Humanitarian / Literature Essay


Romanticism vs Realism

In European history, romanticism and realism are two movements in succession that were rather popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in the English community. These reactions encompassed every field and were (and are still somewhat) quite evident in politics, philosophy, literature, architecture, and art (Levin, 1967). Over the years, these movements have evolved and have also shaped human outlook and society in general. Realism and romanticism have both made relatively meaningful contributions to the development and growth of society, and, generally, the human race.

One thing to note, despite the broad differences and logical contradictions these movements exhibit in many ways, is that there are also some similarities between them in certain respects, and this is what the article aims to show. Basically, in this essay, we will be examining the similarities and differences between romanticism and realism.

Romanticism and Realism

However, before we move on to do that, we shall briefly give an introduction to each of these populist movements.

First, Romanticism (1820-1865): This movement is quite hard to define. However, in the late 18th century, one thing this movement is known for is its reformative style. It came as a reaction against neoclassicism as well as all other movements or styles that came before it (Harmon and Holman, 2002). Romanticism gave the artist the emotional and artistic freedom to express themselves on subjects and issues in nature.

The romanticism of the late 18th century emphasized emotion, individualism, subjectivity, humanism and the enormous artistic power of imagination. In a way, romanticism was a rebel against the Industrial Revolution of the Enlightenment Age; a reaction to the aristocratic political and social norms of this period (Casey, 2008). This intellectual movement rationalized science and nature, which were two components of civilization in the world.

The movement also believes the intense emotion and personal experience of the artist are needed for the full realization of lasting aesthetic value. It revived many Medieval styles among which are spontaneity and folk art, two of the recurring features in art, literature, music, and so on. Under this movement were authors like William Blake, Thomas Carlyle, William Wordsworth, Edgar Allan Poe, Victor Hugo, John Keats and so on.

Second is Realism (1865-1914). This movement, like romanticism, is also quite hard to define. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (2008), realism could refer to, (1) "a literary method based on detailed accuracy of description" and; (2) a more "general attitude" that rebels against the romantic ideas of emotional expression, fantasy, exaggeration, escapism, and some others for the real issues as they affect human existence.

Basically, it was concerned with the faithful record and/or reflection of actual events and incidents. Realism outright rejects the notion of artificiality, idealism, implausibility and other supernatural elements for truth, actuality. Emphasis was placed on the real representation of subjects and issues as they affect society (Harmon and Holman, 2002).

Under this intellectual movement, every depiction of reality in art must be accurate and without the superfluous infusion of fantasy and the supernatural (Morris, 2003 and Thakar, 2012). Popular artists of realism were Robert Campin, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, etc.


As mentioned earlier, even though realism and romanticism are two entirely different artistic styles, they still possess some kind of similarity.

One of the ways they're similar is in their unique depictions or reflections of nature as a central subject of their artistic expression. Even though they both view nature in completely different perspectives, realism and romanticism still, however, place great emphasis on nature, the very existence of humans, and (as in romanticism) the aesthetic expression of many natural and supernatural elements.

Humanism, modernism, and naturalism were common features of realist and romantic arts. The freedom of humans, the construction of contemporary human life and the admiration of nature and human art forms were the primary focus of both artistic styles.

The other way the two intellectual movements agree is in the way that they both outright reject classicism and other movements that came before them. Classicism is an attitude in the art that is guided by the complete adherence to artistic standards and forms. Unlike classicism, realism and romanticism elevated modernism and also allowed for the elevation of art forms with individual (emotive or actual) expression, as well as the infusion of several artistic elements.

Romanticism and realism are different in many respects. As you can observe through the earlier description provided earlier in the article, these movements differ in their expression of interests and art forms. Romanticism, on one hand, promotes personal and emotional expression in art (Greever, 1920). It also allows for the superfluous infusion of fantasy, idealism, and individualism into the expression of art. There's formal inflation of events, incidents, forms, and elements.

Realism, on the other hand, presents the actual and faithful representation of real life. No additions or idealistic adjustments are allowed to be inputted into art. This movement renders close attention to the details and complexities of human life. In literature, realist writers placed great emphasis on modern life, as well as the ordinary and actual depiction of everyday life (Thakar, 2012).


Casey, C. (2008). "Grecian Grandeurs and the Rude Wasting of Old Time": Britain, the Elgin Marbles, and Post-Revolutionary Hellenism". Foundations. Volume III, Number 1.

Greever, G. (1920). "Romanticism as a Philosophy of Life." The Sewanee Review 28, no. 1: 101-05.

Harmon, W, and Holman, H. (2002). "A Handbook to Literature".

Levin, D. (1967). History as Romantic Art. Bancroft, Prescott, and Parkman.

Morris, P. (2003). Realism. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-22938-8.

Romanticism Vs. Realism. Available at [Acessed on 4 Apr. 2020].

Greever, G. (1920). "Romanticism as a Philosophy of Life." The Sewanee Review 28, no. 1: 101-05.

ThakarRomanticism vs Realism, S. (2012). Current Study and Comparison of Realism and Romanticism. St. John Fisher College. Graduate International Studies Program. Independent Study—Dr. Baronov

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