Romanticism

Romanticism Collage

Summary of Romanticism

At the end of the 18 th century and well into the 19 th , Romanticism quickly spread throughout Europe and the United States to challenge the rational ideal held so tightly during the Enlightenment . The artists emphasized that sense and emotions - not simply reason and order - were equally important means of understanding and experiencing the world. Romanticism celebrated the individual imagination and intuition in the enduring search for individual rights and liberty. Its ideals of the creative, subjective powers of the artist fueled avant-garde movements well into the 20 th century. Romanticist practitioners found their voices across all genres, including literature, music, art, and architecture. Reacting against the sober style of Neoclassicism preferred by most countries' academies, the far reaching international movement valued originality, inspiration, and imagination, thus promoting a variety of styles within the movement. Additionally, in an effort to stem the tide of increasing industrialization, many of the Romanticists emphasized the individual's connection to nature and an idealized past.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • In part spurred by the idealism of the French Revolution, Romanticism embraced the struggles for freedom and equality and the promotion of justice. Painters began using current events and atrocities to shed light on injustices in dramatic compositions that rivaled the more staid Neoclassical history paintings accepted by national academies.
  • Romanticism embraced individuality and subjectivity to counteract the excessive insistence on logical thought. Artists began exploring various emotional and psychological states as well as moods. The preoccupation with the hero and the genius translated to new views of the artist as a brilliant creator who was unburdened by academic dictate and tastes. As the French poet Charles Baudelaire described it, "Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling."
  • In many countries, Romantic painters turned their attention to nature and plein air painting, or painting out of doors. Works based on close observation of the landscape as well as the sky and atmosphere elevated landscape painting to a new, more respectful level. While some artists emphasized humans at one with and a part of nature, others portrayed nature's power and unpredictability, evoking a feeling of the sublime - awe mixed with terror - in the viewer.
  • Romanticism was closely bound up with the emergence of newly found nationalism that swept many countries after the American Revolution. Emphasizing local folklore, traditions, and landscapes, Romanticists provided the visual imagery that further spurred national identity and pride. Romantic painters combined the ideal with the particular, imbuing their paintings with a call to spiritual renewal that would usher in an age of freedom and liberties not yet seen.

Key Artists

Francisco Goya Biography, Art & Analysis

Overview of Romanticism

romanticism summary essay

When he was four years old, William Blake had a vision of "the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty!" Later, expressed in his poetry and visual art, his prophetic visions and belief in the "real and eternal world" of the imagination resulted in the unknown artist being acknowledged as the "father of Romanticism."

Artworks and Artists of Romanticism

Henry Fuseli: The Nightmare (1781)

The Nightmare

Artist: Henry Fuseli

Fuseli's strange and macabre painting depicts a ravished woman, draped across a divan with a small, hairy incubus sitting on top of her, staring out menacingly at the viewer. A mysterious black mare with white eyes and flaring nostrils appears behind her, entering the scene through lush, red curtains. We seem to be looking at the effects and the contents of the woman's dream at the same time. Fuseli's ghastly scene was the first of its kind in the midst of The Age of Reason, and Fuseli became something of a transitional figure. While Fuseli held many of the same tenets as the Neoclassicists (notice the idealized depiction of the woman), he was intent on exploring the dark recesses of human psychology when most were concerned with scientific exploration of the objective world. When shown in 1782 at London's Royal Academy exhibition, the painting shocked and frightened visitors. Unlike the paintings the public was used to seeing, Fuseli's subject matter was not drawn from history or the bible, nor did it carry any moralizing intent. This new subject matter would have wide-ranging repercussions in the art world. Even though the woman is bathed in a bright light, Fuseli's composition suggests that light is unable to penetrate the darker realms of the human mind. The relationship between the mare, the incubus, and the woman remains suggestive and not explicit, heightening the terrifying possibilities. Fuseli's combination of horror, sexuality, and death insured the image's notoriety as a defining example of Gothic horror, which inspired such writers as Mary Shelly and Edgar Allan Poe.

Oil on canvas - Detroit Institute of Art

William Blake: The Ancient of Days from Europe a Prophecy copy B (1794)

The Ancient of Days from Europe a Prophecy copy B

Artist: William Blake

The Ancient of Days served as the frontispiece to Blake's book, Europe a Prophecy (1794), which contained 18 engravings. This image depicts Urizen, a mythological figure first created by the poet in 1793 to represent the rule of reason and law and influenced by the image of God described in the Book of Proverbs as one who "set a compass upon the face of the earth." Depicted as an old man with flowing white beard and hair in an illuminated orb, surrounded by a circle of clouds, Urizen crouches, as his left hand extends a golden compass over the darkness below, creating and containing the universe. Blake combines classical anatomy with a bold and energetic composition to evoke a vision of divine creation. Blake eschewed traditional Christianity and felt instead that imagination was "the body of God." His highly original and often mysterious poems and images were meant to convey the mystical visions he often experienced. Europe a Prophecy reflected his disappointment in the French Revolution that he felt had not resulted in true freedom but in a world full of suffering as reflected in England and France in the 1790s. Little known during his lifetime, Blake's works were rediscovered by the Pre-Raphaelites at the end of the 19 th century, and as more artists continued to rediscover him in the 20 th century, he has become one of the most influential of the Romantic artists.

Relief etching with hand coloring - Glasgow University Library, Glasgow Scotland

Antoine Jean Gros: Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa (1804)

Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa

Artist: Antoine Jean Gros

This painting depicts Napoleon I, not yet the Emperor, visiting his ailing soldiers in 1799 in Jaffa, Syria, at the end of his Egyptian Campaign. His troops had violently sacked the city but were subsequently stricken in an outbreak of plague. Gros creates a dramatic tableau of light and shade with Napoleon in the center, as if on a stage. He stands in front of a Moorish arcade and touches the sores of one of his soldiers, while his staff officer holds his nose from the stench. In the foreground, sick and dying men, many naked, suffer on the ground in the shadows. A Syrian man on the left, along with his servant who carries a breadbasket, gives bread to the ill, and two men behind them carry a man out on a stretcher. While Gros' teacher Jaques Louis David also portrayed Napoleon in all of his mythic glory, Gros, along with some of David's other students, injected a Baroque dynamism into their compositions to create a more dramatic effect than David's Neoclassicism offered. Gros' depiction of suffering and death, combined with heroism and patriotism within an exotic locale became hallmarks of many Romantic paintings. The use of color and light highlights Napoleon's gesture, meant to convey his noble character in addition to likening him to Christ, who healed the sick. Napoleon commissioned the painting, hoping to silence the rumors that he had ordered fifty plague victims poisoned. The work was exhibited at the 1804 Salon de Paris, its appearance timed to occur between Napoleon's proclaiming himself as emperor and his coronation.

Oil on canvas - Musée du Louvre, Paris France

Francisco Goya: The Third of May 1808 (1814)

The Third of May 1808

Artist: Francisco Goya

This groundbreaking work depicts the public execution of several Spaniards by Napoleonic troops. On the left, lit up against a hill, a man in a white shirt holds out his arms as he kneels and faces the firing squad. Several men cluster around him with facial expressions and body language expressing a tumult of emotion. A number of the dead lie on the ground beside them and, to their right, a group of people, all with their faces in their hands, knowing they will be next. On the right, the firing squad aims their rifles, forming a single faceless mass. A large square lantern stands between the two groups, dividing the scene between shadowy executioners and victims. The painting draws upon the traditional religious motifs, as the man in the white shirt resembles a Christ-like figure, his arms extended in the shape of the cross, and a close-up of his hands reveals a mark in his right palm like the stigmata. Yet, the painting is revolutionary in its unheroic treatment, the flatness of its perspective, and its matte almost granular pigments. Additionally, its depiction of a contemporary event experienced by ordinary individuals bucked academic norms that favored timeless Neoclassical vignettes. Goya intended to both witness and commemorate Spanish resistance to Napoleon's army during the Peninsular War of 1808-1814, a war marked by extreme brutality. The painting's dark horizon and sky reflect the early morning hours in which the executions took place, but also convey a feeling of overwhelming darkness. The art historian Kenneth Clark described it as, "the first great picture which can be called revolutionary in every sense of the word, in style, in subject, and in intention." Goya's revolutionary painting would be instrumental in the rise of Realism's frank depictions of everyday life, of Picasso's declarations against the horrors of war, and the Surrealists' exploration of dream-like subject matter.

Oil on canvas - Museo del Prado, Madrid Spain

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: La Grande Odalisque (1814)

La Grande Odalisque

Artist: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

This painting depicts a reclining nude, a member of a harem, holding a feathered fan amidst sumptuous textiles. Her hair is wrapped in a turban, and a hookah sits at her feet. She turns her head over her shoulder to peer out at the viewer. Ingres was one of the best known of the Neoclassical painters, and while he continued to defend the style, this work reflects a Romantic tendency. The image recalls Titan's Venus of Urbino (1528) and echoes the pose of Jacque-Louis David's Portrait of Madame Récamier (1809), but a Mannerist influence is also apparent in the figure's anatomical distortions. Her head is a little too small, and her arms do not appear to be the same length. When the work was shown at the 1819 Salon, these distortions prompted critics to claim she had no bones, no structure, and too many vertebrae. The work is a well-known example of Orientalism. By placing a European nude within the context of a Middle-Eastern harem, the subject could be given an exotic and openly erotic treatment. Subsequent scholars have suggested that because the woman is a concubine in a sultan's harem, the distortions of her figure are symbolic, meant to convey the sultan's erotic gaze upon her figure. As a result, the work points the way to Romanticism's emphasis on depicting a subject subjectively rather than objectively or according to an idealized standard of beauty. Ingres's use of color and his flattening of the figure would be important examples for 20 th -century artists like Picasso and Matisse, who also eschewed classical ideals in their representations of individuals.

