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Environmental Studies
English Language and Linguistics
BA English
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The Romantic Age 

Learning Outcomes

Upon the completion of the unit, the learner will be able to:

  1. acquire a general insight into the socio-cultural background of the period
  2. detail the characteristics of the period
  3. identify some of the major works of the period
  4. define features of the dominant literary genres of the period


The adjective ‘romantic’ is quite familiar to us in our everyday life; it refers to a situation characterised by the expression of love. Quite often, it is used to suggest an idealised understanding of reality or a utopian point of view. In fact, it is derived from the French-Provençal word ‘Romance’, which suggests a story in which the scenarios and characters are unreal and removed from everyday life.

However, the term also carries a different, but somewhat related, meaning in the history of English literature. The epithet ‘Romantic’ refers to a body of works produced in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in England, characterised by an emphasis on feeling, imagination and originality. This time frame, roughly spanning the 1770s to the 1830s, came to be known as the Romantic Age.

Of course, the rise of romanticism during this period was the result of many conducive socio-political factors. For instance, the era saw the onset of widespread industrialisation in England. Just as much as this development shaped a booming and prosperous economy, it also eventually led to conditions of urban poverty, poor living standards, pollution and widened class gaps.

In certain ways, romantic literature used the materialistic and mechanical culture of the industrial revolution as an opposite to its philosophy. The figure of ‘nature’ was presented as a symbol for an ideal and organic way of life, different from the ways of human civilisation.

The political upheavals of the American Revolution (1775-83) and the French Revolution (1789-1799) went a long way in inspiring liberal impulses in England. Many prominent voices in literary and political circles called for the transformation of socio-cultural institutions. There were also campaigns for universal voting rights and political reforms. During this time, the influence of the monarchy on the British parliament was also scrutinised.

This tendency towards democracy is reflected, to an extent, in the diction and themes used by the Romantic writers. Some of the most significant literary icons of the movement stressed the need for selecting themes from everyday life, and for using the language of common folks. Romantic poetry emphasised these values, deviating from the existing literary values. These broad changes kindled the flames of the Romantic Age in English literature. Let us explore the literary movement in more detail.


Imagination, Emotion, Nature, Individualism, Transformation


Surely, you are familiar with the term ‘roman-tic’. Often, it refers to a situation where fantasies and emotions triumph over reality. The principle of romanticism, the literary movement that began in English literature in the late eighteenth century, is similar.

In reaction to the widespread upheavals that came about in the “age of revolutions”, the Romantic Movement represents a shift of literary and artistic sensibilities. It is marked by a celebration of nature, emotions, imagination and common people, often focusing intensely on the unique perspective of individuals.

The “age of revolutions” is a period in European history, roughly spanning the years from 1775 to 1848. During this time, society witnessed ‘revolutions’ in almost all areas of life – political, social, cultural, economic and technological. This includes the American and French Revolutions as well as the Industrial Revolution in Britain. The impact of this era is widely discussed even today.

Here, we must note that such changes conflicted with the neoclassical style of writing which was dominant in the preceding era. Neoclassical philosophy viewed humans as inherently flawed, and upheld rational thinking as superior to feelings or emotions. The models of classical Greek and Roman texts were followed, giving great significance to form, order and decorum.

The neoclassicists discouraged experimentation and radical deviations from established models. Their insistence on self-restraint and refinement often led neoclassical literary out-put to very specific, repeated types of writings.

‘Romantic’ Literature draws its name from ‘romance’, an old literary form where “dreams and desires prevail over everyday realities” (Drabble 888). The heroes of such romance stories were of-ten knights and warriors who would set out on an adventure full of marvellous incidents and mysterious happenings. Most literatures in the world have such narratives. Can you think of any in your language?

With the emergence of the romantic movement, the attention fell to the inner workings of the individual writer’s mind. No single model could be used to capture the unique emotions or viewpoints that each person is capable of. Such aspects could not be expressed in a particular form or order, nor could they be presented rationally. Therefore, Romanticism adopted new forms of expression that presented their ‘radical ’ worldview of humans as di-verse and free.

