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Prominence of Desire and Loss in Romantic Literature

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The Prominence of Desire and Loss in Romantic Literature

Romanticism is defined as “a sweeping but indispensable modern term applied to the profound shift in Western attitudes to art and human creativity that dominated much of European culture in the first half of the 19th century, and that has shaped most subsequent developments in literature--even those reacting against it” (Baldick). Though the time period that American Romanticism spans is rather vast and many of the literary works that spark out of this movement are unique in themselves, various unifying elements are present in these texts that categorize them as Romantic works. These elements, sometimes referred to as the “Romantic Spirit,” consist of principles such as idealism, rebellion, individualization, nostalgia, sublimity, and most importantly, desire and loss. Because desire is generally the drive for Romance, desire and loss seems to be the foundation of American Romanticism. In other words, each Romantic text contains some degree of desire and loss in it, with remnants of the other Romantic ideals. Both the pattern and importance of desire and loss in Romantic texts can be recognized by examining Columbus’ letters entitled “Letter to Luis de Santangel Regarding the First Voyage” and “Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella Regarding the Fourth Voyage,” Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia.”

The pattern of desire and loss is perhaps the most prominent in the works of the Pre-Romantic writer, Christopher Columbus. Columbus, under the ruling of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, is given permission to seek out “a commercially viable Atlantic route to Asia” (“Christopher Columbus” 11). In doing so, he instea...

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...y: American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. Shorter 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. 11.

Columbus, Christopher. “From Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella Regarding the Fourth Voyage.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. Shorter 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. 13-14.

- - - . “From Letter to Luis de Santangel Regarding the First Voyage.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. Shorter 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. 11-13.

Irving, Washington. “Rip Van Winkle.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. Shorter 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. 428-40.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “Ligeia.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. Shorter 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. 708-17.
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