Caspar David Friedrich: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (c. 1818)

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

Artist: Caspar David Friedrich

In this painting, an aristocratic man steps out upon a rocky crag as he surveys the landscape before him, with his back turned toward the viewer. Out of swirling clouds of fog, tall pinnacles of rocks loom, and a majestic peak on the left and a rock formation on the right fill the horizon. Many of Friedrich's landscapes depict a solitary figure in an overwhelming landscape that stands in for a Byronic hero, overlooking and dominating the view. While Friedrich made plein air sketches in the mountains of Saxony and Bohemia in preparation for this painting, the landscape is essentially an imaginary one, a composite of specific views. The place of the individual in the natural world was an abiding theme of the Romantic painters. Here, the individual wanderer atop a precipice contemplating the world before him seems to suggest mastery over the landscape, but at the same time, the figure seems small and insignificant compared the sublime vista of mountains and sky that stretch out before him. Friedrich was a master of presenting the sublimity of nature in its infinite boundlessness and tempestuousness. Upon contemplation, the world, in its fog, ultimately remains unknowable.

Oil on canvas - Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg German

Théodore Géricault: The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19)

The Raft of the Medusa

Artist: Théodore Géricault

Géricault depicts the desperate survivors of a shipwreck after weeks at sea on a wave-tossed raft beneath a stormy sky. At the front of the raft, a black man waves a shirt trying to flag down a ship barely visible on the horizon, while behind him others struggle forward raising their arms in hope of rescue. In the foreground, a disconsolate older man holds onto the nude corpse of his dead son, the body of a man hangs off the raft trailing in the water, and to the far left lies a partial corpse, severed at the waist. The scene depicts the survivors of the wreck of the Medusa, a French Royal Navy frigate sent to colonize Senegal in 1816. The ship ran aground on a sandbank and began to sink, but there were not enough lifeboats. Some of the survivors built a makeshift raft to reach the African shore, but they were quickly lost at sea. Many died, and others resorted to violence and cannibalism. The artist did months of research, interviewing and sketching the survivors, dissecting cadavers in his studio, and recruiting friends to model, including the painter Delacroix. Géricault's use of light and shadow as well as organizing the scene along two diagonals creates a dramatic and intense vision. Beginning with the bodies in the lower left, the viewer follows the eyes and gestures of the raft's inhabitants to a man, borne on the shoulders of his companions, waving a cloth - a sign of hope. From the shadows below the sail, one follows another diagonal to the bottom right to see a corpse, partially shrouded, slipping off the raft into the sea. This organization, coupled with the majestic and stormy sky speaks to the Romantic tastes for the terrible and the sublime. Intended as a profound critique of a social and political system by depicting the tragic consequences and suffering of the marginal members of society, the painting is a pioneering example of protest art. The famous 19 th -century art critic Jules Michelet (who coined the term The Renaissance ) ascribed a broader view of Géricault's subject, suggesting that "our whole society is aboard the raft of the Medusa."

John Constable: The Hay Wain (1821)

The Hay Wain

Artist: John Constable

This rural landscape depicts a hay wain, a kind of cart, drawn by three horses crossing a river. On the left bank, a cottage, known as Willy Lott's Cottage for the tenant farmer who lived there, stands behind Flatford Mill, which was owned by Constable's father. Constable knew this area of the Suffolk countryside well and said, "I should paint my own places best, painting is but another word for feeling." He made countless en plein air sketches in which he engaged in near scientific observations of the weather and the effects of light. In Constable's landscape, man does not stand back and observe nature but is instead intimately a part of nature, just as the trees and birds are. The figuring driving the cart is not out of scale with his environment. Constable depicted the oneness with nature that so many of the Romantic poets declared. Constable found little acclaim in his home country of England because of his refusal to follow a traditional academic path and his insistence on pursuing the lowliest of genres: landscape painting. The French Romantics, however, took him up enthusiastically after seeing this work in the 1824 Paris Salon. His ability to capture the way fleeting atmosphere determines how we see the landscape inspired such artists as Eugène Delacroix. While The Hay Wain may not have been well-received by his countrymen at the time, in 2005 it was the voted second most popular painting in England.

Oil on canvas - The National Gallery, London

Eugène Delacroix: Liberty Leading the People (July 28, 1830) (1830)

Liberty Leading the People (July 28, 1830)

Artist: Eugène Delacroix

This famous and influential painting depicts the Paris uprising in July 1830. Delacroix, though, does not present an actual event but an allegory of revolution. A bare-chested woman, representing the idea of Liberty, wears a Phryggian cap, carries a bayonet in one hand and raises the tricolor flag in the other, encouraging the rebellious crowd forward on their path to victory. While her figure and the dress draped over her body evokes the Greek classical ideal, Delacroix includes her underarm hair, suggesting a real person and not just an ideal. Other contemporary details and political symbols can be found in the portrayal of various classes of Parisian society. A boy, wearing a beret worn by students carries a cartridge pouch on his shoulder and his cavalry pistols, a factory worker brandishes a saber and wears sailor trousers with an apron, and a man wearing the waistcoat and top hat of fashionable urban society is perhaps a self-portrait of Delacroix. The wounded man who kneels at Liberty's feet and looks up at Liberty is a Parisian temporary worker. Each detail in the image carries political significance, as the beret with a white royalist and a red ribbon denotes the liberal faction, and a Cholet handkerchief, a symbol of a Royalist leader, is used to fasten a pistol to a man's abdomen. The right background is relatively empty, and though the towers of Notre Dame place the scene in Paris, parts of the urbanscape are purely imagined. Delacroix said of the work, "I have undertaken a modern subject, a barricade, and although I may not have fought for my country, at least I shall have painted for her." He had witnessed the event, describing, "Three days amid gunfire and bullets, as there was fighting all around. A simple stroller like myself ran the same risk of stopping a bullet as the impromptu heroes who advanced on the enemy with pieces of iron fixed to broom handles." Delacroix used the dynamic pyramidal arrangement, chiaroscuro, and color to create a scene of clamorous drama that highlights heroism, death, and suffering, quintessential themes of the Romantic movement. Delacroix's bohemianism, his personal vision, and his refusal of academic norms, hallmarks of the Romantic attitude, made him a model for many modern artists.

Thomas Cole: The Oxbow, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (1836)

The Oxbow, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm

Artist: Thomas Cole

The American Thomas Cole depicts a view of the winding Connecticut River from Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts. A heavily wooded promontory overlooks a flat plain marked by cultivated fields where the wide river meandered over a long period of time and formed an oxbow, or bend, in its flow, and hills rise in the background. The diagonal created by the promontory divides the scene into two triangles, juxtaposing the stormy and green wilderness on the left with the sunlit and cultivated plains on the right. In the lower right, a single human figure, the artist himself, is depicted at work. Cole thus presents the artist in harmony with nature. Thomas Cole was among the most important and influential of the Hudson Valley School painters. While traveling in Europe from 1829-1832, the artist traced this view from Basil Hall's Forty Etchings Made with the Camera Lucida in North America in 1827 and 1828 . Wanting to counter Hall's criticism of Americans as indifferent to their native landscape, Cole wanted to depict the uniqueness of the American landscape as "a union of the picturesque, the sublime, and the magnificent." This Romantic concept found its way into future depictions of the American landscape by the likes of other painters and photographers, including Ansel Adams.

Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York New York

J.M.W. Turner: The Slave Ship (1840)

The Slave Ship

Artist: J.M.W. Turner

This painting depicts a seascape, the ocean a swirl of chaotic waves beneath a stormy sky that is lit up with red and yellow as if on fire. On the horizon, a ship with its sails unfurled appears to be headed directly into rough dark waters. Shackled human forms, some partially glimpsed, are scattered in the foreground like debris, as sharks and other fish circle and close in upon the flailing swimmers. Turner painted this image after reading Thomas Clarkson's The History and Abolition of the Slave Trade (1808) that recounted how the captain of the slave ship Zong ordered 133 slaves thrown overboard so that he could collect the insurance payments on his human cargo. An ardent abolitionist, Turner hoped that the work would inspire Prince Albert to do more to combat slavery around the globe. Turner captured the philosopher Edmond Burke's concept of the "sublime," the feeling one senses in the presence of nature's overwhelming grandeur and power. In this image, the human figures, and even the ship on the horizon, are minuscule, and the emphasis on the water and the sky conveys a sense of humanity overwhelmed. The blood red color of the sky and the black caps of the waves convey the emotional intensity of the natural world, and the vertical ray of light from the sun that divides the ocean in half seems almost an apocalyptic vision, the presence of a divine witness. Turner's quick brush strokes create a sense of frenzy and chaos, overpowering the barely visible struggling human forms. His work influenced Romanticism's depiction of nature as a dramatic and tumultuous struggle.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Massachusetts

Beginnings of Romanticism

The term Romanticism was first used in Germany in the late 1700s when the critics August and Friedrich Schlegal wrote of romantische Poesie ("romantic poetry"). Madame de Staël, an influential leader of French intellectual life, following the publication of her account of her German travels in 1813, popularized the term in France. In 1815 the English poet William Wordsworth, who became a major voice of the Romantic movement and who felt that poetry should be "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," contrasted the "romantic harp" with the "classic lyre." The artists that considered themselves part of the movement saw themselves as sharing a state of mind or an attitude toward art, nature, and humanity but did not rely on strict definitions or tenets. Bucking established social order, religion, and values, Romanticism became a dominant art movement throughout Europe by the 1820s.

