Features of Romantic Prose aka Prose of the Early 19th Century

Updated October 10, 2022

The Romantic Prose is often characterized by nature, solitude, missing realism, supernaturalism, spirituality etc. similar to Romantic poetry. The era of the early 19th century was of political, social, economic & religious upheavals.

Politically, it was a transition from aristocratic rule to democracy. Socially, it was an era of unrest because of the Industrial Revolution leading to widening gulf between the poor and the rich.

On the top, the scientific discoveries and inventions shook the faith of people on God and religion. It caused a sense of doubt and despair in the mind of the common people. These circumstances were appropriate for the growth of the Romantic prose literature.

You can divide the the non-fiction prose of the Romantic Age into two broad types – Essays and Critical Writings. The first type is represented by great names like Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Thomas De Quincey and Walter Savage Landor. And, for the second, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley were leading faces.

The Romantic Prose Characteristics

Appreciation of Romantic Prose can be done on certain distinct yet overlapping fronts. Basically, these all make up the broad features and contours of Romantic Prose.

Departure From Reason & Rationality

Age the age of romanticism was all about euphoric values of human, the Romantic literature focussed on emotions, imaginations and intuitions-elements of humanity that can defy reason. Reality, logic & science were not in the purview.

Focus on Nature and its Glorification

The Romantic Age succeeded Neo-classical wherein realism, morality and reason were central to the prose. However, the Romantic age essay writers chose to escape from troubles of world and found shelter in the nature.  Personal and deep descriptions of nature is apparent in romantic prose similar to its poetry.

Supernaturalism aka Gothic Elements

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte are kind of works in this age that exemplifies that the Romantic Prose had elements of Supernaturalism. Writings like this usually defy logic & reasons and they are genesis to Gothic fictions.

Spiritualism aka Transcendentalism

The Romantic prose seems challenging the rationalism of 18th Century through the philosophy of Transcendentalism. The belief propagated the notion of the individual soul being identified with God.

Focus on Individual

There are Prose works of Romantic age which champion the cause of the rights and freedoms of an individual. Portraying rebellious characters though seem irrational at times but the dare to shout out is there.

Humanitarianism in Romantic Prose

On humanitarian counts the prose works of Romantic age seem no different than counterpart poetic works. The Essayists of the Age too rest on elements of humanitarianism.

Past, Primitive and Medieval Anchoring

Going away from reasons & rationality, Romantic prose seems resting on experiences of primitive and medieval age. In a sense, it’s a clear departure from Neo-classical prose.

Solitude In Romantic Prose

Similar to their poetry counterparts, the prose writers of Romantic age show up with elements of melancholy in their works. Of course, the element is most prominent in poetry side. Many prose works of the age draw inspirations from ambience of solitude.

Romantic Prose Literature- (a) Essays

Notable prose writers and their works are as follows under this category:

Charles Lamb (1775- 1834)

Charles Lamb is undoubtedly the master essayist. In fact, he credited with reviving this literary genre in the Romantic Age. He draws the material for his essays from his own personal life. His essays “Essays on Elia” are remarkable examples of this fact.

In this regard, it is imperative to mention that “Elia” was the pen name he adopted for these essays. Apart from his essays, Lamb is famous as a great story teller. His “Tales from Shakespeare” is a remarkable piece in this regard. His also contributed to the field of critical writings.

William Hazlitt (1778- 1830)

He was an essayist as well as critic. Though he is not as popular as lamb but he can be rated as a perfect essayist. His first important work was “The Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays”. “Table Talk” is his most mature work. It contains 33 essays on various topics. His essays proved to be excellent models for the writers of successive generations.

Thomas De Quincey (1785- 1859)

Thomas De Quincey was a remarkable essayist of the Romantic Age. His most famous work is “The Confessions of an Opium Eater”. It shows his dreamy and exhibitionist temperament. The book is an autobiographical record of his early life. He also remains unforgettable for another outstanding essay “On the Knocking at the gate in Macbeth”. He was a voluminous writer chiefly remembered for his substance and style.

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864)

Walter Savage Lander was one of the  last important essayists of the early 19th century. He is known by his “Imaginary Conversations”. In these conversations, Landor brings together significant personalities from all lands and all periods of history. His next important work is “Pericles and Aspasia”. But Landor’s prose appears to be formal and unnatural.

The early 19th century witnesses the development and growth of the critical writings too. Several factors were responsible for its growth but the most important factor appears to be the influence of the French Revolution.

Romantic Prose: (b) Critical Writings

A critical evaluation of the major critics will evidently show the nature and status of the romantic prose literature.  Critical Writings of the early 19th century are chiefly represented by Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

William Wordsworth is the first prominent name among the romantic critics. His critical writings have value and significance. His “The Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” (1800) is a critical work of great significance. It brings forth Wordsworth’s theory of poetry and poetic diction.

He is one of the most prolific poets of the Romantic Poetry Age. His critical writing gave a blow to the faulty poetic diction of the 18th century. It is generally regarded as the manifesto of the Romantic Movement.

S.T. Coleridge (1772- 1834)

Coleridge was the greatest advocate of English romantic criticism. His fame as a critic rests on his two monumental works- “Biographia Literaria” (1807) and “Lectures on Shakespeare”. The first work is an explanation and criticism of Wordsworth’s theory of poetry whereas the second is the appeal to avoid the arbitrary rules which hindered the literary criticism of Shakespeare.

P.B. Shelley (1792-1822)

He was essentially a poet but he also made some significant contributions to critical writings. His fame as a critic rests on his essay “The Defence of Poetry”. The work is well written and is exposition of the Romantic point of view on poetry. The early 19th century also saw creation of some top critical literature by the London Group of Critics that included Lamb, Hazlitt, De Quincey and Leigh Hunt.

Romantic Prose in Conclusion

On an obvious note, the progress of the essay as a literary genre is the most spectacular achievement of the Romantic Age. This early 19th century also witnessed the development of a new and valuable type of critical prose writing.

You may appreciate the findings, that the early 19th century prose literature did not receive as much attention as it deserved. In fact, the deserving place was eclipsed by the poetic glory of the period. Notwithstanding, an impartial study of the literature of the period shows that essayists have made remarkable contributions to the literature.

Critical writing and Gothic fiction seems having a formal genesis in the era of Romantic Age. A fair idea of Romantic prose contribution gets easier with critical evaluation of the major prose writers of the early 19th century.

Q & A on Prose of Romantic Age: FAQ

Q. Name One Writer of Romantic Non Fiction Prose

Ans. Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Thomas De Quincey, Walter Savage Landor all are writer of Romantic Non Fiction Prose.

Q. What is Romanticism in Prose Fiction?

Ans. Nature in high regard, focus on the individual, spirituality, Inspiration from Solitude & melancholy, idealization of women, personification and pathetic fallacy

Q. What is Romantic Literature About?

Ans. Subjectivity, Emotion above logic, Inspiration from solitude, Glorification of nature, Fascination for myths, Spirituality& mysticism are some of the major attributes of Romantic Literature.

Beyond Romantic Prose Features Under Literature Reads

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