Of course, this does not mean that neoclassical and romantic writers were strictly separated by time. In fact, the later parts of the neo-classical era saw many writers moving away from the rigid literary ideals of the time. Their poetry displayed early tendencies of romanticism, such as a focus on nature and a shift towards simpler, more natural forms of ex-pression. There was also a renewed emphasis on genuine emotion, creativity, sensibility and imagination. This came to be referred to as the ‘Romantic Revival’.

“The Seasons”, written by James Thurber, is widely considered to be one of the first poems of this school. Composed as a cycle of four poems between 1926 and 1930, the poem explored and celebrated the variety of nature. Following this, in the years leading up to the Romantic Movement, English poetry went through a phase of transition from neoclassicism.

The poets of this period are commonly considered to be the precursors of romanticism, as they set the stage for the later emergence of the romantic poets. Some of the most significant names in this context include William Cowper, George Crabbe, William Blake, Thomas Gray and Robert Burns.

  “The Tyger” – William Blake (1757-1827)

  Tyger, Tyger, burning Bright,

  In the forests of the night,

  What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Explore the poetry of William Blake 

Romanticism represents a shift towards a new ‘literary sensibility.’ It celebrated the individual, the subjective, the imaginative, the spontaneous and the emotional as valid, unique perspectives. It emphasised a sense of ideal-ism and revolutionary zest. A common thread among the romantics was a deep appreciation of nature, specifically as a source of beauty and delight.

In general, romanticism exalted emotion over reason, and the senses over intellectual faculty. Unlike the literary model of neoclassicism, human personality, moods and mental activity would take centrestage in romantic literature. There was a significance given to the “the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general and a focus on his or her passions and inner struggles” ( The creative spirit of the artist, his or her imagination, was given greater significance rather than their ability to mimic traditional rules. Folk culture, national and ethnic cultural forms, and references to the mediaeval era saw a revival in the literary output of the era. Further, the mysterious and the supernatural were also explored.

Even though romantic impulses could be seen much earlier, the year 1798 is seen as a mile-stone in the history of the English Romantic Movement. It witnessed the publication of Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems written by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge. Deviating from the poetic pattern of the age, the works in this collection used “incidents and situations from common life” as their subject matter (B. Prasad 169). They used the language of plain, everyday life which could be understood by common people.

Yet, the ordinary subject matters of these poems were presented in a deeply imaginative manner. This was done so that the reader would view the subject in an unusual or mysterious way. For instance, Wordsworth trans-forms the simple act of seeing daffodils into a deep emotional experience in the poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”:

“They [Daffodils] flash upon that inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude;/And then my heart with pleasure fills,/And dances with the daffodils.”

This passion for discovering new pleasures in the ordinary world around them is a salient part of romanticism. The idea was that literature might be open to readers from all walks of life. However, this alone does not make up the entire range of romantic literature in English. Some of the major features of the Ro-mantic movement are:

  1. A Reaction Against Neoclassicism:
    In the poem “Endymion”, John Keats writes, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” The poem refers to the delight brought on by the sight of a beautiful object. Note the simplicity of the language used. The focus is on an incident taken from everyday life. This is an example of the way that Romantic literature resisted the neoclassical style of writing. Romanticism rejected the neoclassical emphasis on rules, order and convention. Instead of the more lavish diction and themes favoured by the neoclassical writers, the Romantic writers turned their attention to common life. More importance was given to spontaneity and originality than to the imitation of classical literature. Inspired by the message of the French revolution, the Romantic movement also leaned towards high idealism.
  2. Emphasis on Imagination:
    The poem “Kubla Khan” opens with the following lines: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge composed it, based on an opium-influenced dream that he saw. The poem uses fantasy and supernatural elements to great effect. This illustrates the role of imagination in the works of Romantic writers. They considered imagination to be a powerful tool of the hu-man mind. Often, it was defined as the opposite of intellect, which was celebrated in neoclassical writings. The critical writings of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley, to name a few, discussed the power of the imagination to ‘create’ and ‘shape’ reality.
  3. Representation of Nature:
    Walter Scott describes the beauty of the Scottish landscapes in his novel Rob Roy,“But certainly this noble lake, boasting innumerable beautiful islands, of every varying form and outline which fancy can frame, – its north-ern extremity narrowing until it is lost among dusky and retreating mountains, – while, gradually widening as it extends southward, it spreads its base around the indentures and promontories of a fair and fertile land, affords one of the most surprising, beautiful, and sub-lime spectacles in nature…”The Romantic writers paid great attention to the representation of nature in their works. Since they were writing during a period of heavy industrialisation, the writers of the age stressed the need for returning ‘back to nature’. Nature was presented as a source of spiritual renewal in their works. Accurate descriptions of natural phenomena, natural beauty and the appeal of nature to the senses are important aspects in Romantic literature.
  4. Significance of Emotion:
    William Wordsworth famously defined poetry as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.” As seen here, the Romantic movement placed emotions as a vital part of literature. Feelings, intuitions and impulses were celebrated in the works of the Romantic authors. The literature of the period came to be associated with expressing individuality and selfhood.
  5. Individuality:
    The unique, irrational and emotional perspectives of the ‘individual’ is crucial in the romantic movement. It provided a variety of subject matter. Further, romanticism also viewed the artist or writer as an ‘individual’ creator, whose output reflected his or her personality and mental state.
  6. The Everyday and the Exotic:
    John Keats’ poem “Ode to a Nightingale” shares the speaker’s experience of listening to the beautiful song of a nightingale. The com-mon, everyday incident is transformed into an exotic one.

