4. Define “Dark Romanticism” as you understand it by discussing two works by different authors. Account for the rise of this kind of writing in America and evaluate its appeal and significance then and now. The Dark Side of Romanticism Romantic literary texts focus on the expression of emotion. Authors during the Romantic period developed and integrated the idea of the individual being the main focus in life. Romantic authors focused on the individual being at the center of their own happiness and destiny and evil dwelling outside mankind.
Dark Romantics believed that evil is not only found in nature and in other people but evil also dwells inside every human being. Dark Romantics argued that earlier writers had ignored the darker side of humanity. The Dark Romantics’ focus was to illustrate to readers what really makes up mankind. They present individuals as self destructive as opposed to writers in the past such as Puritans that focused on mankind prevailing over evil through the grace of God. Individuals in Dark Romanticism literature are often portrayed failing when they are trying to make themselves better people.
Instead of focusing on the good of mankind, Dark Romantics wrote about the tragic and demented side of human life. This pessimistic and skeptic attitude makes way for murky, horrid, and inexplicable thoughts. But these demented thoughts are what make Dark Romantic literature so out of the ordinary and thrilling compared to literature of the past. Dark Romanticism is just that, very dark. Nature is deeply rooted in Dark Romanticism literature but in shady, sinister ways. Evil is found in the literary images of ghouls and ghosts and other creepy beings.
For Dark Romantics, the world is cold and mysterious. Gothic fiction helped to inspire many Dark Romantic works. Gothic fiction can be described as a subgenre of Dark Romanticism. It shares many similar characteristics with Dark Romantic literature. Both include themes of darkness and mystery but Gothic fiction was more aimed to tell tales of horror instead of stories of mankind failing to make change for the better. Charles Brockden-Brown’s, “Somnambulism” conveys the inexplicable and horrific qualities of Gothic and Dark Romanticism literature through his features and styles of writing.
The literary works of William Godwin and the suggestion of feminism inspired Brockden-Brown. Constantia personifies this in “Somnambulism”. She is not a weak and nervous character. Brockden-Brown portrays her as independent and strong by having her confidently journey home with her father at night in the dark and weary woods. This story is told from first person point of view, which really puts readers inside the sick mind of Althrope. This gives a first hand account of the events.
This makes it easier for readers to understand the thoughts going through Althrope’s head and adds intensity and mystery to the story: And after all what is this groundless and ridiculous persuasion that governed me? Had I profited nothing by experience of the effects of similar follies? Was I never to attend to the lesson of sobriety and truth? How ignominious to be thus the slave of a fortuitous and inexplicable impulse! To be the victim of terrors more chimerical than those which haunt the dreams of idiots and children! They an describe clearly, and attribute a real existence to the object of their terrors. Not so can I. The quick pace of the sentences in this story creates the feeling of paranoia. Althrope’s questioning of himself supports the Dark Romantic’s idea that this genre of literature focuses on the demented and unfortunate side of human life and mankind’s inability to change for the better. The main character of the story is not a vampire or ghost or ghoul often seen in Dark Romantic and Gothic literature. The killer is a regular member of society who snaps.
Althrope is used to living within the constraints of society but he struggles with this. As a sleepwalker, he acts unconsciously on the obsessive thoughts filling his mind day after day. This is a clear image of the dark side of mankind. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Edgar Allen Poe depicts a gruesome tale. His use of dark imagery and harsh words make this story an unmistakable product of the Dark Romantic period. Poe’s use of the first person narrator adds an important dimension to the story. The narrator’s thoughts are eating him alive and Poe clearly portrays this to readers by repeating words and having he narrator constantly question himself: I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men –but the noise steadily increased.
Oh God! what could I do? I foamed –I raved –I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder –louder –louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! -they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror! -this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! This makes the narrator untrustworthy and unreliable. This also helps to illustrate Dark Romanticism’s questioning of mankind. Poe focuses on how unstable the narrator is and how the unconscious mind can destroy a man. The narrator drove himself absolutely crazy over the old man’s mysterious eyeball. He was obsessed with the eye and this caused the narrator to have extreme paranoia.
The reader never finds out exactly why the creepy eyeball haunts the narrator. He explains that he does not know why he feels this anger towards the old man because the old man has never wronged him but he has built up hostility towards the old man and his eerie eye. This adds the element of distress and obscurity to the story. The narrator remarks, “And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses? ” Eventually the eyeball haunts the narrator to the point that his disturbed thoughts cause him to murder the old man.
He believes that this will help him escape the terror of the eyeball but in reality it does the exact opposite. The eyeball is no longer staring at him but his guilty conscious is shining a bright spotlight on him. This portrays the Dark Romantic idea that every human has a dark side. The dark side of a person can cause them to do things for no apparent reason. Dark Romanticism was quite different from the literature that emerged from the Transcendentalist and Puritanism period. Dark Romantics often concentrated on the tragic dimension of life.
Instead of reading about characters that were one with nature, God and themselves, readers were hearing tales of corrupted individuals at war with their thoughts. Dark Romantics focused on the menacing side of mankind. They pointed out that humans have their flaws and things will not always go as planned. Dark Romanticism helped to illustrate the idea that evil not only exists in external forms but it also exists inside the mind of mankind. Unlike Puritans, Dark Romantics saw evil living inside of human beings, not something that God presented individuals with to help restore their grace with God.
This suggestion was not explored until Dark Romantics took the reigns of literature and put a whole different spin on the way readers think about mankind and human nature. Dark Romanticism was a rejection of Transcendentalism’s sanguine outlook on life. The beliefs of the Transcendentalists were far too confident and narcissistic for Dark Romantics to identify with. The Dark Romantics did not believe that humans had perfection running through their veins at all times. They instead believed that individuals possess the ability to sin. They stressed the fact that no man is perfect.
Many Dark Romantics understood that evil and terror lived inside the minds of people. People like Althrope and the delusional narrator from “The Tell-Tale Heart” personify the weakness and paranoia corrupting the thoughts of individuals that seem innocent on the outside. Dark Romantics looked past the beauty of things. They painted the portrait of darkness living in people’s unconscious thoughts. Evil takes shape in many shady and mysterious ways in Dark Romantic poetry and prose. For this reason, the literature of this period can definitely claim its sinister name.