Literary Predecessors

An early prototype of Romanticism was the German movement Sturm und Drang , a term usually translated as "storm and stress." Though it was primarily a literary and musical movement from the 1760s to the 1780s, it had a great impact and influence on public and artistic consciousness. Emphasizing emotional extremes and subjectivity, the movement took its name from the title of the play Romanticism (1777) by Friedrich Maxmilian Klinger.

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The most famous advocate of the movement was the German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) became a cultural phenomenon. Depicting the emotionally anguished story of a young artist who, in love with the woman who is engaged and then married to the artist's friend, commits suicide, the novel's popularity caused what came to be called "Werther Fever," as young men adopted the protagonist's clothing and manner. Some copycat suicides even occurred, and countries like Denmark and Italy banned the novel. Goethe himself renounced the novel as he later turned away from any association with Romanticism in favor of a classical approach. Nevertheless, the idea of the artist as a solitary genius, emotionally anguished, whose originality and imagination was spurned by the rational world, gripped public consciousness, becoming a model for the romantic hero of the subsequent era.

In the 1800s the British poet Lord Gordon Byron became a celebrity upon the publication of his Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812), and the term "Byronic hero," was coined to denote the figure of the lone and brooding genius, torn between his best and worst traits.

Romanticism in the Visual Arts

Both the English poet and artist William Blake and the Spanish painter Francisco Goya have been dubbed "fathers" of Romanticism by various scholars for their works' emphasis on subjective vision, the power of the imagination, and an often darkly critical political awareness. Blake, working principally in engravings, published his own illustrations alongside his poetry that expressed his vision of a new world, creating mythical worlds full of gods and powers, and sharply critiquing industrial society and the oppression of the individual. Goya explored the terrors of irrationality in works like his Black Paintings (1820-23), which conveyed the nightmarish forces underlying human life and events.

In France, the painter Antoine-Jean Gros influenced the artists Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix who subsequently led and developed the Romantic movement. Chronicling the military campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte in paintings like Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa (1804), Gros emphasized the emotional intensity and suffering of the scene.

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Théodore Géricault's painting The Raft of the Medusa (1819) and Eugene Delacroix's The Barque of Dante (1822) brought Romanticism to the attention of a larger public. Both paintings scandalized the Paris Salons that they were exhibited in, Géricault in 1820 and Delacroix in 1822. Deviating from the Neoclassical style favored by the Academy and using contemporary subject matter outraged the Academy and the larger public. The depiction of emotional and physical extremity and varied psychological states would become the hallmarks of French Romanticism .

romanticism summary essay

Following Géricault's early death in 1824, Delacroix became the leader of the Romantic movement, bringing to it his emphasis on color as a mode of composition and the use of expressive brushwork to convey feeling. As a result, by the 1820s Romanticism had become a dominant art movement throughout the Western world.

In England, Germany, and the United States, the leading Romantic artists focused primarily on landscape, as seen in the works of the British artist John Constable , the German Caspar David Friedrich , and the American Thomas Cole , but always with the concern of the individual's relation to nature.

A Revolutionary Movement

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Largely developing during the French Revolution, Romanticism was allied with a revolutionary and rebellious spirit. The rule of reason and law of the Enlightenment was perceived as confining and mechanistic. As a result, artists turned to scenes of rebellion and protest. Géricault intended The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19), inspired by a true account of a shipwreck, as an indictment of the French government's policies that led to the tragedy. Similarly, Turner's The Slave Ship (1840) was intended to influence the British government into a more active abolition policy. Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830) was created to support the uprising of the people of Paris against the restoration government of Charles X. Delacroix also painted a number of works depicting the Greek fight for independence against the Ottoman Empire. His Scène des massacres de Scio ( Massacre at Chios ) (1824) depicts the survivors of a massacre that occurred when the Ottoman Empire conquered an island of rebellious Greeks and killed or enslaved most of the inhabitants.

The Sublime

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In 1756, the English philosopher Edmund Burke published A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful , and in 1790, the German philosopher Emanuel Kant, who explored the relationship between the human mind and experience, developed Burke's notions in Critique of Judgment . The idea of The Sublime came to hold a central place in much of Romanticism in order to counter Enlightenment rationality. Burke explained, "The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature . . . is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other." To experience the sublime, one does not just experience something beautiful but something that overtakes one's rational sense of objectivity. The awe and terror experienced by observing a great storm or an infinite vista make the individual contemplate his or her place in the natural world. This state, though, necessitates that one is at some remove from what one is seeing, that one is not in danger of being physically harmed by the storm or lost in the wilderness. When one tries to comprehend the boundlessness, or formlessness, of nature's power, one feels overwhelmed emotionally. The experience of the sublime triggers self-examination that was crucial to Romanticism. Many Romantic painters sought to evoke the sublime in their landscape paintings, portraying stormy seas and skies witnessed by a solitary individual.

Orientalism

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As early as the Renaissance, artists depicted the Middle East through exoticized images, as reflected in The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus (1511) by an anonymous Venetian painter. As the art critic Andrew Graham Dixon described, the painting attempted to compress all that made Damascus "vivid and strange, to Venetian eyes, within the scope of a single canvas: figures in turbans; a laden camel on its way to the bazaar; the great Mosque; the citadel; the public baths; private houses and their distinctive, lush walled gardens." In the 19 th century a fascination with Middle-Eastern subjects overtook both Neoclassical and Romantic painting, as seen in treatments of the nude like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' Grande Odalisque (1814), or the popularity of harem scenes like Delacroix's The Women of Algiers (1834). Romantic painters projected desires, fears, and the unknown into their depictions of African and Middle Eastern scenes.

Subsequently, scholars have reevaluated these depictions of an exoticized Middle East. The cultural critic and historian Edward Said coined the term "Orientalism" with his influential book, Orientalism (1978). Said argued that in its depictions of the Middle East, Western art and literature showed a "subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture." This prejudice was reflected in stereotypical depictions of Middle Eastern culture and people as primitive, irrational, and exotic.

Romanticism: Concepts, Styles, and Trends

Romanticism in germany.

During the Enlightenment, or The Age of Reason, German Romantic painters turned their sights to interior emotions instead of reasoned observations. They looked to previous eras, including the Middle Ages, for examples of men living in harmony with nature and each other. The Nazarenes, a group of painters founded in Vienna in 1809, favored medieval and early Italian Renaissance painting, repudiating the popular Neoclassical style preferred at the time. The leading German Romanticist Caspar David Friedrich worked predominantly in landscape painting and explored man's relation to the land. Landscape painting became an allegory for the human soul as well as a symbol of freedom and boundlessness that subtly critiqued the political restrictedness of the time.

Romanticism in Spain

In the midst of the Peninsular War raged by Napoleon and the Spanish War of Independence, Spanish Romantic painters began exploring more subjective views of landscapes and portraits, valorizing the individual. Francisco de Goya was by far the most prominent of the Spanish Romantics. While he was the official painter for the Royal Court, toward the end of the 18 th century, he began exploring the imaginary, the irrational, and the horrors of human behavior and war. His works, including the painting The Third of May, 1808 (1814) and the series of etchings The Disasters of War (1812-15), stand as powerful rebukes of war during the Enlightenment era. Increasingly withdrawn, Goya made a series of Black Paintings (1820-23) that explored the terrors held within the innermost recesses of the human psyche.

Romanticism in France

After the Napoleonic Wars ended with Napoleon in exile, the Romantic painters began challenging the Neoclassicism of Jacques Louis David , the foremost painter during the French Revolution, and the overall Neoclassical style favored by the Academy. Unlike their German counterparts, the French had a larger repertoire of subjects that included portraiture and history painting. Artists such as Jean-Léon Gérôme and Eugène Delacroix created many genre scenes of North Africa, ushering in a vogue for Orientalism , and their dramatically staged compositions of light and color highlighted the horrors of contemporary events and tragedies.

The French also developed a strong sculptural rendition of Romanticism. Géricault experimented in sculpture, creating Nymph and Satyr (1818), a piece that depicted a suggestive and violent encounter between the two mythological figures. He also created works like his Flayed Horse I (c. 1820-24) that combined his anatomical knowledge with the horse, one of his favorite subjects, within a dark and disturbing vision. Romanticist sculpture was drawn to scenes of beasts of prey and fighting animals in which the animals were depicted as a writhing surge of bodies. Portraying a savage beast overwhelming delicate beauty, such works were meant to convey the Romantic sense of terribiltà , the feeling of awe or terror created by the sublime. The most famous of animal sculptors was Antoine-Louis Bayre, whose bronze works like Tiger Surprising an Antelope (c. 1835) became popular among the ruling class.

Romanticism in England

With the exception of William Blake, who practiced a more visionary art, the English Romantic painters favored landscape. Their depictions, however, were not as dramatic and sublime as their German counterparts, but were more naturalistic. The Norwich School was a group of landscape painters that developed from the 1803 Norwich Society of Artists. John Crome, was a founding member of the group and the first president of the Norwich Society, which held annual exhibitions from 1805-1833. Working in both watercolor and oil painting, Crome, like other members of the group emphasized en plein air painting and scientific observation of the landscape. Nonetheless, his work and the work of other artists in the group reflected a Romantic sensibility, as seen in his Boys Bathing on the River Wensum, Norwich (1817), which depicts a precisely observed scene along the Wensum River yet conveys the feeling of human harmony with the sublime beauty of the area.