    “Ode to a Nightingale” – John Keats (1795-1821)


      My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

      My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk…

      But being too happy in thine happiness, –

      That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees 

          In some melodious plot 

                Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, 

                    Singest of summer in full-throated ease. 

    This is a case in point of the tendency of the Romantic writers to intermix happenings from common life with fantasy and mystery. This technique allowed them to transform the subject of their writings, often taken from everyday life, in a way that enriches their literary appeal.

  7. Supernatural Elements:
    The supernatural and the occult were frequently used in Romantic literature. Many authors of the period presented elements that seemed to exist outside the natural. For in-stance, Lord Byron’s poem “Darkness” has a mysterious setting where “…the bright sun was extinguished …”Romantic literature often contained stories taken from supernatural and mythical sources. The imagery and symbols used in Roman-tic poetry, too, displayed the same inspiration. Castles, dark forests, magical beings, mystical visions and dreams would appear in these works. These elements often provided a way of exploring abstract, unexplainable ideas.
One of the influences on the Roman-tic movement in England is Sturm und Drang [Storm and Stress], a German movement of the late eighteenth century. It also celebrated nature, individuality, subjectivity and extreme emotions. Some of the most significant names associated with this movement are Friedreich von Klinger, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Friedrich Schiller. It is often considered to be a forerunner of English Romanticism. 

There are several recurring themes in Roman-tic literature, such as innocence, celebration of rural life, dangers of urban society, pantheism and the self. These themes are typically presented in an emotional, subjective style, though each individual author has their own unique approach. Romantic poetry emerged as the dominant literary genre of the period. This is largely due to the belief that poetry was closer to emotional expression than prose.

One of the most representative poets of the time was William Wordsworth (1770-1850), whose poetry changed the existing ideals of the genre. He objected to the rigid following of literary rules, over-stylisation and universal subjects in poetry.

Rather, Wordsworth tried to revolutionise poetry through his selection of simple incidents and humble people as the focus of his work. His poems were written in the ‘language of conversation’. The style suited the everyday nature of its theme. The spirit of the French Revolution had deeply influenced the poet who went on to use themes of individualism and liberty in his poetry.

Troubled by the rapid industrialisation of the age, Wordsworth presented the “beauteous-forms” of nature as a healing power. In collaboration with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he published Lyrical Ballads (1798) which gradually became a manifesto for other Romantic poets. In 1800, the second edition of the col-lection was published, which included a preface outlining Wordsworth’s poetic principles. It is here that he defines poetry as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…”

His other significant works are The Prelude, a long autobiographical poem, and Poems, in Two Volumes, a collection that includes “Ode to Duty” and “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”. His poetry often focuses on the beauty of common-place things. This is displayed in his well-known poems such as, “Michael”, “The Idiot Boy”, “Lucy”, “The Solitary Reaper”, “Daffodils”, “The Rainbow”, “Resolution and Independence” and the sonnet, “The World is Too Much with Us”.

