I'm not sure why (and I'm not sure if I am the only one) but this whole time I always thought of these waves of genres (romanticism, realism, modernism, etc.) to come naturally with the evolution of literature. At no point did I think that the authors could be as conscious of their era as we are now with hindsight.
I don't want to say that the preface completely shattered my appreciation of the romantic era, but it definitely made me question how authentic the authors' inspirations to write within the "genre" were. Did Thoreau really think that life was better in the forest or was he simply contributing to an artificially formed movement? Did Whitman believe in his image of America or was he simply writing what he thought Emerson wanted to hear?
Hawthorne was one of the later writers in the romantic era so I suppose he had to have some context of romanticism, after all Kurt Cobain knew that grunge was dying with his band, but where, how and why do these era's begin and end? Who were the true believers (if any) of romanticism and who was just trying to cash in on the cannon? Why does Literature (and music for that matter) travel in different waves, is it impossible to write completely without influence? And if so where do new eras spring up from?
These are lofty questions and I feel as if I have answered many in them in my mind while writing this post, but what do you guys think?