Romanticism: A Tradition and a Way of Life

February 27, 2018

“The Lover’s Whirlwind” 1872, William Blake

According to Professor Jade Hagen, who is teaching the upcoming class “Masterworks of Romanticism,” the literary tradition of Romanticism is far reaching and though it has been considered to be part of earlier centuries, it has strongly influenced many elements in these modern times. We checked in with Hagen to find out more.



WIH Reporter: What is important to know about Romanticism?

HagenRomanticism is arguably the most influential literary and artistic tradition in American history, and perhaps the most important tradition to arise in Great Britain after Shakespeare and Milton. Surrealism and the avant-gardes of the early twentieth century wouldn’t have been possible without Romanticism, and the Beat poets of the 1950s and ’60s explicitly acknowledge the Romantics as their precursors. 

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about Romanticism?

Hagen: “Romanticism” does have the word “romantic” in it, but it’s not about romance in the popular sense of love or marriage. Rather, Romanticism has been described as both a literary tradition and a way of life, one that is distinctly modern in its commitment to history, change, individual genius, and cultivating a healthy relationship between nature and culture.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about Romanticism?

Hagen: Well, I realize its my own idiosyncratic take on things, but I would argue that Romanticism should be of interest because we are still in the Romantic period. That is, although Romanticism proper is usually considered an eighteenth and nineteenth-century phenomenon, most of the major issues we’re dealing with today—consumerism, climate change, the fight for individual rights and freedoms—are a part of the Romantic legacy. As a society, we’re still working out solutions and ways to live with these issues, and the Romantics were the first to alert us to the fact that these aren’t national or even regional issues, but human issues that affect all of us, regardless of our views on them.

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Hagen: I like to begin class with an overview of the historical and literary contexts, and the major themes and questions that I hope we as a class can explore. Then I open it up to discussion. I’m also working on setting up either a visit to Rice’s Woodson Archives, or a speaker from the Archives to come to us. The Woodson has a copy of the illuminated version of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which we will be reading. Blake was an engraver by trade, and engraved and colored by hand each individual copy of his poems. You can read them in a book, but it’s just not the same as seeing the original plates, which evoke a totally different feeling than if you just see the black and white print version. We may also get into some adaptations of Romantic works. Frankenstein is a favorite of course, and has so many modern adaptations they’re hard to keep track of! Some are better than others though, and once you’ve read the book, you know why, and can appreciate the better versions that much more.

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?

Hagen: It’s quite the eclectic mix. Let’s see, there’s Don Allen’s anthology, The New American Poetry: 1945-1960; Hafiz’s The Gift; a collection of Rumi poems; Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic; an anthology by Robert Bly called News of the Universe; John Ashbery’s Selected Poems; Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake; and Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (a real thriller); and a pocket edition of Blake of course. There’s always Blake these days.

For more information, or to register for Hagen’s 6-week class starting April 3rd, 2018, click here.