Another significant poet in the tradition of Romantic poetry is Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). He, however, represents a different kind of romanticism. Though he contributed four poems to Lyrical Ballads, his style of writing and ideas about poetry differed greatly from his collaborator’s (Wordsworth).

In general, Coleridge’s poetry showed some of the most visible features of Romanticism – love of liberty, revolutionary zeal , idealism, lyrical language and a focus on nature. But he put forward a different notion about the language of poetry.

Coleridge suggested that “every man’s language varies …according to the breadth of his knowledge, his mental faculty, and his temperament” (B. Prasad 188). In other words, the manner in which people express themselves differ according to their social and educational background.

Thus, the language of the common man, which Wordsworth used in his works, would not re-ally be uniform. Rather, there would be many variations with their own features. Therefore, Coleridge chose to use poetic language that could be differentiated from the language of common speech.

Further, his themes were taken from a supernatural world full of magic, mystery, and awe, and beautified with rich imagination and narration. Using symbols from exotic and occult sources, Coleridge created poetic worlds that seemed like a fantastic hallucination . In his most famous poetic works, such as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “Kubla Khan” “Christabel”, and “Dejection: An Ode”, we can see the use of exotic imagery, supernatural elements, and melancholic themes.

His critical treatise, titled Biographia Literaria (1817), explores the creative process through which art is produced. In it, he dis-cusses imagination and its powers of shaping and creating new forms out of pre-existing impressions.

Wordsworth and Coleridge were close friends and collaborators for most of their lives. However, both men had conflicting opinions on poetry. Each of them had their own ideas about the function of poetry and poetic language.

Robert Southey (1774-1843), a close associate of Wordsworth and Coleridge, composed poems in the romantic style, such as “Thalaba the Destroyer”, “Madoc”, “The Curse of Kehama” and “Roderick the Last of the Goths”. He drew heavily from mythological and supernatural sources for his works. A few of his best-known short poems include, “The Scholar”, “Auld Cloots”, “The Well of St. Keyne”, “The Inchcape Rock” and “Lodore”. He was made poet laureate in 1813.

Together with Wordsworth and Coleridge, Southey made up a trio of ‘lake poets’, so named for their residence in the Lake District. It must be noted that, even though all these poets were initially inspired by the French revolution, all of them would later condemn the violence and terror unleashed during its course. Rather than liberalism, their political philosophies would shift towards conservative values.

The later era of romanticism in poetry witnessed the emergence of Percy Bysshe Shel-ley (1792-1822), a poet who put forward radical views, revolutionary idealism and social upheaval. Influenced by the anarchist philosophies of William Godwin, his works called for change in the oppressive ways of society. While the language of his poetry was never ornamental or exaggerated, it was full of powerful imagery and symbolism.

The idea was to evoke powerful emotions in the readers that would persuade them to see the urgency for political and social reform. His body of poetry also highlighted imagination, nature, supernaturalism, melancholy, beauty, Hellenism, lyricism, subjectivity and ideal-ism. His first significant poem was “Queen Mab”, which advocated for the elimination of certain social institutions.

This was followed by works, such as “The Re-volt of Islam”, “The Cenci”, “Prometheus Un-bound” and “Alastor, the Spirit of Solitude”. His shorter poetry includes “Ode to the West Wind”, “To a Skylark”, “Ozymandias”, “The Indian Serenade” and “When the Lamp is Shattered”. One of his most renowned works is “Adonais” which was written in memory of John Keats, a fellow poet.

William Godwin (1756-1836) was an English social philosopher whose writings supported atheism, anarchism, and personal freedom. He rejected religion and conventional government. His partner, Mary Wollstonecraft was a prominent feminist. She wrote one of the earliest tracts on women’s rights – A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Shelley entered into a relationship with Godwin’s daughter, Mary, and eventually married her in 1816. Mary was herself an author, and published many works including Frankenstein (1818).

While Shelley’s poetry was striking for its powerful imagery and call for transformation, John Keats (1795-1821) composed works that were compelling for their poetic beauty. His writing style features imagery that appeals to the senses. Keats’ poetry contains many poetic devices, such as metaphors, alliteration, personification and assonance. This gave his works a distinctive musical quality.

