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Romanticism And Realism Art And Literature English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1742 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The history of art and literature was developed under the influence of different intellectual movement, the most prominent and important of which are Romanticism and Realism. Romanticism was a complex artistic, literary and intellectual movement of 18th-19th century that appeared in Europe and was spread all over the world. It appeared as a reaction to rationalism and mechanistic aesthetics of classicism and the Enlightenment. It was one of the most complex and internally contradictory phenomena in the history of culture. Disappointment in the ideals of the Enlightenment, in the results of the French Revolution, the denial of utilitarianism of modern reality, the principles of bourgeois practicality, whose victims was human individuality, a pessimistic view of prospects for social development were combined in romanticism with the desire of harmony and spiritual integrity of the individual with a tendency towards “infinity”, the search for new, absolute and unconditional ideals. Sharp discord between the ideals and oppressive reality made romantics feel the morbidly fatalistic sense of indignation, bitter mockery of the discrepancy between dreams and reality.

Specific of the romantic art is the problem of two worlds; writers of that time compared and contrasted the real and imaginary worlds. And the reality, “the prose of life” with their utilitarianism and lack of spirituality were understood as subhuman empty sense, which opposed the true world of values.

Representatives of Romanticism sharply condemned urban culture and left it for description of the Middle Ages or nature. In the quiet life of countryside and simplicity they looked for the salvation from social problems of urban life, opposing it to a simple “uncorrupted” life of the province. “Simple” way of life was their ideal, and for example, William Wordsworth showed it in fiction. He set a rule “to take a creative material from everyday life, to make out it in ordinary manner, using an ordinary language”(Sutherland 125). In his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”, he said that “the chose an ordinary life because all components of it are natural and truthful, simple life does not contradict the beautiful and sustainable forms of nature” (Wordsworth 6). As a real romantic writer, Wordsworth wrote a lot about people and nature. Conventional farmers are well represented in the ballad “We Are Seven”, and for example his “Excursion Book” is an example of magnificent descriptions of nature.

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At the same time, another outstanding representative of English Romanticism, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the author of “Ancient Mariner”, “Christabel” and other novels, showed the strange mix of reality and fiction. He was the representative of English Romanticism, oriented on desire for the miraculous. Coleridge chose the area of events and characters of fiction and romantic genre, giving them human interest and a semblance of reality, which attracts readers. Such gradual transition from reality to pure fantasy is the main reception of Coleridge; it magically works in the “Ancient Mariner”, where incidents of an ordinary voyage transform to the area of wonders, where the natural and the supernatural merge into an indivisible unit.

American Romanticism differed from European. In America, romantic ideas have contributed to the spiritual and aesthetic knowledge. Romantics argued that art more than science was able to express the truth. Romantics underscored the importance of art for people and the whole society. For example, in the essay “The Poet”, written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most influential writers of Romanticism, the author stated: “All men live under the laws of truth and need a way to express their thoughts. …The man is only a half of himself; the second half of him is that’s how he expresses his feelings” (Emerson 109).

Representatives of Romanticism criticized the reality, for example the works of American novelist William Howells “The Lady of the Aroostook”, “Chance meeting” show the strong influence of romanticism on the author. The novels of William Howells contain criticism of American reality, which increases and in later works even socialist ideas appear (“Through the Eye of the Needle”).

Thus, the features of Romanticism in varying degrees are common for many artists. Romanticism is inherent in paintings and drawings of Swiss Henry Fuseli. In his works, grim sophisticated grotesque breaks in through the classical clarity of images. Also romantism is inherent in mystical visionary works of poet and artist William Blake and works of the late Francisco Goya, full of unbridled fantasy, tragic pathos, and passionate protest against the national humiliation in Spain. In France, it is inherent in created during the revolutionary years heroic portraits by Jacques-Louis David, early dramatic compositions and portraits by Antoine-Jean Gros, dreamy and lyrical works of Pierre-Paul Prud’hon and also in the works by Francois P. Gerard, who combines romantic tendencies with the academic methods.

The works of many later Western romantics are imbued with pessimism in towards society. The heroes of many romantic works (François-René de Chateaubriand, Alfred de Musset, George Byron, Alfred de Vigny, Alphonse de Lamartine, Heinrich Heine, etc.) were influenced by the mood of hopelessness and despair, which acquired the common human nature. The main themes of works sounded like: “the perfection is lost forever”, “the world is ruled evil”, “the ancient chaos is resurrecting”. The theme of “terrible world” was inherent to all romantic literature, and the most clearly it was embodied in the so-called “black genre” (in “Gothic novel” – Ann Radcliffe, Charles Maturin; in the “drama of fate” or “tragedy of fate” – Heinrich von Kleist, Franz Grillparzer), and also in the works of George Byron, Clemens Brentano, Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Realism was an intellectual movement, characterized by truthful and objective reflection of reality by specific means that were peculiar to various forms of art. During the historical development of art realism there were formed concrete forms of some creative methods, such as educational, critical, and socialist. Various realistic trends were expressed in different types and genres of art.

Hence, there were two opposite directions in the theory, one – realism – the desire of the art to reproduce, to show the reality truly; and the other – idealism – the desire of the art to “complete” the reality, to create new forms. And the starting point doesn’t consist of real facts, but of ideal representation.

The first American writer, who has fully realized the idea of realism in art, was Mark Twain. His work was developed under the influence of critical realism, which objectively reflected the American reality first in comic and later in satiric way (“Licentiousness of Print”, “Running For Governor”). The author’s later works, such as pamphlets and satirical short stories (“The man who seduced Gedliberg”, “The United States of Lyncherdom”, “Monologue of the king”) show the true face of American imperialism.

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Henry James was also one of the brightest representatives of realism; he was one of the first in American literature, who spoke against the bourgeois banality of reality. Dissatisfaction of American way of life forced him to move to Europe, so many characters of his works were the Americans who emigrated from the United States (“Roderick Hudson”, “The American”). In the novel, “The Bostonians” he sharply and uncompromisingly criticized the U.S. reality – that is the essence of realism.

Many realists wrote prose narrative stories about the fate of ordinary people, the epic of private life. The most important realist novel of the 18th century were written in the UK (Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Tobias George Smollett, Laurence Sterne), in France (Antoine François Prévost, Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau), in Germany (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). The most interesting fact is that very often the heroes of novels were not monarchs and nobles, but people of middle class – the merchants, townspeople, soldiers, sailors, etc., showing them in everyday family life.

There is also a need to mention that in the middle of the 19th century Realism changed. If the main characters of Stendhal, Balzac and Dickens could withstand adverse conditions, then European Realism of the 2nd half of the century represents mainly the alienation of personality, its leveling, the loss of character, will, the resilience of environment. It is particularly expressive shown by William Thackeray and Gustave Flaubert. However, this kind of alienation, partly in the UK (George Eliot), but particularly in Russia (Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy) resisted adoption of high humanity and the struggle for humane ideals. The depth of philosophical problems in the works of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, the widest coverage of social reality, compassion for the fate of the “insulted and injured”, the subtlety of psychological analysis made these writers famous.

Summarizing, it is possible to say that Realism in literature and art was characterized by the wish of artists to depict, represent the reality as it was. Artists of Realism represented the life in the way the person actually sees it, using the forms of the life itself. At the same time, Romanticism is characterized by denial of current reality, the criticism of capitalist civilization, new forms of subjugation of the masses, reproof of philistine stagnant and limited parties of the bourgeois culture and spiritual life. Most representatives of Romanticism criticized the reality; they were unsatisfied with it and couldn’t accept it. Artists of both, Romanticism and Realism left a great heritage – their wonderful works of art.


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