John Constable was the most influential of the English landscape painters, combining close observation of nature with a deep sensitivity. Rebelling against standard practices of the academy, he wrote to his friend, "For the last two years I have been running after pictures, and seeking the truth at second hand .. I have not endeavored to represent nature with the same elevation of mind with which I set out, but have rather tried to make my performances look like the work of other men .. The great vice of the present day is bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth." His use of color was influential on the young Eugène Delacroix, who delighted in the way Constable used dabs of local color and white to create a shimmering light. Color was most radically explored by J.M.W. Turner . Turner was a prolific, yet eccentric and reclusive, artist working in oils, watercolors, and prints. Turner's application of color in rapid strokes created an impastoed and dynamic surface that earned him the epithet "the painter of light." He would be very influential to the Impressionists in the later 19 th century and even the Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko in the mid-20 th century.

Romanticism in the United States

American Romanticism found its primary expression in the landscape painting of the Hudson River School , between 1825-1875. While the movement began with Thomas Doughty, whose work emphasized a kind of quietism in nature, the most famous member of the group was Thomas Cole , whose landscapes convey a sense of awe at the vastness of nature. Other noted artists were Frederic Edwin Church , Asher B. Durand , and Albert Bierstadt . The works of most of these artists focused on the landscape of the Adirondacks, White Mountains, and Catskills of the Northeast but gradually branched out into the American West as well as South and Latin American landscapes. Working from sketches that they made outdoors, the artists would create the paintings later in their studios, sometimes using composites of various scenes to create an image of a somewhat imaginary location. The emphasis in such paintings was often upon awe-inspiring, dramatic vistas, where the human figure would appear to be dwarfed, and where an overwhelming and sublime sense of nature's beauty would be conveyed.

Romanticism in Architecture: The Age of Revivals

Romanticism in architecture rebelled against the Neoclassical ideals of the 18 th century primarily by evoking past styles. Styles from other periods and regions in the world were incorporated, all with the purpose of evoking feeling, whether a nostalgic longing for the past or for exotic mystery. Accordingly, architecture was dominated by "revival" styles, like the Gothic Revival and the Oriental Revival.

Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) London, England.

Though the incorporation of Gothic design began in the 1740s, the Gothic Revival became a dominant movement in the 1800s. In France, the historian Arcisse de Caumont's writing provided an intellectual foundation for the interest in antiquities, but it was Victor Hugo's novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) that popularized the neo-Gothic craze. In England The Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, designed and rebuilt by A.W.N. Pugin with architect Charles Berry, exemplifies the Gothic Revival style.

The Royal Pavilion at Brighton, England

The famous example of Oriental Revival style is the Royal Pavilion (1815-1822) in Brighton, England, built by the architect John Nash. The seaside home of King George IV includes onion domes and minarets and variations on crenellations in the building to create an imposing but exotic presence which includes elements of Asian and Middle-Eastern styles. Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign to Egypt inspired an interest in ancient Egyptian culture, leading to the use of Egyptian columns, obelisks, pylons, and sphinx sculptures. The detention complex "The Tombs," called originally the Houses of Justice, built in New York City in 1838 is a good example of the Egyptian substyle of the Oriental Revival.

Later Developments - After Romanticism

Romanticism began to fade at various times in different countries, but by the 1830s, with the introduction of photography and increasing industrialization and urbanization, artistic styles start trending more toward Realism .

The Pre-Raphaelites

The Romantics' return to earlier styles, such as Medieval art, greatly influenced the later 19 th -century British Pre-Raphaelites Edward Burne-Jones , Dante Gabriel Rossetti , and John Everett Millais . These artists depicted medieval, religious, and Shakespearean subject matter filtered through a Romantically-tinged naturalism. They emphasized the imagination as well as the connections between the visual arts and literature.

Turner's and Delacroix's Influence

Turner's and Delacroix's studies and uses of color as well as their vigorous brushstrokes had a significant influence on Impressionism. Their emphasis on color rather than line as a primary mode of composition particularly influenced Georges Seurat's development of Neo-Impressionism and color theory, which became a foundation for later movements like Fauvism and Orphism .

Goya's Influence

Goya's unsentimental representations of Spanish life influenced many Realist artists of the next generation, including French avant-garde painter Édouard Manet . Some of Pablo Picasso's most noted works like Guernica (1937) reflect the continuing influence of Goya on his fellow countrymen. The gruesome results of war and abjection found a new audience who had experienced their own brutal wars in the 20 th century.

William Blake's Influence

William Blake's use of image and text to convey a single vision was influential in many modern art movements; Italian Futurism , Orphism , Russian Futurism , Dada , and Surrealism all combined text and image in a variety of ways. Blake's visionary mysticism and rebelliousness also influenced the Beat generation of the 1950's, including the writer Jack Kerouac.

Caspar David Friedrich's Influence

Caspar David Friedrich's symbolic landscapes and their evocation of the sublime had lasting influence among modern artists from the Expressionist Edvard Munch , to the Surrealists Max Ernst and René Magritte , to the later Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman . Friedrich's inspiring visualization of the German landscape was taken up by the Nazis in the 1930s to promote their ideology of Blood and Soil, which espoused racialism and a romanticized nationalism. As a result, it took many years for Friedrich's reputation to recover.

The tenets of Romanticism, emphasizing the primacy of the individual, and, within that individual, the power of the subjective imagination and feeling, became the bedrock of much of modern culture. Surrealism's emphasis on dream life and the subjective subconscious, Expressionism's emphasis on emotional intensity, and the contemporary emphasis on the artist as a cultural celebrity, all derive from Romanticism. The movement has become part of how we think about the individual, one's individual experience and its expression in art. The concept of the artist as a visionary in tune with the deeper nature of reality, which has been part of any number of avant-garde movements, is essentially a Romanticist view.

Useful Resources on Romanticism

Landmarks of Western Art Documentary: Romanticism

  • Delacroix: and the Rise of Modern Art Our Pick By Patrick Noon and Christopher Riopelle
  • Théodore Géricault By Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer
  • Romanticism: A German Affair By Rüdiger Safranski and Robert E. Goodwin
  • Romanticism and Art (World of Art) Our Pick By William Vaughn
  • Caspar David Friedrich By Johannes Grave
  • Page on Romanticism Our Pick By Kathryn Calley Galitz / The Metropolitan Museum of Art / October 2004
  • William Blake By Glasgow University Library: Special Collection Department / November 2007
  • Cry Freedom: Jonathan Jones on how Delacroix captured the ecstasy of liberty Our Pick By Jonathan Jones / The Guardian / April 1, 2005
  • Caspar David Friedrich at the edge of the imaginable By Julian Bell / Times Literary Supplement / October 26, 2012
  • Lord Byron - A Rock Star Poet in an Age of Extravagance By Carolyn McDowall / The Culture Concept Circle / April 21, 2012

Similar Art

Edvard Munch: The Scream (1893)

The Scream (1893)

Mark Rothko: Four Darks in Red (1958)

Four Darks in Red (1958)

Related artists.

Vincent van Gogh Biography, Art & Analysis

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein

Romanticism in Literature: Definition and Examples

Finding beauty in nature and the common man.

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romanticism summary essay

  • B.A., English, Rutgers University

Romanticism was a literary movement that began in the late 18th century, ending around the middle of the 19th century—although its influence continues to this day. Marked by a focus on the individual (and the unique perspective of a person, often guided by irrational, emotional impulses), a respect for nature and the primitive, and a celebration of the common man, Romanticism can be seen as a reaction to the huge changes in society that occurred during this period, including the revolutions that burned through countries like France and the United States, ushering in grand experiments in democracy.

Key Takeaways: Romanticism in Literature

  • Romanticism is a literary movement spanning roughly 1790–1850.
  • The movement was characterized by a celebration of nature and the common man, a focus on individual experience, an idealization of women, and an embrace of isolation and melancholy.
  • Prominent Romantic writers include John Keats, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley.

Romanticism Definition

The term Romanticism does not stem directly from the concept of love, but rather from the French word romaunt (a romantic story told in verse). Romanticism focused on emotions and the inner life of the writer, and often used autobiographical material to inform the work or even provide a template for it, unlike traditional literature at the time.

Romanticism celebrated the primitive and elevated "regular people" as being deserving of celebration, which was an innovation at the time. Romanticism also fixated on nature as a primordial force and encouraged the concept of isolation as necessary for spiritual and artistic development.

Characteristics of Romanticism

Romantic literature is marked by six primary characteristics: celebration of nature, focus on the individual and spirituality, celebration of isolation and melancholy, interest in the common man, idealization of women, and personification and pathetic fallacy.

Celebration of Nature

Romantic writers saw nature as a teacher and a source of infinite beauty. One of the most famous works of Romanticism is John Keats’ To Autumn (1820):

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,– While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

Keats personifies the season and follows its progression from the initial arrival after summer, through the harvest season, and finally to autumn’s end as winter takes its place.

Focus on the Individual and Spirituality

Romantic writers turned inward, valuing the individual experience above all else. This in turn led to heightened sense of spirituality in Romantic work, and the addition of occult and supernatural elements.

The work of Edgar Allan Poe exemplifies this aspect of the movement; for example, The Raven tells the story of a man grieving for his dead love (an idealized woman in the Romantic tradition) when a seemingly sentient Raven arrives and torments him, which can be interpreted literally or seen as a manifestation of his mental instability.