Commonly, themes of love, beauty, joy, nature and mortality appear in his poems. The pursuit of beauty and the removal of the self are dominant concerns of his poetry. Yet, he holds the spirit of Romanticism in his focus on familiar things and everyday objects.

His most famous volume of poems is titled “Endymion”, and it was followed up with works, such as “Isabella”, “Lamia”, “The Eve of St. Agnes”, “La Belle Dame Sans Mercy”, and “Hyperion”. He has written beautiful odes on various subjects where romantic sadness, pensive mood and indolence are captured.

Some of his most significant odes are “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode on Indolence,” “Ode on Melancholy,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “Ode to Psyche.” He developed the concept of ‘negative capability’ which refers to the mental capacity of artists to pursue a thought even when it leads them to confusion and intellectual doubt.

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) is, perhaps, considered to be the most flamboyant of the Romantic poets. His claim to popularity lies, just as much in his controversial public life as in his range of poems and satires. One of his early publications, Hours of Idleness, provoked severe criticism from the Edinburgh Review, a literary magazine. Byron’s response was to write the satire titled “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers” which brought him fame.

His ability to incorporate different writing styles including satire, neoclassicism, and romanticism makes him unique among the romantic poets. Despite this, we can identify him as a Romantic writer because of his championing of liberty, love of nature imagery and use of medieval elements.

Another significant poet of the age was Leigh Hunt (1784-1859). A supporter of liberalism, he associated closely with Wordsworth, Byron, Keats and Shelley. He wrote long poems such as “The Story of Rimmi” and shorter poetic pieces such as “The Nile” and “Abou Ben Adhem”. His works followed the style of Romanticism.

The period also saw the contributions of many other poets, such as Thomas Moore (1779-1852),Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), James Hogg (1770-1835), Felica Hemans (1793-1835) and John Clare (1793-1864).

Which among these romantic poets is your favourite? Why? Explore their works in more detail here:

Prose was another significant literary genre of the Romantic era. Despite the significance given to poetry, prose-writers of the romantic age were recognised for their contributions. The prose of the period saw changes in subject matter and manner of expression. There was no serious experimentation, however, with form.

There was a preference for spontaneity and entertainment rather than for formality and educational value. The best prose-writers of the age, thus, blended some stylistic aspects of romanticism with autobiographical elements.

The most well-known of the romantic essayists is Charles Lamb (1775-1834). He wrote in an intimate or personal style that helped to change the way prose was viewed. As can be witnessed in Lamb’s Essays of Elia and Last Essays, the personality of the writer comes to the fore and engages with the readers. Taking on a conversational tone, the essays presented the author himself, his experiences and struggles in life.

Interestingly, he focused on urban life, its pleasures and occupations, and interpreted them with great insight and sympathy. His informality and gentle humour, according to Walter Pater, hides deeper meanings and pro-found feelings. Even though it might seem that his content is trivial, or unimportant, at first glance, it is a way of exploring the complexities of the world without being too obscure or problematic.

Lamb’s essays are narrated through the sentimental, fictional figure of ‘Elia’ who stands in for the author himself. Often, his style has been described as ‘quaint’ since it has a charming, old-fashioned appeal.

In addition to this, he is known to change his vocabulary and tone according to the subjects he is writing about. Starting in a tone of gentle persuasion, he leads his readers to see life as he views it. In this way, Lamb presents a combination of personal and universal interest, innovative style and quaint appeal, without over-imposing himself.

Charles Lamb, along with his sister, Mary Lamb, wrote a children’s book titled Tales from Shakespeare (1807). In it, they retold twenty of Shakespeare’s plays as stories. Charles was responsible for rewriting the tragedies while Mary dealt with the retelling of the comedies.

The literary personality of William Hazlitt (1778-1830) was directly in opposition to that of Lamb’s. He was aggressive and forthright with his judgment, and had strong opinions about the world. This is reflected in his essay-writing.

Of the many volumes of essays that he wrote, The Spirit of the Age is the most renowned. In it, he gives sincere, critical portraits of many of his contemporaries. His style intermixed humour with intellect, putting ideas forward in brief, abrupt sentences.

