5. The peculiarities of American Romanticism.
American literature in the 20-s of the 19th century was just forming itself. Romanticism was the first trend of the national literature of the country and that is the reason why it lasted a little bit longer than in Europe.
Romanticism appeared in American literature in the period of the social unrest that took place after several events: independence war (1775-1783), French revolution and a great disappointment with the results of the revolution.
The predecessors of the romanticists:
1. non-fiction literature:
But we can speak about authentic national literature only when it finds its own way of development, its own themes and characters. The peculiar American themes are the theme of Indians, the theme of pioneers – first settlers, abolitionist’s theme – the struggle for the equal rights for all the people despite their race or color of the skin, the them of water as a reflection of the theme of nature because people came to America through water and lived near it.
The peculiarities of the American romanticism lie also in some artistic peculiarities. On the one hand, Americans received a great culture from the Indians, they used their folklore in the literary works. On the other hand, people who came from the continent knew European culture and literature. That’s why American literature was greatly influenced by the English, French, German and Holland.
At this period the peculiar American mentality is already being formed. The citizens of the country believe in to a special way of the American nation dew to its geographical situation, late settlement and the characters of its inhabitants who left their homes in Europe to build new and better life in the unknown place. America is a melting pot where every nation and every person can get endless possibilities to make himself.
American hero is a real man – brave, courageous, energetic, strong. Living in the state of a frontier between Americans and Indians such hero could survive. At the same time such drawbacks as illiteracy or rudeness were not supposed worth noticing.
The peculiarity of American Romanticism as a trend also lied in the romantic situation in the country. Seeking for the better and unknown world English romanticists had to invent new lands, remember past or predict the future, go to the exotic countries. Only these lands were supposed to be pure enough to create an ideal world. Quite the opposite Americans lived in the land that was already exotic and unusual, it was called the land of possibilities. So American romanticists could write about American itself and that was the greatest difference from the European romanticists.
The last important feature of the American romanticism was great dedication to nature. The reason for this was the undeveloped culture of the country where there were not a lot of big cities and people lived very close to nature. This close interrelation with nature brought a philosophy called transcendentalism. Transcendentalism was a group of new ideas in literature, religion, culture, and philosophy that emerged in New England in the early-to mid-19th century. Transcendentalism began as a protest against the general state of culture and society at the time, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard and the doctrine of the Unitarian church which was taught at Harvard Divinity School. Among their core beliefs was an ideal spiritual state that 'transcends' the physical and empirical and is only realized through the individual's intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions. Prominent Transcendentalists included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau. The publication of Emerson's 1836 essay “Nature” is usually taken to be the watershed moment at which Transcendentalism became a major cultural movement. Transcendentalism was rooted in the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant (and of German Idealism more generally), which the New England intellectuals of the early 19th century embraced as an alternative to the Lockean "sensualism" of their fathers and of the Unitarian church, finding this alternative in Vedic thought, German idealism, and English Romanticism.
The early period of American romanticism – 20-30s of the 19th century began with the romances and short stories of Washington Irving. The historical novel began with Fenimore Cooper’s “The spy”, “The pioneers”, romantic tales of the sea began with Cooper’s “The pilot”. Romantic poetry appeared in variety, mostly outstanding were the poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Nathaniel Hawthorn and Herman Melville also created in this period.
The second period of Romanticism comprises the 40-s and the first half of the 50-s. characteristic of this period were Cooper’s late novels – “Pathfinder” and “the Deerslayer”, Poe’s stories and poem written in the last 8 years of his life, works of Longfellow. Hawthorn published “The scarlet letter”. Melville wrote “Omoo” and “Typee”, “Moby Dick”.
The third period comprises the second part of the 50-s and the 60-s. Hawthorn and Melville continue writing. At this period abolitionists literature appear – Harriett Bitcherstone and Wault Whitmen write their works.
Washington Irving belonged to the first period of American romanticism. Irving invented the genre of a novel that was very popular by other American writers. He started the theme of Indians that was later developed by the Cooper – “a tour of the prairies”, but he thought that Indians are doomed and sooner or later will be destroyed by the civilization of the “all mighty dollar”. Irving has spent a lot of years in Europe and wrote stories in which he compared patriarchic and business life of America and stuck to the first one. As a real patriot he helped the establishing of the relations between America and European countries. His stories are full of humor as in “History of New York” that is somehow close to “the history of one city” by Salticov-Shedrin.
Fenimore Cooper also started his career in the first period of the American romanticism. He was called the father of the American national novel. He didn’t only create the genre but wrote 33 different novels among which were historical, sea, social, adventure, satirical, etc. The three main themes for him are history of America, sea and Indians.
He used to be a sailor but then started writing at the age of 30. His historical novel “The spy” combines the human life with the important historical events. That is the principle of historicity followed by Cooper in all of his works.
The novels under the title “The leather-stocking tales” brought the world fame to Cooper and gave the reader an insight into the life of the Americans – pioneers and the Indians. The second are shown true to life with their customs and traditions, but at the same time they are shown as real people. Natti Bumppo is the character of all of the 5 books and that let us speak abput the leather stocking tales as about the first American epic work. The problem of the novels: the pioneers – their cruelty towards Indians and their ignorance. This cruelty of the civilized men is opposed to the nature and natural people – Indians, nature is a hero of his books.
Melville and Hawthorn were the main religious writers of the period. Their works were strongly connected with the puritan ideology. The best example of their view is “Moby Dick”. This artistic work gives us a picture of the different sins that shown through different artistic means. These are the speaking names of the heroes taken from bible, the image of the sea and of the ship in the sea – it seams to the readers to be the only place of living and sends us to the biblical Noah’s Arch. The image of the great white whale also had a double nature – on the one hand he is presented as a devil and on the other had he is just a living creature made by God. The main sin of the captain Ahab as presented by Melville is the sin of pride. People shouldn’t judge they don’t have this right. It is God who can give and take life of the people and of the living creature. This book is the perfect example the saying that the way to hell is covered with good intentions.
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