Celebration of Isolation and Melancholy

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a very influential writer in Romanticism; his books of essays explored many of the themes of the literary movement and codified them. His 1841 essay Self-Reliance is a seminal work of Romantic writing in which he exhorts the value of looking inward and determining your own path, and relying on only your own resources.

Related to the insistence on isolation, melancholy is a key feature of many works of Romanticism, usually seen as a reaction to inevitable failure—writers wished to express the pure beauty they perceived and failure to do so adequately resulted in despair like the sort expressed by Percy Bysshe Shelley in A Lament :

O world! O life! O time! On whose last steps I climb. Trembling at that where I had stood before; When will return the glory of your prime? No more—Oh, never more!

Interest in the Common Man

William Wordsworth was one of the first poets to embrace the concept of writing that could be read, enjoyed, and understood by anyone. He eschewed overly stylized language and references to classical works in favor of emotional imagery conveyed in simple, elegant language, as in his most famous poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud :

I wandered lonely as a Cloud That floats on high o'er vales and Hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden Daffodils; Beside the Lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Idealization of Women

In works such as Poe’s The Raven , women were always presented as idealized love interests, pure and beautiful, but usually without anything else to offer. Ironically, the most notable novels of the period were written by women (Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Mary Shelley, for example), but had to be initially published under male pseudonyms because of these attitudes. Much Romantic literature is infused with the concept of women being perfect innocent beings to be adored, mourned, and respected—but never touched or relied upon.

Personification and Pathetic Fallacy

Romantic literature’s fixation on nature is characterized by the heavy use of both personification and pathetic fallacy. Mary Shelley used these techniques to great effect in Frankenstein :

Its fair lakes reflect a blue and gentle sky; and, when troubled by the winds, their tumult is but as the play of a lively infant, when compared to the roarings of the giant ocean.

Romanticism continues to influence literature today; Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight novels are clear descendants of the movement, incorporating most of the characteristics of classic Romanticism despite being published a century and half after the end of the movement’s active life.

  • The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Romanticism.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 19 Nov. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/art/Romanticism.
  • Parker, James. “A Book That Examines the Writing Processes of Two Poetry Giants.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 23 July 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/07/how-two-literary-giants-wrote-their-best-poetry/594514/.
  • Alhathani, Safa. “EN571: Literature & Technology.” EN571 Literature Technology, 13 May 2018, https://commons.marymount.edu/571sp17/2018/05/13/analysis-of-romanticism-in-frankenstein-through-digital-tools/.
  • “William Wordsworth.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/william-wordsworth.
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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

  • Romanticism

Boxers

Théodore Gericault

Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct

Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct

Alfred Dedreux (1810–1860) as a Child

Alfred Dedreux (1810–1860) as a Child

The Start of the Race of the Riderless Horses

The Start of the Race of the Riderless Horses

Horace Vernet

Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Gericault (1791–1824)

Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Gericault (1791–1824)

Inundated Ruins of a Monastery

Inundated Ruins of a Monastery

Karl Blechen

Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds

Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds

John Constable

Faust

Eugène Delacroix

Royal Tiger

Royal Tiger

Stormy Coast Scene after a Shipwreck

Stormy Coast Scene after a Shipwreck

French Painter

Mother and Child by the Sea

Mother and Child by the Sea

Johan Christian Dahl

The Natchez

The Natchez

Wanderer in the Storm

Wanderer in the Storm

Julius von Leypold

The Abduction of Rebecca

The Abduction of Rebecca

Jewish Woman of Algiers Seated on the Ground

Jewish Woman of Algiers Seated on the Ground

Théodore Chassériau

Sunset

The Virgin Adoring the Host

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Ovid among the Scythians

Ovid among the Scythians

Kathryn Calley Galitz Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2004

Romanticism, first defined as an aesthetic in literary criticism around 1800, gained momentum as an artistic movement in France and Britain in the early decades of the nineteenth century and flourished until mid-century. With its emphasis on the imagination and emotion, Romanticism emerged as a response to the disillusionment with the Enlightenment values of reason and order in the aftermath of the French Revolution of 1789. Though often posited in opposition to Neoclassicism , early Romanticism was shaped largely by artists trained in Jacques Louis David’s studio, including Baron Antoine Jean Gros, Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson, and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. This blurring of stylistic boundaries is best expressed in Ingres’ Apotheosis of Homer and Eugène Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus (both Museé du Louvre, Paris), which polarized the public at the Salon of 1827 in Paris. While Ingres’ work seemingly embodied the ordered classicism of David in contrast to the disorder and tumult of Delacroix, in fact both works draw from the Davidian tradition but each ultimately subverts that model, asserting the originality of the artist—a central notion of Romanticism.

In Romantic art, nature—with its uncontrollable power, unpredictability, and potential for cataclysmic extremes—offered an alternative to the ordered world of Enlightenment thought. The violent and terrifying images of nature conjured by Romantic artists recall the eighteenth-century aesthetic of the Sublime. As articulated by the British statesman Edmund Burke in a 1757 treatise and echoed by the French philosopher Denis Diderot a decade later, “all that stuns the soul, all that imprints a feeling of terror, leads to the sublime.” In French and British painting of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the recurrence of images of shipwrecks ( 2003.42.56 ) and other representations of man’s struggle against the awesome power of nature manifest this sensibility. Scenes of shipwrecks culminated in 1819 with Théodore Gericault’s strikingly original Raft of the Medusa (Louvre), based on a contemporary event. In its horrifying explicitness, emotional intensity, and conspicuous lack of a hero, The Raft of the Medusa became an icon of the emerging Romantic style. Similarly, J. M. W. Turner’s 1812 depiction of Hannibal and his army crossing the Alps (Tate, London), in which the general and his troops are dwarfed by the overwhelming scale of the landscape and engulfed in the swirling vortex of snow, embodies the Romantic sensibility in landscape painting. Gericault also explored the Romantic landscape in a series of views representing different times of day; in Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct ( 1989.183 ), the dramatic sky, blasted tree, and classical ruins evoke a sense of melancholic reverie.

Another facet of the Romantic attitude toward nature emerges in the landscapes of John Constable , whose art expresses his response to his native English countryside. For his major paintings, Constable executed full-scale sketches, as in a view of Salisbury Cathedral ( 50.145.8 ); he wrote that a sketch represents “nothing but one state of mind—that which you were in at the time.” When his landscapes were exhibited in Paris at the Salon of 1824, critics and artists embraced his art as “nature itself.” Constable’s subjective, highly personal view of nature accords with the individuality that is a central tenet of Romanticism.

This interest in the individual and subjective—at odds with eighteenth-century rationalism—is mirrored in the Romantic approach to portraiture. Traditionally, records of individual likeness, portraits became vehicles for expressing a range of psychological and emotional states in the hands of Romantic painters. Gericault probed the extremes of mental illness in his portraits of psychiatric patients, as well as the darker side of childhood in his unconventional portrayals of children. In his portrait of Alfred Dedreux ( 41.17 ), a young boy of about five or six, the child appears intensely serious, more adult than childlike, while the dark clouds in the background convey an unsettling, ominous quality.

Such explorations of emotional states extended into the animal kingdom, marking the Romantic fascination with animals as both forces of nature and metaphors for human behavior. This curiosity is manifest in the sketches of wild animals done in the menageries of Paris and London in the 1820s by artists such as Delacroix, Antoine-Louis Barye, and Edwin Landseer. Gericault depicted horses of all breeds—from workhorses to racehorses—in his work. Lord Byron’s 1819 tale of Mazeppa tied to a wild horse captivated Romantic artists from Delacroix to Théodore Chassériau, who exploited the violence and passion inherent in the story. Similarly, Horace Vernet, who exhibited two scenes from Mazeppa in the Salon of 1827 (both Musée Calvet, Avignon), also painted the riderless horse race that marked the end of the Roman Carnival, which he witnessed during his 1820 visit to Rome. His oil sketch ( 87.15.47 ) captures the frenetic energy of the spectacle, just before the start of the race. Images of wild, unbridled animals evoked primal states that stirred the Romantic imagination.

Along with plumbing emotional and behavioral extremes, Romantic artists expanded the repertoire of subject matter, rejecting the didacticism of Neoclassical history painting in favor of imaginary and exotic subjects. Orientalism and the worlds of literature stimulated new dialogues with the past as well as the present. Ingres’ sinuous odalisques ( 38.65 ) reflect the contemporary fascination with the exoticism of the harem, albeit a purely imagined Orient, as he never traveled beyond Italy. In 1832, Delacroix journeyed to Morocco, and his trip to North Africa prompted other artists to follow. In 1846, Chassériau documented his visit to Algeria in notebooks filled with watercolors and drawings, which later served as models for paintings done in his Paris studio ( 64.188 ). Literature offered an alternative form of escapism. The novels of Sir Walter Scott, the poetry of Lord Byron, and the drama of Shakespeare transported art to other worlds and eras. Medieval England is the setting of Delacroix’s tumultuous Abduction of Rebecca ( 03.30 ), which illustrates an episode from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe .

In its stylistic diversity and range of subjects, Romanticism defies simple categorization. As the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire wrote in 1846, “Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.”

Galitz, Kathryn Calley. “Romanticism.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/roma/hd_roma.htm (October 2004)

Further Reading

Brookner, Anita. Romanticism and Its Discontents . New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; : , 2000.