The interpretations made in his work reveal an acute and accurate power of observation. They carry an undercurrent of deep thought and feeling. One of the highlights of Hazlitt’s prose is its clear, straightforward and outspoken nature.

For example, writing about Jeremy Bentham, a philosopher, Hazlitt states: “…He is one of those who prefer the artificial to the natural in most things…” (Ardhendu De). Such critical observations are typical of his writing. Throughout his works, there are references to other writers and echoes of their style mingled with Hazlitt’s own way of writing.

Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) is known for his ‘impassioned prose,’ through which he described incidents of a personal nature in language suited to the different subjects dealt with. It could be said that his style combines the best elements of prose and poetry, combining imagination and melody.

His essays were closer to the decorative style of Elizabethan writers than the classicist writings of the era immediately before him. He incorporated long digressions, or deviations from the main theme, in his works. Often, he interrupted profound passages with a trivial joke. Being an intellectual writer with many interests, he wrote about all sorts of subjects including life in general, art, literature, philosophy and religion.

His works also consisted of autobiographical sketches, where he presented himself and his intimate experiences. The best-known of the same is his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, which provides glimpses of his own life under the influence of opium.

Aldous Huxley, the English writer, famously described the ‘essay’ as a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything. Across time, essay writing has become an important professional and academic skill.

He has also written biographies of classical, literary, and historical personalities, and has composed analytical commentary on literature. His historical essay on Joan of Arc, and his interpretative essay “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth” are examples of his skilful writing.

During the Romantic period, the genre of the novel was beginning to gain popularity. They became a source of entertainment for people who had leisure time. Before the emergence of the Romantic novelists, a group of writers wrote novels centred around terror and medievalism. Such works were referred to as ‘Gothic novels’.

Gothic novels were often set in dark, gloomy castles. Their plotlines were full of supernatural happenings, mysteries and secrets. Two of the most prominent writers of Gothic fiction were Horace Walpole and Anne Radcliffe. They wrote The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho respectively. Gothic works are often classified as pre-romantic in nature.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) is an important name in the history of English fiction for a variety of reasons. She is credited with refining and simplifying the English novel into a reflection of English life. Her portrayals of social life moved away from the extravagance of Gothic novels.

Importantly, she brought realistic, yet satirical portrayals of womanhood into the English novel that had either idealised or stereotyped women in multiple ways. In all, she wrote six novels —Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. Of these, Pride and Prejudice is perhaps the most widely read.

Austen contained the world of her fiction in a narrow space, writing mostly about what she observed and understood from her surroundings. Simple country folk became characters in her novels, and their interest in social mobility and matrimony became her themes. Her fictional settings excluded political interests and the tragic struggles of life. Austen’s ac-curate power of observation, impartiality, and delicate, ironical sense of humour enriched her fiction.

On the other hand, her contemporary, Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), possessed qualities entirely different from Austen. It has been said that, where Austen’s novels were domestic, Scott dealt with the broad canvas of history.

In other words, Scott’s fiction is set on a much larger scale that covers high passions, struggles and great actions. Initially, he wrote novels of personal observation and local colour, such as Guy Mannering, The Antiquary, Old Mortality and The Heart of Midlothian.

However, it was Scott’s mastery of the historical novel that truly set him apart. He composed works, such as Ivan Hoe, Kenilworth, Quentin Durward, and The Talisman. His writing often shifts into detailed descriptions of nature and interiors, creating beautiful passages of literature. Further, these works awakened Scottish consciousness because of their retelling and celebration of Scottish history.

The other popular novelists of the age include Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849), John Galt (1779-1839), William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-82), George P. R. James (1801-60) and Frederick Marryat (1792-1848). These writers contributed novels that were popular at the time, but are not widely read today.

The picaresque novel is an early form where the adventures of a rogue or a person from lower social classes are told. They were popular till the mid-eighteenth century when the modern novel began to rise. With this, picaresque novels began to be considered an inferior form of literature. Even so, in the Romantic period, Charles Lever found success with the publication of a picaresque novel titled Harry Lorrequer (1839).

The significant dramas of the Romantic era were largely written by its major poets. The most popular genre of the period was tragedy. Wordsworth’s The Boderers, and Coleridge’s Remorse were some of the most important tragedies of the time. In line with the larger Romantic movement, the appeal of these plays were to the emotion, rather than the intellect. The protagonists were often rebellious, and the storylines promoted individualism.

