Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Romanticism?! Where did you come from?

I know it is a bit early to be posting on "The Blithedale Romance", but I simply could not suppress my urge to post about the preface. I almost jumped out of my seat when I read the following lines: "In the old countries, with which Fiction has long been conversant, a certain conventional privilege seems to be awarded to the romancer...". Hawthorne goes on to further speak of the romantic "genre", hinting that his following text will belong to the "genre".

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?


  1. You've brought up a very good point that I honestly haven't thought very much about before. I think it's very, very difficult to write without influence. I remember when my high school English teacher freshman year said that practically any piece of literature can be related back to Homer's The Odyssey. Originality is nearly impossible.

    Writers write for other writers. So, they target their works for a certain, intellectual audience and write what their readers want to read. New eras, and thus genres, emerge from old ones, and they usually keep certain aspects of the previous one but also serve as a backlash against them (for instance, the transition from Romanticism to Realism). Writers are conscious of the era they are writing in, but that doesn't mean they aren't still writing for a purpose. Writers oftentimes focus on the social and political tensions of their time period, for instance, Romantics of the 19th century wrote in reaction to the Industrial Revolution that was occurring. So, naturally, a lot of their writing would deal with nature and things that were negatively changed by industrialization...so this is still somewhat of a natural process.

    And, you can argue this artificiality regarding any sort of entertainment, whether that be literature, art, music, film...but consciousness of one's era does not necessarily equate inauthenticity (I thought that was a word but it's underlined so I'm not sure anymore...)

  2. I agree with all of the above, but I also think writers write for themselves. They definitely target an audience, and depending on the era, they frame their work around a certain theme during that time period. They may write based on what an audience wants to read, but ultimately they write because they want to get a story out. Whether they identify with it personally or feel strongly about something, good literature usually involves a connection between the writer and their work.

  3. What a great conversation! I had never considered whether or not writers were aware of the "era" they were a part of, but I guess I assumed they were not aware. It does take a bit of the mystique out of the canon of American Literature...but if these great men and women were as smart as we make them out to be, it makes sense that they would be aware of their culture, their peers, and their "genre".

    Are writers today a part of a definite genre, too? Does anyone know what it is called? I'm just curious and have no idea what the answer is!

  4. I think writers write for themselves when they first start writing, but once they gain fame, they lose their connection to their work a lot of the time...or maybe I'm just rather cynical about it.

    I believe that we are in the Postmodernism literary movement, or we might have been drifting away from it recently...and what's interesting is that, if I'm not mistaken, this movement arose in the late 19th to early 20th century as a reaction to Modernism. Now it's back. So clearly there is a cycle to the "waves of genres."

    Definition of Postmodernism (which is difficult to define): http://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/gengloss/postm-body.html

  5. William Cullen Bryant in heaven is this an awesome conversation!

    Certainly, I think some groups of writers are more self-conscious about their attempts to create scenes, genres, etc. The Beats were notorious for their mythmaking. It also seems to be the case that the Transcendentalists were pretty deliberate in their attempts to create community. Check out what Brook Farm was all about. It should be noted that The Blithedale Romance largely takes Brook Farm as its target. But I'm sure all of you already knew that, seeing as how you're all reading ahead!