Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

A movement in the arts and philosophy whose reverberations profoundly affected intellectual, social and political life from the late 18th to the mid-19th century. It took the form of a rebellion against the rewards and supposed lessons of the Enlightenment, challenging the intellectual hegemony of science and reason and the social hegemony of tradition. It came to be seen as an extreme opposed to the orthodoxies of "Classicism", linked to if not straightforwardly reflective of the opposition between subjectivity and objectivity. Romanticism was correlated with a dramatic resurgence of interest in all matters psychological and supernatural, including Folklore, Mythology, Dreams and transcendence. The spectacular rehabilitation of the imagination thus contrived was fundamental to the evolution of modern fantasy; the name forged a calculated link between the movement and the tradition of medieval Romance which provides Genre Fantasy with much of its imaginative apparatus. Some aesthetic theorists of the day attempted to account for the substitution of Classicism by Romanticism in terms of the supplementation of the idea of beauty with that of the sublime.

The French Romantic tradition was foreshadowed by the cult of sensibility and glorification of noble savagery associated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), but the Romantic Movement per se began in Germany, where a number of writers began a defiant celebration of Sturm und Drang ("Storm and Stress") in the 1770s. Leading German Romantics included J W Goethe, Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg; 1772-1801), Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué. English Romanticism was foreshadowed by the invention of Ossian and by "graveyard poetry", before being theorized at the turn of the century by Nathan Drake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Blake. Among its most significant early converts were Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John Keats. The central figures of the French Movement included Théophile Gautier, Victor Hugo and (via the translations of Charles Baudelaire) Edgar Allan Poe. The unique character of US imaginative literature is partly determined by the interaction of Romantic ideas imported from Europe with the mythology of the frontier (whose westward movement was determinedly obliterating a world strongly akin to the one whose loss European Romanticism was lamenting). The historical and the Gothic novel (see Gothic Fantasy) were both products of Romanticism, as were countless collections and imitations of Fairytales. Although the Romantic movements of all the European nations declined after 1848, they were the parents of Decadence and Symbolism and the grandparents of Surrealism and Expressionism.

Although Genre Fantasy required a new period of rehabilitation in the 1960s, the tradition had never fallen into dereliction; Romanticism "declined" not because it had been superseded but because its essential message had become so widely taken for granted that it no longer required such passionately clamorous expression. [BS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.