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Understanding Romanticism

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Romance: that form of literature where desires can be fulfilled unencumbered To understand Romanticism it is useful to begin with the traditional cliché image of a man and a woman gazing deeply into one another’s eyes over a candle-light dinner.





More pedantically, the literary theorist Northrop Frye defined romance as that mode of literature in which the laws of nature and reality are somewhat suspended and a hero can therefore perform miraculous feats. Underlying both of these notions (Frye’s mode and what the rest of us describe as “romantic”) is Frye’s idea that all culture is about giving form to human desire. Our expectations of the chivalrous knight of Arthurian Legend and the courtly-love tradition have more in common with modern notions of romantic love than is at first apparent.




Though rarely acknowledged, the knight who slays a dragon and the perfect lovers are both examples of reality and nature overwhelmed by our imaginings of human desires being fulfilled.

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