American Literature. Lecture Three. 030533/4/5, 26 th Sep. 2006. The American Romanticism (I) . I. What is Romanticism.
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Simply speaking, Romanticism is a literary movement flourished as a cultural force throughout the 19th C and it can be divided into the early period and the late period. Also it remains powerful in contemporary literature and art.
Romanticism, a term that is associated with imagination and boundlessness, as contrasted with classicism, which is commonly associated with reason and restriction. A romantic attitude may be detected in literature of any period, but as an historical movement it arose in the 18th and 19th centuries, in reaction to more rational literary, philosophic, artistic, religious, and economic standards.... The most clearly defined romantic literary movement in the U. S. was Transcendentalism.
The representatives of the early period includes Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, and those of the late period contain Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe.
American burgeoned into a political, economic and cultural independence. Democracy and political equality became the ideals of the new nation. Radical changes came about in the political life of the country. Parties began to squabble and scramble for power, and new system was in the making.
The spread of industrialism, the sudden influx of immigration, and the pioneers pushing the frontier further west, all these produced something of an economic boon and, with it, a tremendous sense of optimism and hope among the people.
Washington Irving was born in New York City on April 3, 1783 as the youngest of 11 children. His parents, Scottish-English immigrants, were great admirers of General George Washington, and named their son after their hero.
Early in his life Irving developed a passion for books. He studied law privately but practiced only briefly. From 1804 to 1806 he travelled widely in Europe. After returning to the United States, Irving was admitted to the New York bar in 1806.
He was a partner with his brothers in the family hardware business and representative of the business in England until it collapsed in 1818. During the war of 1812 Irving was a military aide to New York Governor Tompkins in the U.S. Army.
Irving's career as a writer started in journals and newspapers. His success in social life and literature was shadowed by a personal tragedy because his engaged love died at the age of seventeen. So he never married or had children.
In 1832 Irving returned to New York to an enthusiastic welcome as the first American author to have achieved international fame. Between the years 1842-45 Irving was the U.S. Ambassador to Spain.
Irving spent the last years of his life in Tarrytown. From 1848 to 1859 he was President of Astor Library, later New York Public Library. Irving's later publications include Mahomet And His Successors (1850), Wolfert's Roost (1855), and his five-volume The Life of George Washington(1855-59). Irving died in Tarrytown on November 28, 1859.
His earliest work was a sparkling, satirical History of New York (1809) under the Dutch, ostensibly written by Diedrich Knickbocker (hence the name of Irving’s friends and New York writers of the day, the “Knickbocker School”.)
The Sketch Book (1819-20 as Geoffrey Crayon) - contains 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'
The Life of George Washington (1855-59, five volumes)
American author, short story writer, essayist, poet, travel book writer, biographer, and columnist. Irving has been called the father of the American short story. He is best known for 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' in which the schoolmaster Ichabold Crane meets with a headless horseman, and 'Rip Van Winkle,' about a man who falls asleep for 20 years.
The first American writer of imaginative literature to gain international fame, so he was regarded as father of American literature.
The short story as a genre in American literature probably began with Irving’s The Sketch Book, A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS, SKETCHES, AND TALES. It also marked the beginning of American Romanticism.
In his life Cooper wrote over thirty novels which can be divided into frontier novels, detective novels and reference novels. He considered The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841) his best works.
The unifying thread of the five novels collectively known as the Leather-Stocking Tales is the life of Natty Bumppo. Cooper’s finest achievement, they constitute4 a vast prose epic with the North American continent as setting. Indian tribes as Characters, and great wars and westward migration as social background. The novels bring to life frontier America from 1740 to 1804.
The Pioneers(1823): Natty Bumppo first appears as a seasoned scout in advancing years, with the dying Chingachgook, the old Indian chief and his faithful comrade, as the eastern forest frontier begins to disappear and Chingachgook dies.
The creation of the famous Leatherstocking saga has cemented his position as our first great national novelist and his influence pervades American literature. In his thirty-two years (1820-1851) of authorship, Cooper produced twenty-nine other long works of fiction and fifteen books - enough to fill forty-eight volumes in the new definitive edition of his Works. Among his achievements:
The first successful American historical romance in the vein of Sir Walter Scott (The Spy, 1821).
The first sea novel (The Pilot, 1824).
The first attempt at a fully researched historical novel (Lionel Lincoln, 1825).
It also calledNew England Renaissance period from the 1830s roughly until the end of the American Civil War in which American literature, in the wake of the Romantic movement, came of age as an expression of a national spirit.
The literary scene of the period was dominated by a group of New England writers, the “Brahmins”. They were aristocrats, steeped in foreign culture, active as professors at Harvard College, and interested in creating a genteel American literature based on foreign models.
One of the most important influences in the period was that of the Transcendentalists, including Emerson, Thoreau and so on.
The Transcendentalists contributed to the founding of a new national culture based on native elements. They advocated reforms in church, state, and society, contributing to the rise of free religion and the abolition movement and to the formation of various utopian communities, such as Brook Farm. The abolition movement was also bolstered by other New England writers, including the Quaker poet Whittier and the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) dramatized the plight of the black slave.
Apart from the Transcendentalists, there emerged during this period great imaginative writers—Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman—whose novels and poetry left a permanent imprint on American literature. Contemporary with these writers but outside the New England circle was the Southern genius Edgar Allan Poe, who later in the century had a strong impact on European literature.