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Romanticism - Definition of the Romantic Era (literature) and (Hoffmann) much more

Updated on February 21, 2013

Romantic art (19th century)


General Information

Romanticism existed parallel to classicism. The name is derived from the word “Roman” (German for novel), since many romantic books were novels (and seldom plays as it is in classicism). It lasted from the 1790s to 1830 approximately.

Characteristics of Romanticism

Irrationality is superior to rationality. The emotionality dominates over rational thinking. The protagonist in romantic novels often is in a conflict between two worlds: The fantastic world and the civil world. Completion cannot be achieved as long as one stays in the civil world and has therefore to leave for the fantastic world, where the protagonist normally finds peace, freedom and everything else he desires. Therefore, the protagonist longs for the unattainable on earth. Best example would be the Blaue Blume (blue rose) of Novalis in his novel “Heinrich von Ofterdingen”, where Heinrich meets the blue flower in one of his dreams and ever since cannot stop thinking and looking for it and finally finds it in the fantastic world.

The story plays often in the evening or at night. Since it isn’t possible to see in the night other senses are active. The night is a mysterious thing, where the connection to the fantastic world is stronger, ghosts and other creatures are active and magical things happen.
The positive aspect of night is that the protagonist is alone and the whole atmosphere becomes calm that helps her/him to find back to her/his most inner self (soul is closer to the divine powers).
On the other hand, one can never know what is going to happen and is therefore dangerous, the atmosphere becomes terrifying and demonic powers can lure someone on to destruction.

There are a lot of contradictions respectively conflicts with what the protagonist must deal. There is a never-ending fight between the divine and the demonic, light vs. darkness, rationality vs. irrationality, the civil against the fantastic world.

Romantic irony: Have distance and not take everything too seriously. The author is in complete charge of his story and can suddenly change everything for the protagonist.
Blaue Blume (blue flower): Symbol for inner harmony, cure, endlessness.
Longing for the Universal: longing for the discovery of the mystery of the origin of all things, the root of life and of the human existence.

There was also a subtype of romanticism, namely: dark romanticism



  • Irrationality > Rationality
  • Emotions > logical mind
  • struggle between the fantastic world and the civil world
  • longing for the unattainable (-> blue rose!)
  • often at night or in the evening
  • mysterious, odd, demonic, dreamy
  • Romantic irony
  • contradictions and oppositions

Romantic Authors

Important authors were E.T.A. Hoffman, Novalis, Friedrich and August William von Schlegel, Joseph von Eichendorff and many more.


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