Another prominent dramatic genre of the time was the ‘closet-drama’ – plays that were meant to be read instead of being presented onstage. These were also referred to as ‘Mental drama’. Shelley’s The Cenci and Prometheus Un-bound, and Lord Byron’s Manfred and Cain are examples of the same.

Tracing the history of the Romantic period, we are able to see that there was immense output in poetry, prose, fiction and drama. The literature of the age produced new forms of expression and saw the emergence of new perspectives. In the works of the period, incidents and common experiences from everyday life were presented in beautiful and mysterious ways. In this way, Romantic literature found beauty in the life of common folks and the natural world around them.


  • Romanticism celebrates nature, emotions, imagination and common people
  • Opposed to neoclassicism which focuses on order, intellect, reason and universalism
  • Romanticism and the ‘age of revolutions’
  • Pre-romantics like William Blake and Thomas Gray set the stage for the emergence of the romantic movement
  • 1798 publication of Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge is a mile-stone
  • Features of romanticism include reaction against rules and conventions, imagination, love of Nature, individualism, emotion, everyday themes, exotic sources, supernatural elements
  • These features of romanticism can be seen in poetry, prose, fiction and drama
  • Poetry given priority during this period – prose considered further from emotional expression
  • Lake poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, brought in emotion, individual perspectives and new writing style
  • Later romantics Shelley, Keats and Byron continued romantic characteristics with small changes
  • Leigh Hunt and other minor poets
  • Three significant prose writers Lamb, Hazlitt and De Quincy follow person-al, forceful and ornate styles respectively
  • Prominent novelists of the age are Austen and Scott who write domestic and historical fiction respectively
  • Minor novelists
  • Significant dramatic works by major poets of the period
  • Closet-drama

Objective Questions

  1. Which literary period came before the romantic age?
  2. Who published Lyrical Ballads?
  3. Whose works set the stage for the romantic poets?
  4. What was the primary subject of romantic literature?
  5. Why did poetry become a dominant genre in the romantic period?
  6. Who are the Lake poets?
  7. How did Wordsworth transform poetic language?
  8. What is the name of Coleridge’s critical treatise?
  9. Which romantic poet is famous for powerful imagery and revolutionary zeal?
  10. What is the title of Byron’s satirical response?
  11. Which artistic concept did Keats explore?
  12. Who are the important romantic prose-writers?
  13. Which style of novel focuses on terror and mysteries?
  14. What is the difference between the themes of Austen and Scott?
  15. What kind of drama is The Cenci?


  1. The Neoclassical Age
  2. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  3. Pre-romantics
  4. Nature
  5. Poetry was considered to be closer to emotional expression
  6. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey
  7. By writing about everyday themes in the language of common folks
  8. Biographia Literaria
  9. P.B. Shelley
  10. “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers”
  11. Negative capability
  12. Lamb, Hazlitt, and de Quincy 
  13. Gothic Novels
  14. Austen and Scott wrote domestic and historical fiction respectively
  15. Closet-drama


  1. Which poet wrote “The Solitary Reaper”?
  2. What is ‘negative capability’?
  3. Which novelist was famous for presenting portraits of womanhood?
  4. Briefly describe the writing style of Charles Lamb.
  5. Who were the pre-romantic poets?
  6. Write a short note on the salient features of romanticism in English literature.
  7. Briefly discuss the genre of the ‘Gothic Novel’ in English.
  8. Explore the role of the Lake Poets in the history of Romantic literature.
  9. How are imagination and emotion treated in Romantic literature?
  10. Examine the contributions of the Romantic dramatists.

Suggested Reading

  1. Albert, Edward. History of English Literature. Oxford UP, 1979.
  2. Drabble, Margaret. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 5th Ed. Oxford UP, 1985.
  3. Evans, Ifor. A Short History of English Literature. Penguin, 1965.
  4. Long, William J. English Literature: Its History and Significance. Rupa, 2015.
  5. Milne, Ira Mark. Literary Movements for Students. Gale, 2008.
  6. “Romanticism”. Youtube.