The American Renaissance: Transcendentalism, Romanticism and Dark Romanticism

The American Renaissance period, circa 1820-1865, announced a new sense of nationalism that focused on the expression of modernism, academic classicism, and technology. The movement developed from various American authors trying to formulate a distinctive American literature based upon the works of European literature. However, these novels, poems, and short stories that were created, made use of innate dialect, scenery, and historical figures, in order to touch base on the American issues of this time. Some of the considerable issues during this time included abolitionism and religious tolerance. With the influence of these circumstances during the American Renaissance period, Transcendentalism, Romanticism, and Dark Romanticism became to take root within the world of literature by virtue of authors like Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe.

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The academic movement, Transcendentalism, was closely associated with the American Renaissance. This development is a system of knowledge based on the idea that humans are fundamentally pleasant, that humanity’s deepest verities may be created through insight rather than reason, and that all of creation is predominantly unified. Transcendentalism became prominent among scholars and ministers in advocating the expansion of a national culture and social reform. It also served as a statue to debate world issues such as abolition of slavery, workers’ rights, women’s suffrage, and freedom of religion. The most powerful piece of literature that was published during this time period was The Dial, founded in 1840 by Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo. These dispatches from Italy, played a major role in precipitating the Civil War. (Fleche, Andre) This served as an assembly for the publication of fiction, essays, and poetry by several foremost American Transcendentalist and American writers.

The arts and literature movement, Romanticism took place based on a cultural revolution. Romanticism incorporated the principles of imagination, individuality, and spirituality. Against the strongly misconceived conception, Romanticism was not developed by love. Instead, it has been historically affiliated with narratives full of adventure and romance that stems from myths rather than stories based on historical events. However, the stories that were published during this time period do have a sense of realism to them due to the storylines being influenced by political, social, and economic changes.

Dark Romanticism is a derivative of Romanticism. The gothic, the grim, and the unpropitious are just a few words to describe this fascinating movement that took place during the 19th century. These adjectives that are continuously embraced, helped to shape this movement into what is now one of the most popular sub-genres. Life was presented in the Dark Romantics as being colorful, yet dark, structured, yet impulsive, and predictable, yet paradoxical. Unlike the Romantics, the Dark Romantics set their stories based upon the wickedness and evil that is within man. They acknowledged both the good and evil in humans. Prominent Dark Romanticism authors during this time period were Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and Herman Melville. Nathaniel Hawthorne is known for several of his Dark Romantics, including Young Goodman Brown, The Minister’s Black Veil, and The Scarlet Letter. The short story, Young Goodman Brown, is set through the streets of Salem (Norton Anthology 347) and tells of a man that sets out in woods filled with deepening gloom (Norton Anthology 349) where he is faced with his future by seeing the shape of evil (Norton Anthology 353). This short story is set as a Dark Romantic as Hawthorne goes over all the dark, and gruesome details of Young Goodman Brown’s travels. Another one of Hawthorne’s popular Dark Romantic tales is The Minister’s Black Veil, published in 1832.This tale is set within a puritan town, where the natives are made aware of their sins. It was common for Hawthorne to use references to the Salem Witch Trails, as it is so that his great-great grandfather, John Hathorne, was a judge at the trial, which Hawthorne gained a great deal of inspiration from. This only further sets the eeriness of his stories apart from other authors of Dark Romantics. Author’s during Hawthorne’s time period gained inspiration from Hawthorne’s dim works of literature. One of those authors is Herman Melville. Herman Melville is known for his novel Moby Dick. Melville published Moby Dick, a Dark Romantic, a year after The Scarlet Letter was published, in dedication to Hawthorne (Bolton 36). Not only did Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter, have a long effect on Melville, but it also has a long-standing inclusion in high school and college American Literature syllabi (Bolton 37). This ensures that generations to come will continue to encounter Dark Romantic novelist like Hawthorne, and Melville. Another prominent Dark Romantic author during this time period is Edgar Allan Poe. Poe had many dark short stories, one being The Fall of the House of Asher. This story tells of a family that is falling apart as their house his literally falling around them. The first line of the story includes the adjectives, dull, dark and soundless (Norton Anthology 629). These words are used to describe an Autumn day. A day that should be full of color however, Dark Romantic author, Poe described it in as any dark author would. Poe uses this story along with many other of his stories to not only express this sub-genre in words but also within music. The Fall of the House of Usher, is used to evoke music as a figure for both diseased sympathy and madness, says Sean Kelly. There is a loose vague connection between the words and the characters, that sets the dark, gloomy tone. Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville are all very influential Dark Romantics. They were able to acknowledge the existence of pain, sin, and evil within the lives of humans, and even formed a counterpoint to the Transcendentalists. With these authors use of dark adjective and symbols, they were able to portray works of literature that are categorized as Dark Romantics, allowing the authors to play a vital role in the American Renaissance.

The American Renaissance period took place from approximately 1820-1865. During this time period, Transcendentalism, Romanticism, and Dark Romanticism began to flourish. However, the three had very different views of the world. Transcendentalists believed that God is present in every aspect of nature, Romanticists believed that intuition, imagination, and emotion are superior to reason, and the Dark Romanticists believed that spiritual facts lie beneath the appearance of nature. Although all of the differ, each one has a group of literary authors, such as Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe, that have made a difference in the world of literature.

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The American Renaissance: Transcendentalism, Romanticism and Dark Romanticism. (2019, Jul 08). Retrieved October 1, 2022 , from
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