Romanticism has been an artistic trend that has brought an infinite number of authors and artistic works to humanity.

This movement, which developed fundamentally in Europe and America, has laid the foundations for understanding the concept of nationhood today, as well as being, in a way, behind subcultures such as the emo or gothic.

There are hundreds of romantic authors, of all kinds and nationalities, so it is almost impossible to make a compilation of all of them. However, with this article, besides understanding the main characteristics of the movement, we will see its most outstanding characters.

  • You may be interested in reading: “The 35 best poems of Romanticism (by great authors)”

Romanticism: main characteristics

Romanticism is a cultural movement that first appeared at the end of the 18th century, trying to break with the previous trend, neoclassicism. The Romantic movement defended the idea of fantasy, as well as the expression of one’s deepest feelings, while fleeing from the excess of neoclassical rationalism.

Romanticism has laid the foundations of today’s national movements, defending the idea of the homeland as something alive, both from a more cultural perspective and in the political sense of the term.

Among the most outstanding characteristics of the movement is the defence of liberalism, as well as the beauty of the incomplete, something that can be seen in the extensive literary corpus of the authors of the time, in which there is no lack of incomplete novels. They were fighting against the traditional, seen as the mere copy of another copy of what was once an original idea. The original and what was out of the ordinary was received with open arms by the romantic authors.

Each author, whether he was a painter, writer or even a journalist, expressed himself in completely personal terms, trying to capture his own vision of the world. Moreover, the romantic work was a call for freedom and escape from the society in which its author had been forced to live. The romantic is associated with the melancholy and the exaltation of one’s own culture or homeland, in addition to the mystery and omnipresence of the natural landscapes .

Outstanding authors

Romanticism has been written and painted by both men and women, although as has always been the case with them, they have not been given the due prominence they deserve.

1. Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) is one of the most famous poets, novelists and playwrights of French Romanticism. Besides dedicating himself to literature, he was also a political asset.

As a multifaceted person, his works touched multiple genres, however, among his most remarkable works is ‘Les Misérables’ of 1862.

Others that cannot be ignored either are the plays ‘Lucrèce Borgia’, ‘Marie Tudor’, the novel ‘Notre-Dame de Paris’ and poetry such as ‘Odes et ballades’, ‘L’art d’être grand-père’ and ‘Les quatre vents de l’esprit’.

2. José de Espronceda

José de Espronceda y Delgado (1808-1842), born in Almendralejo, Badajoz, is one of the best known and most representative Spanish poets of Romanticism in his country.

Although he wrote novels such as ‘Sancho Saldaña’, his poetic work is much better known as ‘El estudiante de Salamanca’, ‘La canción del pirata’ and, although unfinished, ‘El diablo mundo’ and ‘El pelayo’. He also worked as a politician of the Spanish progressive party, participating in the Paris revolutions of 1930.

3. Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley , whose real name was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, (1791-1851) is the first woman on this list, but not the last. She was well known in various fields thanks to her contributions in philosophy, theatre and rehearsals. Born in London, she is considered one of the first science-fiction authors in history.

Among his best known works are ‘Frankenstein’ (an iconic work of Romanticism that forms part of popular culture around the world), ‘Mathilda’, ‘Falkner’, ‘The fortunes of Perkin Warbeck’ and ‘Valperga’.

4. Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-1870) whose real name was Gustavo Adolfo Claudio Domínguez Bastida, was a Spanish poet and writer who, although known while he was alive, was not really popular until after his death.

Among his best known works are various narratives such as ‘The Devil’s Cross’, ‘The Promise’, ‘Believe in God’ and ‘The Green Eyes’, but without doubt, it is his poetry in ‘Rhymes and Legends’ that has made him widely known within the current of romanticism.

This work is a collection of stories that together make up one of the greatest works of literature in Spanish.

5. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe (1749-1832) is one of the most renowned people within Romanticism, being a reference not only in his native Germany, but also in the rest of the Western world.

He was not only a playwright, novelist and poet, which he is not, but also devoted himself to the world of science.

Goethe’s work is so significant that today it continues to make a difference worldwide, especially since the institution responsible for the dissemination of German culture, the Goethe Institute, takes his name.

Among his most outstanding works are ‘Die Leiden des jungen Werther’, ‘Wilhelm Meister’ and, the best known, ‘Faust’.

Among his scientific work, his theory on color is remarkable, besides having studied the development of the organs in plants and their morphology.

6. Lord Byron

George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) was not only a renowned poet in his time, but also became a real celebrity thanks to his great appeal and his eccentric, acidic and controversial personality.

Due to his particularities, some have defended the idea that the English poet suffered from bipolar disorder.

He published many works, among the most outstanding are his great unfinished work ‘Don Juan’, as well as ‘Hours of Idleness’, ‘The Bride of Abydos’ and ‘The Corsair’.

As a curiosity, Lord Byron was in possession of several animals throughout his life, including monkeys, a hawk, an eagle, a fox and even a bear.

7. William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827) was little known during his lifetime, although this poet and painter achieved fame after his death.

This was probably due to the fact that his work was considered more typical of the Enlightenment than of Romanticism, although today it is classified within the second artistic current.

Among his works are ‘All religions are one’, more of an enlightened trend, and ‘Poetical sketches’, ‘An island in the Moon’, ‘The French Revolution’ and ‘The Four Zoas’ moving further away from the Enlightenment.

8. Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) is, together with her sisters Emily Jane and Anne, one of the members of the well-known Brontë family, with outstanding artists among them. Charlotte and Emily, however, are the most remarkable of this lineage of poets.

