.

Romantic Techniques

1. Remoteness of settings in time and space.

2. Improbable plots.

3. Inadequate or unlikely characterization.

4. Authorial subjectivity.

5. Socially "harmful morality;" a world of "lies."

(Compare the above with Realistic Techniques in Chapter 5 of PAL.)

6. Organic principle in writing: form rises out of content, non-formal.

7. Experimentation in new forms: picking up and using obsolete patterns.

8. Cultivation of the individualized, subjective form of writing.

Philosophical Patterns

1. Nineteenth century marked by the influence of French revolution of 1789 and its concepts of liberty, fraternity, equality:
a. Jacksonian democracy of the frontier. (Andrew Jackson on the Web)

b. Intellectual and spiritual revolution - rise of Unitarianism.

c. Middle colonies - utopian experiments like New Harmony, Nashoba, Fourierism, and the Icarian community.

2. America basically middle-class and English - practicing laissez-faire (live and let live), modified because of geographical expansion and the need for subsidies for setting up industries, building of railroads, and others.

3. Institution of slavery in the South - myth of the master and slave - William Gilmore Simms' modified references to Greek democracy (Pericles' Athens which was based on a slave proletariat, but provided order, welfare and security for all) as a way of maintaing slavery.

| Top | The Renaissance in or the Flowering of American Literature

The decade of 1850-59 is unique in the annals of literary production. For a variety of reasons American authors, both African and European, published remarkable works in such a concentration of time that this feat, it is safe to say, has not been duplicated in this or any other literary tradition. Given below are the details:

Works by European American Writers
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Representative Men
Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter
Herman Melville
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Henry David Thoreau
Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass

Works by African American Writers
Frederick Douglass
Heroic Slave
William Wells Brown
Clotel: Or, The President's Daughter
Frank J. Webb
The Garies and Their Friends
Martin R. Delany
Blake: Or, The Huts of America
Harriet E. Wilson
Our Nig: Or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black

| Top | Important ideas from: Warren, Robert Penn, Cleanth Brooks, and R.W.B. Lewis. "A National Literature and Romantic Individualism." in Romanticism. eds. James Barbour and Thomas Quirk. NY: Garland, 1986, 3-24.

1. Social and political changes - Andrew Jackson's unsuccessful bid for presidency in 1824, when he won the plurality of votes but lost to John Quincy Adams when the election was decided in the House of Representatives. Jackson, a man of common beginnings, was the first candidate of the new states. In 1828 election, Jackson convincingly defeated Adams bringing to an end the domination of the eastern establishment.

2. The beginning of industrial and technological developments - key markers were the introduction of steamboats, spinning mills, Eli Whitney's cotton gin, the clipper ships, railroads, and telegraph.

3. "The success of northern industry made slavery appear anomalous, and to the free labor of the North slavery became ... repugnant."

4. The industrial revolution also raised the issue of the overworked laborers. Influenced by the French philosopher Charles Fourier, Albert Brisbane published The Social Destiny of Men (1840). In it Brisbane states: " ... monotony, uniformity, intellectual inaction, and torpor reign: distrust, isolation, separation, conflict and antagonisms are almost universal. ... Society is spiritually a desert."

5. Utopian experiments to counter the industrial revolution - Robert Owen's New Harmony in Indiana; George and Sophia Ripley's Brook Farm; Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands; and many Fourierist colonies.

6. Other experiments: Amelia Bloomer's bloomers worn by women in some Fourierist colonies, mesmerism, phrenology, hydropathy, giving up of tobacco or alcohol, the eating of Dr. Graham's bread.

7. The major reform movements: abolition of slavery, the rights of women, and the civil war. Reformism was, according to Whittier, "moral steam-enginery" and it was fed by two impulses - the idea of evolution even before Darwin and the idea of the "perfection of the social order."

8. Transcendentalism - the philosophical, literary, social, and theological movement - go to Chap. 4 in PAL.

Study Questions

1. Discuss the following statement with reference and relevance to specific literary works: the Puritans were typological, the eighteenth-century writers were logical, but the early-nineteenth-century writers were analogical in their way of knowing and expressing what it means to be an American.

2. Discuss changes in the concept of the American self in the early nineteenth century. Locate your discussion within specific works by Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne.

3. Cite several fundamental differences between early-nineteenth-century writers and their deist predecessors. Focus on the concept of self-invention and, in specific literary works, discuss the early-nineteenth-century evolution of this concept.

4. Research and explain the theory of romantic organicism in Bryant and Poe, at the same time exploring differences between these two poets.

5. Consider literary portraits of women engaged in heroic struggle or of escaping slaves portrayed as heroic fugitives. Compare and contrast portraits by Stowe, Fuller, Jacobs, and Douglass with Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter or Thoreau's autobiographical narrator in Walden.

6. Read some of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's lectures, addresses, and letters (not anthologized). Then compare and contrast The Declaration of Sentiments (1848, see Appendix) with its model, The Declaration of Independence. Analyze the nineteenth-century document with respect to style, imagery, concepts of nature and authority, and relative political effect.

7. Whether or not the earliest American realists wrote in a distinctive and innovative form, they make different choices of language and genre than their contemporaries. Choose to analyze a text by any of the following writers and explore elements of realism in the work: Longstreet, Stowe, Thorpe, Stoddard, and Davis.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 3: Early Nineteenth Century and Romanticism - A Brief Introduction " PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: (provide page date or date of your login).


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