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Romanticism sometimes refers to a movement in philosophy and the arts which took place in Europe and North America roughly between 1770 and 1850 (the Romantic Era), but also to an approach or attitude to creativity which existed before that time and has persisted since. There is no agreed definition, but in most descriptions it comprises some or all of such characteristics as intense emotion, a high value placed on individual experience, inspiration, energy, love of Nature particularly in "her" more dramatic forms, nationalist and anti-élitist sentiments, and the belief that not everything can be objectively analysed or described. Bertrand Russell claimed that the romantic movement is characterised by the substitution of aesthetic for utilitarian standards.[1] Others say that it sees the creative imagination as a means of discovering moral and spiritual depths. Andrew Motion and other 21st century poets have proclaimed that romanticism is alive and well, with a particular emphasis on describing and implicitly criticising impoverishment and the breakdown of community.[2]

Romanticism and classicism

Historically, an important element in Romanticism was the reaction against the classicism of the Enlightenment. The body of thinking typified by the philosophy of John Locke was orderly, rational, middle class and optimistic. Romanticism in effect says that there is more to life than that, and more to understanding. As some romantic tendencies reached extremes towards the end of the 19th century, there was a classical reaction from writers such as Eliot and Pound, a literary tendency towards élitism, with a high value placed on learning. The to-and-fro continues. It may be suggested that the postmodernist reaction against modernism was similar, a corresponding point on a spiral.


  1. Russell, B. History of Western Philosophy. George Allen & Unwin. 1946. Bk 3 ch XVIII
  2. The Guardian newspaper 9 March 2013