In literature, Romanticism found recurrent themes in the evocation or criticism of the past, the cult of sensibility with its emphasis on women and children, the heroic isolation of the artist or narrator, and respect for a new, wilder, untrammeled and “pure” nature. Furthermore, several romantic authors, such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, based their writings on the supernatural/occult and human psychology.
In Romantic art, nature—with its uncontrollable power, unpredictability, and potential for cataclysmic extremes—offered an alternative to the ordered world of Enlightenment thought. The violent and terrifying images of nature conjured by Romantic artists recall the eighteenth-century aesthetic of the Sublime. As articulated by the British statesman Edmund Burke in a 1757 treatise and echoed by the French philosopher Denis Diderot a decade later, “all that stuns the soul, all that imprints a feeling of terror, leads to the sublime.”
It elevated folk art and ancient custom to something noble, made spontaneity a desirable characteristic (as in the musical impromptu), and argued for a “natural” epistemology of human activities as conditioned by nature in the form of language and customary usage. Romanticism reached beyond the rational and Classicist ideal models to elevate a revived medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived to be authentically medieval in an attempt to escape the confines of population growth, urban sprawl, and industrialism, and it also attempted to embrace the exotic, unfamiliar, and distant in modes more authentic than Rococo chinoiserie.
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