Pre-Romantic Period

The pre-romantic period is generally considered to be the period of literature and art that preceded the Romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It covers a broad range of time from the late 17th century to the mid-18th century.

During this time, literature and art were heavily influenced by the Enlightenment, which emphasized reason, science, and the importance of the individual. Many writers of the period, such as Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, used satire and irony to criticize the social and political structures of their time.

The pre-romantic period was also characterized by a renewed interest in nature and the natural world. This can be seen in the work of poets such as Thomas Gray and William Collins, who wrote about the beauty and majesty of nature.
Pre-Romantic Period
In art, the pre-romantic period was marked by the emergence of the Rococo style, which was characterized by ornate decoration, pastel colours, and a focus on the pleasures of the senses. This style was particularly popular in France and is exemplified by the work of artists such as Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

The Origins of Pre-Romanticism

The Pre-Romantic period, spanning from the late 18th century to the early 19th century, was marked by a shift in literary sensibilities. Writers of this era sought to break free from the constraints of neoclassicism and embrace the boundless realms of imagination and emotion.

1. Transition from Neoclassicism
2. Influence of Enlightenment Ideas
3. Emphasis on Individualism

What is the Pre-Romantic Period?

The pre-romantic period, also known as the "Age of Sensibility," refers to a cultural movement in the 18th century that paved the way for Romanticism. This period was characterized by a heightened interest in emotion, sentimentality, and individualism, as well as a rejection of the rationalism and formalism of the Enlightenment.

During the pre-romantic period, literature and the arts began to focus on the individual's inner experience and emotions. Writers such as Samuel Richardson, Laurence Sterne, and Henry Fielding popularized the novel as a form of literature that could explore the complexities of human emotion and psychology.

In music, pre-romantic composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Christoph Willibald Gluck paved the way for the Romantic era's emphasis on individual expression and emotional intensity.

The pre-romantic period also saw the rise of the Gothic genre in literature, with writers such as Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe creating works that explored themes of horror, the supernatural, and the uncanny.

Overall, the pre-romantic period was a time of transition and experimentation in the arts and literature, as artists and writers began to explore new forms of expression that would later become characteristic of the Romantic era.

Key Characteristics of Pre-Romanticism

The pre-Romantic period was a transitional phase between the Enlightenment and the Romantic era. During this period, there were several features that characterized the cultural and literary movements of the time. Here are some of the features of the pre-Romantic period:

Emphasis on feeling and emotion

Pre-Romantic writers placed a greater emphasis on individual feeling and emotion, as opposed to reason and logic that characterized the Enlightenment era. They explored the subjective experience of individuals, their inner thoughts and emotions, and their relationship with nature.

Interest in nature and the supernatural

There was a renewed interest in nature, the supernatural, and the mysterious during the pre-Romantic period. Writers and artists sought to explore the natural world, often depicting it in vivid detail, and also explored supernatural and mystical themes.

Connection with Nature

A profound connection with nature was a hallmark of pre-Romantic thought. Nature was viewed not merely as a backdrop but as a source of inspiration and a mirror to human emotions. This fascination with the natural world would later become a central theme in Romantic literature.


Pre-Romanticism heralded individualism as a potent force in the human experience. Writers and thinkers of this era celebrated the uniqueness of the individual and the power of personal experience to shape one's worldview.

Gothic literature

The pre-Romantic period saw the emergence of the Gothic genre in literature. Gothic novels, such as The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, explored themes of horror, the supernatural, and the uncanny.


Pre-Romantic writers and artists embraced sentimentality, which involved an emotional and effective response to art and literature. This was in contrast to the rationalism and objectivity of the Enlightenment.

Interest in folklore and mythology

There was a growing interest in folklore and mythology during the pre-Romantic period. Writers and artists drew on these traditions to explore themes of the supernatural and the mysterious.

Interest in the Middle Ages

Pre-Romantic writers and artists had a renewed interest in the Middle Ages and medieval culture. They explored the romance, chivalry, and heroism of medieval literature and culture.

Influential Figures of Pre-Romanticism

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

One of the most influential figures of pre-Romanticism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, challenged the prevailing rationalism of the Enlightenment. His work, "Confessions," laid bare the inner workings of the human soul, showcasing the emotional depth that would come to define pre-Romantic literature.

William Blake

The visionary poet and artist William Blake is another luminary of the Pre-Romantic period. His mystical and highly symbolic works, such as "Songs of Innocence and Experience," reflected the deep spiritual and emotional currents of the era.

Thomas Gray

Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" exemplifies the Pre-Romantic fascination with nature and the contemplation of mortality. This poem's evocative imagery and exploration of the human condition left an indelible mark on the literary landscape.

Key Figures and Their Contributions

Pre-Romantic literature was graced by the presence of visionary writers whose works continue to resonate with readers today. Let's delve into the lives and contributions of some of these literary luminaries.

1. William Blake: The Prophet of Imagination
2. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Poet of the Supernatural
3. Mary Wollstonecraft: Champion of Women's Rights
4. Thomas Gray: The Elegy Maestro

Masterpieces of Pre-Romantic Literature

The literature of the Pre-Romantic era boasts a treasure trove of masterpieces that continue to captivate readers with their timeless appeal.

1. "Songs of Innocence and Experience" by William Blake
2. "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
3. "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" by Mary Wollstonecraft
4. "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray

Influence on the Romantic Movement

The Pre-Romantic period served as a fertile breeding ground for the Romantic movement that was to follow. It laid the philosophical and literary groundwork for the Romantic poets and writers who would emerge in the early 19th century.

1. Shaping the Romantic Imagination
2. Continuation of Pre-Romantic Themes
3. Evolution of Literary Style

Pre-Romanticism's Enduring Influence

The legacy of pre-Romanticism extends far beyond its historical confines. It served as a crucible for the Romantic movement that followed, with many of its themes, such as the celebration of emotions and the sublime beauty of nature, persisting in the works of Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


The pre-Romantic period was marked by a greater emphasis on emotion, nature, and the supernatural, as well as a rejection of the rationalism and objectivity of the Enlightenment. These features would lay the groundwork for the Romantic era that followed.

Pre-Romantic Period -FAQs

1. What distinguishes the pre-Romantic period from the Romantic era?
The pre-Romantic period laid the groundwork for Romanticism, emphasizing imagination, emotion, and individualism, while Romanticism further embraced these ideals and expanded upon them.

2. How did the Enlightenment influence pre-Romantic literature?
The Enlightenment's emphasis on reason and logic challenged the prevailing neoclassical norms, encouraging pre-Romantic writers to explore emotions, nature, and the supernatural.

3. Which Pre-Romantic writer is known for championing women's rights?
Mary Wollstonecraft is renowned for her work "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," which advocated for gender equality and women's rights.

4. What role did nature play in pre-Romantic literature?
Nature was a central theme in pre-Romantic literature, serving as a source of inspiration and a reflection of the inner emotions of the writers.

5. How did pre-Romantic literature contribute to the evolution of literary style?
Pre-Romantic literature introduced a shift towards more emotional and imaginative writing, setting the stage for the Romantic poets and their lyrical, introspective style.
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