Honour, Hugh. Romanticism . New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

Additional Essays by Kathryn Calley Galitz

  • Galitz, Kathryn Calley. “ The Legacy of Jacques Louis David (1748–1825) .” (October 2004)
  • Galitz, Kathryn Calley. “ Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) .” (May 2009)
  • Galitz, Kathryn Calley. “ The French Academy in Rome .” (October 2003)

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Introduction & Overview of Romanticism

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Romanticism Summary & Study Guide Description

Romanticism as a literary movement lasted from about 1789 to 1832 and marked a time when rigid ideas about the structure and purpose of society and the universe were breaking down. During this period, emphasis shifted to the importance of the individual's experience in the world and his or her interpretation of that experience, rather than interpretations handed down by the church or tradition.

Romantic literature is characterized by several features. It emphasized the dream, or inner, world of the individual. The use of visionary, fantastic, or drug-induced imagery was prevalent. There was a growing suspicion of the established church, and a turn toward pantheism (the belief that God is a part of the universe rather than separate from it). Romantic literature emphasized the individual self and the value of the individual's experience. The concept of "the sublime" (a thrilling emotional experience that combines awe, magnificence, and horror) was introduced. Feeling and emotion were viewed as superior to logic and analysis.

For the romantics, poetry was believed to be the highest form of literature, and novels were regarded as a lower form of writing, often as "trash," even by those most addicted to reading them. Most novels of the time were written by women and were therefore widely regarded as a threat to serious, intellectual culture. Despite this, some of the most famous British novelists wrote during this period, including Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott. In addition, this period saw the flowering of some of the greatest poets in the English language, including William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Wordsworth, many of whose works are still widely read today.

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Edgar Allan Poe

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  • "The Fall of the House of Usher"
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Critical Essays Edgar Allan Poe and Romanticism

Introduction

Few writers exist outside of the currents of the times in which they live, and Poe is no exception. He is clearly a product of his time, which in terms of literature, is called the Romantic era. The Romantic movement was one which began in Germany, moved through all of Europe and Russia, and, almost simultaneously, changed the entire course of American literature. Among England's great Romantic writers are William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott. Romantic writers in America who were contemporaries of Poe include Hawthorne (whose works Poe reviewed and admired), Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whom Poe did not like and to whom he was rather insulting in a review.

Poe's brand of Romanticism was akin to his contemporaries but most of his works often bordered on what was later called the gothic genre. The following discussion is not a comprehensive view of Romantic concepts, but instead, it is intended as a basic guide and explanation for some of the conventions or some of the devices often found in Poe's stories.

Intuition and Emotion

Perhaps the most dominant characteristic of the Romantic movement was the rejection of the rational and the intellectual in favor of the intuitive and the emotional. In his critical theories and through his art, Poe emphasized that didactic and intellectual elements had no place in art. The subject matter of art should deal with the emotions, and the greatest art was that which had a direct effect on the emotions. The intellectual and the didactic was for sermons and treatises, whereas the emotions were the sole province of art; after all, Poe reasoned, man felt and sensed things before he thought about them. Even Poe's most intellectual characters, such as M. Dupin ("The Purloined Letter," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," etc.), rely more on intuition than on rationality. As one examines M. Dupin, Poe's famous detective, one notes that he solves his crimes by intuitively placing himself in the mind of the criminal. Throughout Poe's works, his characters are usually dominated by their emotions. This concept explains much of the seemingly erratic behavior of the characters in all of the stories. Roderick Usher's emotions are overwrought; Ligeia and the narrator of that story both exist in the world of emotions; the behaviors of the narrators of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" are not rational; in "The Cask of Amontillado," the hatred of Montresor exceeds all rational explanations. Throughout Poe's fiction, much of the behavior of his characters must be viewed and can be explained best in terms of the Romantic period in which he wrote.

Setting and Time

Usually in a Romantic story, the setting is in some obscure or unknown place, or else it is set at some distant time in the past. The purpose for this is so that none of Poe's readers would be diverted by references to contemporary ideas; Poe created new worlds so that his readers would concentrate wholly on the themes or atmospheres with which he infused his stories. Poe believed that the highest art existed in a realm that was different from this world, and in order to create this realm, vagueness and indefiniteness were necessary to alienate the reader from the everyday world and to thrust him toward the ideal and the beautiful. Thus, Poe's stories are set either in some unknown place, such as in "The Fall of the House of Usher," or else they are set in some romantic castle on the Rhine, or in an abbey in some remote part of England, as in "Ligeia," or else they are set during the period of the Spanish Inquisition (the fourteenth century), as in "The Pit and the Pendulum." In other words, Poe's reader will not find a story which is set in some recognizable place in the present time. Even Poe's detective fiction is set in France rather than in America, thus giving it a Romantic distance from the reader.

Characterization

Often the characters are not named or else they are given only a semblance of a name. The narrator in "Ligeia" does not even know the Lady Ligeia's last name nor that of her family. With the exception of a story like "The Cask of Amontillado," where the narrator is addressed by another character, or a story like "William Wilson," where the title identifies the pseudonym of the narrator, we usually do not know the names of the narrators of the other stories discussed in this volume, or even the names of the narrators of most of Poes other works. For a Romantic like Poe, the emphasis of literature ought to be on the final effect and the emotion produced thereby. The greatness of "The Pit and the Pendulum" is not in knowing the name of the narrator but in sensing his fears and his terrors.

Subject Matter

The Romantic writer is often both praised and condemned for emphasizing the strange, the bizarre, the unusual, and the unexpected in his or her writing, and it is out of the Romantic tradition that we get such figures as the monster in Frankenstein and Count Dracula. The Romantic felt that the common or the ordinary had no place in the realm of art. Poe eschewed or despised literature that dealt with mundane subjects. Such things could be seen every day. The purpose of art, for Poe, was to choose subjects which could affect the reader in a manner which he would not encounter in everyday life. Thus, the subject matter of many of his tales dealt with living corpses, with frightening experiences, with horrors which startled the reader, and with situations which even we have never imagined before.

In conclusion, what might sometimes seem puzzling in a story by Poe, such as an unexpected ending or an unexpected event, is not puzzling if we remember that what he created was a result of his writing during the Romantic tradition. While his tales can be read as "stories," they take on further significance as superb examples of the Romantic tradition.

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Interesting Literature

A Short Analysis of T. E. Hulme’s ‘Romanticism and Classicism’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘Romanticism and Classicism’ by T. E. Hulme (1883-1917) was posthumously published as part of the 1924 collection Speculations but probably written in 1911-12. It’s an important attack on romanticism in art and poetry, and was an influential defence of the ‘philosophy’ (though that may be too grand a word for it) underpinning much modernist poetry in English.

You can read ‘Romanticism and Classicism’ here ; in this post we’re going to attempt to summarise and analyse the main points of Hulme’s argument.

T. E. Hulme had begun ‘A Lecture on Modern Poetry’ (1908) by saying, ‘A reviewer writing in the Saturday Review last week spoke of poetry as the means by which the soul soared into higher regions, and as a means of expression by which it became merged into a higher kind of reality. Well, that is the kind of statement that I utterly detest. I want to speak of verse in a plain way as I would of pigs: that is the only honest way.’

Pigs, as the old cliché has it, cannot fly; they roll around in the mud, are bound up with the earth, are down-to-earth creatures. It is for these reasons that Hulme chooses them for the purposes of analogy. We have a firm sense of coming back down to earth with a bump. Good modern poetry is rooted to the ground, and may only treat of higher things within strict limits.

In ‘Romanticism and Classicism’, Hulme states that there are two basic positions to adopt in relation to humanity: the romantic and the classical. The romantic position is ‘that man, the individual, is an infinite reservoir of possibilities; and if you can so rearrange society by the destruction of oppressive order then these possibilities will have a chance and you will get Progress.’

The classical position, by contrast, sees man as ‘an extraordinarily fixed and limited animal whose nature is absolutely constant. It is only by tradition and organisation that anything decent can be got out of him.’

Hulme uses the metaphor of the well and the bucket to illustrate these two concepts: romanticism is like a well, because there is a limitless faith in human potential and achievement; by contrast, classicism is the bucket. You can only fill up a bucket with a limited amount of water, whereas a well could, in theory, go on filling your bucket time and time again.

Romanticism is about limitless possibility; classicism is about limitation and restraint. Hulme is firmly on the side of classicism, arguing that the romantic impulse has dominated poetry for too long, and it’s time for a return to classical values.

How does this classical view manifest itself in poetry? Hulme elaborates:

What I mean by classical in verse, then, is this. That even in the most imaginative flights there is always a holding back, a reservation. The classical poet never forgets this finiteness, this limit of man. He remembers always that he is mixed up with earth. He may jump, but he always returns back; he never flies away into the circumambient gas.

Hulme’s poetry is frequently a lucid embodiment of this classical spirit: larks are not ‘ascending’ (as in the title of the George Meredith poem and Vaughan Williams composition) but are likened to fleas crawling on a human body; the moon is not some grand symbol of beauty but is like the red face of a farmer. Things are constantly being reined in, brought down to earth. But if this is the case, then where is the grandeur in such poetry? Where, for want of a better word, is its ‘poetic’ quality?

Hulme argues that the problem with romanticism is that poets on the ‘romantic’ side (and here he doesn’t refer narrowly to Romanticism with a capital R – he means not only Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, and some of Keats, but also a later poet like Swinburne) always want to bring in talk of ‘the infinite’: they want to reflect this ‘infinite reservoir of possibilities’ by implying that, in terms of humanity’s achievements and potential, the sky’s the limit. Hulme has little time for such a view.