Charlotte’s best known work is the novel ‘Jane Eyre’, although she wrote others like ‘Villette’ and ‘The Professor’, which were inspired by her love for the director of the school where she studied.

9. Emily Brontë

Emily Jane Brontë (1818-1848) is, like her sister Charlotte, well known, especially for being the author of ‘Wuthering Heights’, a novel characterized by passion and violence, with a marked sexual character.

In fact, Emily Brontë’s writing style was so shocking to Victorian society at the time that many believed that her main work was written by one man.

This led to the work being seen as immoral and obscene, despite the fact that with the passage of time it would become a classic of English literature that is still part of the school curriculum in any school in the United Kingdom.

10. Alexandre Dumas

The life of Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, has gone more unnoticed than his name, known worldwide as the author of ‘Les Trois Mousquetaires’ and ‘Le Comte de Monte-Cristo’.

What is perhaps less well known are his origins, being the son of a French general in the then colony of Santo Domingo who was in turn the son of a French nobleman and a black slave.

Thus, Alexandre Dumas is considered not only a great writer, but also someone who, at a time when slavery and biological racism were still in place, showed that people of African or mixed race could create great works of art.

11. François-René de Chateaubriand

François-René , vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) is considered one of the founders of French romanticism.

Among his most outstanding works are ‘Essai sur les Révolutions’, ‘Atala’, ‘René’, ‘Les Martyrs’ and ‘Mémoirs d’Outre-Tombe’.

12. Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) is one of Ireland’s most prolific English-language writers. Not only did he write novels, he also wrote poetry and plays.

His work is not merely romantic in the most ‘standard’ sense, so to speak, of the term. He used this movement as if it were a pillar, and shaped it as he wished to create new sub-branches within it.

Of his personal life, the most notable is his homosexuality, which was more than controversial in the Irish society of the time, characterized by a marked Catholic morality.

Among his best known works are ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘The Importance of being Earnest’. His latest publications, ‘De profundis’ and ‘The Ballad of Reading’ were written from prison.

13. Jane Austen

Jane Austen (1775-1817), is one of the leading authors of English Romanticism, essential reading of her works in the Saxon country, such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Mansfield Park’, ‘Love and Friendship’ and ‘Emma’.

14. Edgar Allan Poe

Born as Edgar Poe (1809-1849) is perhaps the best known American-born romantic writer. He was also a poet, literary critic and journalist.

His writings are characterized by being short stories, with a Gothic tendency, besides being abundant among his work the tales of terror and being one of the main references regarding the genre of fear.

The Black Cat’, ‘The Cask of Amontillado’, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ or ‘Hop-Frog’ are some of his best-known stories, and among his poetry one cannot ignore ‘The Bells’, ‘Ulalume’ and, perhaps his most famous work, ‘The Raven’.

15. Lewis Carroll

His real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) and, besides being a writer, he was a mathematician, an Anglican deacon and a photographer.

He is known worldwide as the author of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and its sequel ‘Through the Looking-glass’, being children’s novels that have become classics, as well as being adapted on several occasions to the world of cinema.

In his novels he makes some references to the world of mathematics, besides being marked by paradox and nonsense.

16. Charles Dickens

Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870) is the author of up to 15 novels, in addition to several short stories and essays critical of the state of English society in which he lived.

They are quite famous works of his such as ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, ‘David Copperfield’ and ‘Great Expectations’.

17. Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Although he lived in a period prior to Romanticism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a philosopher and writer from Geneva, as well as a musical composer, botanist and naturalist.

He described the society of his time and tried to improve it through the use of his thought, writing such remarkable works as ‘Du contrat social’ and ‘Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes’.

He also wrote novels, such as ‘Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse’, and also texts on pedagogy, such as ‘Émile, ou De l’éducation’.

18. William Wordsworth

As a great English poet he was, William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

His works include The Solitary Reaper, The Prelude, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, The Tables Turned and many more.

19. Rosalía de Castro

María Rosalía Rita de Castro (1837-1885) was a Galician poet, very important and outstanding within Spanish literature.

He wrote both in Castilian and in his native language, Galician, being his work ‘Cantares galegos’ a symbol of Galician culture. Its publication date, 17th May 1863, has become the ‘Día das letras galegas’, celebration of literature in Galician language.

His work is characterized by his appreciation of his native land, showing nostalgia or ‘homesickness’. Besides, the fact that part of his work is written in Galician language is a declaration of principles, attachment and defence of his culture.
Other important works are ‘La flor’, ‘A mi madre’ and ‘En las orillas del Sar’ in Spanish and ‘Follas novas’ in Galician. In prose, we can emphasize ‘Contos da miña terra’.

20. Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886) was an American poet, whose poetry is characterized by a special sensitivity, as well as being wrapped in mystery and addressing several themes in a very profound way.

Bibliographic references:

  • Consello da Cultura Galega and University of Santiago de Compostela (1986). Actas do Congreso internacional de estudios sobre Rosalía de Castro e o seu tempo. Servicio de publicacións da Universidade de Santiago de Compostela.
  • Franklin, R. W. (1999). The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge: Belknap Press.
  • McCalman, I. (2009). An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Online at Oxford Reference Online
  • Reynolds, N. (2010). Building Romanticism: Literatura y arquitectura en la Gran Bretaña del siglo XIX. University of Michigan Press.
  • Wilde, O. (2009). “El arte de conversar”. España.