Romantic literature was one of the most influential periods of writing when talking about American literature. Authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne both produced a plethora of works that changed the way people viewed nature in their time period. Nature today is now viewed in a more flattering light thanks to the Romantic artists. The Romantic period of writing led to a reform of the way people viewed nature by making it a place for spiritual reflection, inspiring art and design, and giving a way to enhance individuality.
First, what Romantic literature in America represents needs to be addressed. The Romantic period of literature in America lasted from about 1830-1870 and was a time of rapid expansion and growth in the United States that fueled intuition, imagination, and individualism in literature (Carroll 3). This movement was focused on individuality and knowing oneself better which caused a shift from the European mindset and moved toward a new era of American literature.
Most of these novice ideas came from the post Revolutionary War soldiers, eager from their win against Europe to prove they do not need anyone, and these soldiers chose to do it though art and literature. One of the most trendy topics challenged the Age of Reason prior to the new thinking and this caused some disputes between the two sides. While most of these disputes were focused on political and social conflicts, the effect on Romantic literature was still noticeable. As this period provided less of the instructional texts and more poetry and novels that consisted of different characteristics and themes.
Despite the improvements to nature that came with Romantic literature, some people are still hesitant to believe that people viewed nature differently. For example, after the Romantic Era was through and had gone away, the ideas about nature did not stick with the people and everything they thought about nature was forgotten.
These ideas about self reflection and seeing nature as a place to come to an epiphany were not popular with the locals of that time period. Another idea common among Romantics was that sadness is an inherit characteristic in humans, these Romantics would go out into the woods and be alone to come to reckonings as these. In addition, many people did not see nature as a place for a ¨spiritual reflection¨ or a place to ¨know oneself better¨, and the people who believed these things were written off as hippies or outcasts (Smswaby 8). Such people were forced out into hiding because of the very thing they were attempting to bring into light, that made the Romantics forgotten their ideas and beliefs washed away by the tide. This is further noticed in literature also, as the number of books about nature veered into another direction, one where nature is not the main focus. The fact is nature fell short in literature with few people wanting, or at least thinking, about bringing nature into a better light after the Romantics show that nature did not change in the minds of the people.
However, for the people that believe that nature was viewed differently within the Romantic period there is a key component that did change; from viewing nature as the dangerous, draconian, and bleak, to a place of spiritual reflection. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was the first real advocate for the change. The novel’s main protagonist, Hester Prynne, was cast out into the woods as punishment for being an adulterer but while she was in the woods Hester was given time to reflect and think upon her previous actions (Sparknotes 12). Romantics of this time period were firm believes that nature could promote overall health and wellbeing so naturally Hawthorne chose to have nature as the place where Hester could lessen the weight on her mind. Hester meets with Arthur Dimmesdale, her lover, in the forest and for a whole chapter they reflect on what they have done using the cover of the trees to heal their wrong doings.
Both main characters were exercising a key point in changing the way people viewed nature by making it serene and a place for meditation and reflection. Another major turning point of Romantic literature with regard to nature is the inspiration for art. Before Romantic literature art and nature, when mixed together, created dangerous canvases. The scenes would evoke people to stay away from anything of or relating to nature. However, when the Romantics came about they changed nature in the minds of artists and brought nature to a more respectful level, one without the dark and hair-raising canvases (Seiferle 4). Another aspect of such art was a new theme, ¨awe mixed with terror¨. The art would focus on the complicated relationship with nature and man, nature creates but it can also take away and that was another main theme when artists would paint. Works such as Wanderer Above the Fog by Caspar David Friedrich and The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey by JMW Turner both illustrate the changes that came with Romantic Literature.
Nature changed from a hostile being to a mysterious force that artists accurately represented. Design and construction, those relating to nature, were also altered in the Romantic period. It was shifting from the old way where more was better to a more down to earth mindset. People were focusing on only having what is essential, they were, therefore, less materialistic. Construction went back to the less popular hand made style, to the Romantics handmade items were dubbed more valuable than an object or item made by machine. Construction was also changed, people were looking at the vast, untamed nature for inspiration when building houses and other areas. The normal sublime structures were changed into exotic, foreign that represented the inspiration for such designs.
This new style looked at the intricate designs found outside and transformed them into vast caverns with added height and facades that made ordinary buildings extraordinary. Mejia continues by acknowledging gargoyles, crenulations, spires, and window frames were added to small churches and public facilities (Mejia 3). Finally, Romantics changed the way nature was viewed by making it a way to express individuality. Before the Romantics, people were focused on the whole unit not the individual person and their way of thinking (Davis 6). That changed though which brought about a new way of thinking and it was one that challenged the old Age of Reason. These new ideas disregarded science and focused on knowing oneself better, and showing someone who they really are. That is what the Romantics believed, if you went out into nature, you would come back a changed person.
This self-understanding created people that could dream and imagine things no one had ever thought in that time period. Children were also subjected to this new foreign trend and given a new role, they were thought of as individuals and not idealized as wise young adults (Brooklyn 5). The Romantic period of writing led to a reform of the way people viewed nature by making it a place for spiritual reflection, inspiring art and design, and giving a way to enhance individuality. Romantic literature brought about a change in the way people thought about nature, shifting it from a threatening force to a reflective place where people could go to get in touch with themselves. Nature was also transformed in the eyes of the people through art and design giving more respect to the artists who painted it. Individuality was also elevated as people got in touch with their emotions and expressed their dreams. Romantic literature changed the views on nature for people everywhere.