But if you banish talk of the infinite from verse, what do you bring in, what stands in place of the infinite and provides the poem with its ‘poetic’ aspect? Hulme’s answer is ‘zest’, which he sees as the poet’s contemplation of the world, with the poem being an ‘accurate description’ of the things the poet observes.

In other words, this zest ‘heightens a thing out of the level of prose’ without raising it to such a high level that you end up talking about the infinite, and exaggerating the beauty or grandeur of the thing being described. Hulme uses an example from Robert Herrick’s seventeenth-century poem ‘Delight in Disorder’, which describes a woman’s creased petticoat as ‘tempestuous’.

Tempests are on a grand scale, but what saves this metaphor from flying off into the realm of the infinite is the use of the adjective ‘tempestuous’ to refer to something as small and everyday as a piece of clothing. We can observe a similar comparison in Hulme’s poem ‘The Embankment’ , which likens the vastness of the starry night sky to a moth-eaten blanket.

What links this ‘zest’ in ‘Romanticism and Classicism’ to Hulme’s previous ‘Lecture on Modern Poetry’ is his call for clear, direct metaphors in this new ‘classical’ poetry:

It always endeavours to arrest you, and to make you continuously see a physical thing, to prevent you gliding through an abstract process. It chooses fresh epithets and fresh metaphors, not so much because they are new, and we are tired of the old, but because the old cease to convey a physical thing and become abstract counters. A poet says a ship ‘coursed the seas’ to get a physical image, instead of the counter world ‘sailed’. Visual meanings can only be transferred by the new bowl of metaphor; prose is an old pot that lets them leak out.

We might analyse and summarise this position as follows: poetry should be about hard, clear language and vivid, sharp, physical images. In short, we need a new ‘dry, hard, classical verse’ that reacts against the ‘wet’ romanticism of much recent poetry.

Hulme’s role in modernism, then, was as a shaker-upper, a rabble-rouser, a populariser of ideas. If you wish to see modernism as a literary revolution (and many have), Hulme would be one of its more anarchic and disruptive revolutionaries. But for all his bluster and provocative posturing, Hulme had a serious desire to make poetry new and to reinvent the very language and style in which English poetry was written.

‘Romanticism and Classicism’ sets out and analyses the problems with romanticism and suggests how a classical spirit might be introduced into modern poetry in place of the romantic. The changes he introduced are still with us to this day.

Continue to explore Hulme’s work with his war poem composed in the trenches , his lecture on modern poetry , and our pick of Hulme’s best poems . For a more detailed discussion of Hulme, we recommend this book by the founder-editor of Interesting Literature , Dr Oliver Tearle,  T.E. Hulme and Modernism .

5 thoughts on “A Short Analysis of T. E. Hulme’s ‘Romanticism and Classicism’”

ThNks for sharing. Will have to look more into this artist. Weve got s rough draft out for a new short story of ours called Eaten an Eskimo and your thoughts on it would be incredible

I don’t know if I agree with him entirely about Romanticism, but I do find empty, grandiose poetics off-putting. Poetry should earn its grandeur, and even undersell it if necessary.

I agree, Bryan – Hulme had a talent for rhetorical overstatement, and as I’ve argued in a short book on Hulme, I think his poetry manages that undersell very effectively (though I think he’s also more Romantic than he lets on)…

Thank you. Very well explained. Esoecially the first part :)

Thank you! :)

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1. Experiencing Literature: The Basics

The romantic period, 1820–1860: essayists and poets — american literature i, fresh new vision electrified artistic and intellectual circles.

The Romantic movement, which originated in Germany but quickly spread to England, France, and beyond, reached America around the year 1820, some twenty years after William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge had revolutionized English poetry by publishing  Lyrical Ballads . In America as in Europe, fresh new vision electrified artistic and intellectual circles. Yet there was an important difference: Romanticism in America coincided with the period of national expansion and the discovery of a distinctive American voice. The solidification of a national identity and the surging idealism and passion of Romanticism nurtured the masterpieces of “the American Renaissance.”

Romantic ideas centered around art as inspiration, the spiritual and aesthetic dimension of nature, and metaphors of organic growth. Art, rather than science, Romantics argued, could best express universal truth. The Romantics underscored the importance of expressive art for the individual and society. In his essay “The Poet” (1844), Ralph Waldo Emerson, perhaps the most influential writer of the Romantic era, asserts:

For all men live by truth, and stand in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.

The development of the self became a major theme; self-awareness a primary method. If, according to Romantic theory, self and nature were one, self-awareness was not a selfish dead end but a mode of knowledge opening up the universe. If one’s self were one with all humanity, then the individual had a moral duty to reform social inequalities and relieve human suffering. The idea of “self”—which suggested selfishness to earlier generations—was redefined. New compound words with positive meanings emerged: “self-realization,” “self-expression,” “self-reliance.”

As the unique, subjective self became important, so did the realm of psychology. Exceptional artistic effects and techniques were developed to evoke heightened psychological states. The “sublime”—an effect of beauty in grandeur (for example, a view from a mountaintop)—produced feelings of awe, reverence, vastness, and a power beyond human comprehension.

Romanticism was affirmative and appropriate for most American poets and creative essayists. America’s vast mountains, deserts, and tropics embodied the sublime. The Romantic spirit seemed particularly suited to American democracy: It stressed individualism, affirmed the value of the common person, and looked to the inspired imagination for its aesthetic and ethical values. Certainly the New England Transcendentalists—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and their associates—were inspired to a new optimistic affirmation by the Romantic movement. In New England, Romanticism fell upon fertile soil.

Transcendentalism

The Transcendentalist movement was a reaction against 18th century rationalism and a manifestation of the general humanitarian trend of nineteenth century thought. The movement was based on a fundamental belief in the unity of the world and God. The soul of each individual was thought to be identical with the world—a microcosm of the world itself. The doctrine of self-reliance and individualism developed through the belief in the identification of the individual soul with God.

Transcendentalism was intimately connected with Concord, a small New England village thirty-two kilometers west of Boston. Concord was the first inland settlement of the original Massachusetts Bay Colony. Surrounded by forest, it was and remains a peaceful town close enough to Boston’s lectures, bookstores, and colleges to be intensely cultivated, but far enough away to be serene. Concord was the site of the first battle of the American Revolution, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem commemorating the battle, “Concord Hymn,” has one of the most famous opening stanzas in American literature:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, Here once the embattled farmers stood And fired the shot heard round the world.

Concord was the first rural artist’s colony, and the first place to offer a spiritual and cultural alternative to American materialism. It was a place of high-minded conversation and simple living (Emerson and Henry David Thoreau both had vegetable gardens). Emerson, who moved to Concord in 1834, and Thoreau are most closely associated with the town, but the locale also attracted the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, the feminist writer Margaret Fuller, the educator (and father of novelist Louisa May Alcott) Bronson Alcott, and the poet William Ellery Channing. The Transcendental Club was loosely organized in 1836 and included, at various times, Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, Channing, Bronson Alcott, Orestes Brownson (a leading minister), Theodore Parker (abolitionist and minister), and others.

The Transcendentalists published a quarterly magazine,  The Dial , which lasted four years and was first edited by Margaret Fuller and later by Emerson. Reform efforts engaged them as well as literature. A number of Transcendentalists were abolitionists, and some were involved in experimental utopian communities such as nearby Brook Farm (described in Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance ) and Fruitlands.

Unlike many European groups, the Transcendentalists never issued a manifesto. They insisted on individual differences – on the unique viewpoint of the individual. American Transcendental Romantics pushed radical individualism to the extreme. American writers often saw themselves as lonely explorers outside society and convention. The American hero—like Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab, or Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, or Edgar Allan Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym—typically faced risk, or even certain destruction, in the pursuit of metaphysical self-discovery. For the Romantic American writer, nothing was a given. Literary and social conventions, far from being helpful, were dangerous. There was tremendous pressure to discover an authentic literary form, content, and voice – all at the same time. It is clear from the many masterpieces produced in the three decades before the U.S. Civil War (1861–65) that American writers rose to the challenge.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the towering figure of his era, had a religious sense of mission. Although many accused him of subverting Christianity, he explained that, for him “to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the church.” The address he delivered in 1838 at his alma mater, the Harvard Divinity School, made him unwelcome at Harvard for thirty years. In it, Emerson accused the church of acting “as if God were dead” and of emphasizing dogma while stifling the spirit.

Emerson’s philosophy has been called contradictory, and it is true that he consciously avoided building a logical intellectual system because such a rational system would have negated his Romantic belief in intuition and flexibility. In his essay “Self-Reliance,” Emerson remarks: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Yet he is remarkably consistent in his call for the birth of American individualism inspired by nature. Most of his major ideas—the need for a new national vision, the use of personal experience, the notion of the cosmic Over-Soul, and the doctrine of compensation—are suggested in his first publication, Nature (1836). This essay opens:

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs. Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past…? The sun shines today also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

Emerson loved the aphoristic genius of the sixteenth-century French essayist Montaigne, and he once told Bronson Alcott that he wanted to write a book like Montaigne’s, “full of fun, poetry, business, divinity, philosophy, anecdotes, smut.” He complained that Alcott’s abstract style omitted “the light that shines on a man’s hat, in a child’s spoon.”

Spiritual vision and practical, aphoristic expression make Emerson exhilarating; one of the Concord Transcendentalists aptly compared listening to him with “going to heaven in a swing.” Much of his spiritual insight comes from his readings in Eastern religion, especially Hinduism, Confucianism, and Islamic Sufism. For example, his poem “Brahma” relies on Hindu sources to assert a cosmic order beyond the limited perception of mortals:

If the red slayer think he slay Or the slain think he is slain, They know not well the subtle ways I keep, and pass, and turn again. Far or forgot to me is near Shadow and sunlight are the same; The vanished gods to me appear; And one to me are shame and fame. They reckon ill who leave me out; When me they fly, I am the wings; I am the doubter and the doubt, And I the hymn the Brahmin sings The strong gods pine for my abode, And pine in vain the sacred Seven, But thou, meek lover of the good! Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

This poem, published in the first number of the  Atlantic Monthly magazine (1857), confused readers unfamiliar with Brahma, the highest Hindu god, the eternal and infinite soul of the universe. Emerson had this advice for his readers: “Tell them to say Jehovah instead of Brahma.”

The British critic Matthew Arnold said the most important writings in English in the nineteenth century had been Wordsworth’s poems and Emerson’s essays. A great prose-poet, Emerson influenced a long line of American poets, including Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, and Robert Frost. He is also credited with influencing the philosophies of John Dewey, George Santayana, Friedrich Nietzsche, and William James.

Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)

Henry David Thoreau, of French and Scottish descent, was born in Concord and made it his permanent home. From a poor family, like Emerson, he worked his way through Harvard. Throughout his life, he reduced his needs to the simplest level and managed to live on very little money, thus maintaining his independence. In essence, he made living his career. A nonconformist, he attempted to live his life at all times according to his rigorous principles. This attempt was the subject of many of his writings.

Thoreau’s masterpiece,  Walden , or Life in the Woods (1854), is the result of two years, two months, and two days (from 1845 to 1847) he spent living in a cabin he built at Walden Pond on property owned by Emerson. In Walden , Thoreau consciously shapes this time into one year, and the book is carefully constructed so the seasons are subtly evoked in order. The book also is organized so that the simplest earthly concerns come first (in the section called “Economy,” he describes the expenses of building a cabin); by the ending, the book has progressed to meditations on the stars.

In  Walden , Thoreau, a lover of travel books and the author of several, gives us an anti-travel book that paradoxically opens the inner frontier of self-discovery as no American book had up to this time. As deceptively modest as Thoreau’s ascetic life, it is no less than a guide to living the classical ideal of the good life. Both poetry and philosophy, this long poetic essay challenges the reader to examine his or her life and live it authentically. The building of the cabin, described in great detail, is a concrete metaphor for the careful building of a soul. In his journal for January 30, 1852, Thoreau explains his preference for living rooted in one place: “I am afraid to travel much or to famous places, lest it might completely dissipate the mind.”

Thoreau’s method of retreat and concentration resembles Asian meditation techniques. The resemblance is not accidental: like Emerson and Whitman, he was influenced by Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. His most treasured possession was his library of Asian classics, which he shared with Emerson. His eclectic style draws on Greek and Latin classics and is crystalline, punning, and as richly metaphorical as the English metaphysical writers of the late Renaissance.

In Walden , Thoreau not only tests the theories of Transcendentalism, he reenacts the collective American experience of the nineteenth century: living on the frontier. Thoreau felt that his contribution would be to renew a sense of the wilderness in language. His journal has an undated entry from 1851:

English literature from the days of the minstrels to the Lake Poets, Chaucer and Spenser and Shakespeare and Milton included, breathes no quite fresh and in this sense, wild strain. It is an essentially tame and civilized literature, reflecting Greece and Rome. Her wilderness is a greenwood, her wildman a Robin Hood. There is plenty of genial love of nature in her poets, but not so much of nature herself. Her chronicles inform us when her wild animals, but not the wildman in her, became extinct. There was need of America.

Walden inspired William Butler Yeats, a passionate Irish nationalist, to write “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” while Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience,” with its theory of passive resistance based on the moral necessity for the just individual to disobey unjust laws, was an inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian independence movement and Martin Luther King’s struggle for black Americans’ civil rights in the twentieth century.

Thoreau is the most attractive of the Transcendentalists today because of his ecological consciousness, do-it-yourself independence, ethical commitment to abolitionism, and political theory of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance. His ideas are still fresh, and his incisive poetic style and habit of close observation are still modern.

Walt Whitman (1819–1892)

Born on Long Island, New York, Walt Whitman was a part-time carpenter and man of the people, whose brilliant, innovative work expressed the country’s democratic spirit. Whitman was largely self-taught; he left school at the age of 11 to go to work, missing the sort of traditional education that made most American authors respectful imitators of the English. His  Leaves of Grass (1855), which he rewrote and revised throughout his life, contains “Song of Myself,” the most stunningly original poem ever written by an American. The enthusiastic praise that Emerson and a few others heaped on this daring volume confirmed Whitman in his poetic vocation, although the book was not a popular success.

A visionary book celebrating all creation,  Leaves of Grass was inspired largely by Emerson’s writings, especially his essay “The Poet,” which predicted a robust, open-hearted, universal kind of poet uncannily like Whitman himself. The poem’s innovative, unrhymed, free-verse form, open celebration of sexuality, vibrant democratic sensibility, and extreme Romantic assertion that the poet’s self was one with the poem, the universe, and the reader permanently altered the course of American poetry.

Leaves of Grass is as vast, energetic, and natural as the American continent; it was the epic generations of American critics had been calling for, although they did not recognize it. Movement ripples through “Song of Myself” like restless music:

My ties and ballasts leave me . . . I skirt sierras, my palms cover continents I am afoot with my vision.

The poem bulges with myriad concrete sights and sounds. Whitman’s birds are not the conventional “winged spirits” of poetry. His “yellow-crown’d heron comes to the edge of the marsh at night and feeds upon small crabs.” Whitman seems to project himself into everything that he sees or imagines. He is mass man, “Voyaging to every port to dicker and adventure, / Hurrying with the modern crowd as eager and fickle as any.” But he is equally the suffering individual, “The mother of old, condemn’d for a witch, burnt with dry wood, her children gazing on….I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs….I am the mash’d fireman with breast-bone broken….”

More than any other writer, Whitman invented the myth of democratic America. “The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States is essentially the greatest poem.” When Whitman wrote this, he daringly turned upside down the general opinion that America was too brash and new to be poetic. He invented a timeless America of the free imagination, peopled with pioneering spirits of all nations. D.H. Lawrence, the British novelist and poet, accurately called him the poet of the “open road.”

Whitman’s greatness is visible in many of his poems, among them “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” a moving elegy on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Another important work is his long essay “Democratic Vistas” (1871), written during the unrestrained materialism of industrialism’s “Gilded Age.” In this essay, Whitman justly criticizes America for its “mighty, many-threaded wealth and industry” that mask an underlying “dry and flat Sahara” of soul. He calls for a new kind of literature to revive the American population (“Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does”). Yet ultimately, Whitman’s main claim to immortality lies in “Song of Myself.” Here he places the Romantic self at the center of the consciousness of the poem:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Whitman’s voice electrifies even modern readers with his proclamation of the unity and vital force of all creation. He was enormously innovative. From him spring the poem as autobiography, the American Everyman as bard, the reader as creator, and the still-contemporary discovery of “experimental,” or organic, form.

The Brahmin Poets

In their time, the Boston Brahmins (as the patrician, Harvard-educated class came to be called) supplied the most respected and genuinely cultivated literary arbiters of the United States. Their lives fitted a pleasant pattern of wealth and leisure directed by the strong New England work ethic and respect for learning.

In an earlier Puritan age, the Boston Brahmins would have been ministers; in the nineteenth century, they became professors, often at Harvard. Late in life they sometimes became ambassadors or received honorary degrees from European institutions. Most of them travelled or were educated in Europe: They were familiar with the ideas and books of Britain, Germany, and France, and often Italy and Spain. Upper class in background but democratic in sympathy, the Brahmin poets carried their genteel, European-oriented views to every section of the United States, through public lectures at the three thousand lyceums (centers for public lectures) and in the pages of two influential Boston magazines, the  North American Review and the Atlantic Monthly .

The writings of the Brahmin poets fused American and European traditions and sought to create a continuity of shared Atlantic experience. These scholar-poets attempted to educate and elevate the general populace by introducing a European dimension to American literature. Ironically, their overall effect was conservative. By insisting on European things and forms, they retarded the growth of a distinctive American consciousness. Well-meaning men, their conservative backgrounds blinded them to the daring innovativeness of Thoreau, Whitman (whom they refused to meet socially), and Edgar Allan Poe (whom even Emerson regarded as the “jingle man”). They were pillars of what was called the “genteel tradition” that three generations of American realists had to battle. Partly because of their benign but bland influence, it was almost one hundred years before the distinctive American genius of Whitman, Melville, Thoreau, and Poe was generally recognized in the United States.

Margaret Fuller (1810–1850)

Margaret Fuller, an outstanding essayist, was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From a modest financial background, she was educated at home by her father (women were not allowed to attend Harvard) and became a child prodigy in the classics and modern literatures. Her special passion was German Romantic literature, especially Goethe, whom she translated.

The first professional woman journalist of note in America, Fuller wrote influential book reviews and reports on social issues such as the treatment of women prisoners and the insane. Some of these essays were published in her book  Papers on Literature and Art (1846). A year earlier, she had her most significant book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century . It originally had appeared in the Transcendentalist magazine, The Dial , which she edited from 1840 to 1842.

Fuller’s  Woman in the Nineteenth Century is the earliest and most American exploration of women’s role in society. Often applying democratic and Transcendental principles, Fuller thoughtfully analyzes the numerous subtle causes and evil consequences of sexual discrimination and suggests positive steps to be taken. Many of her ideas are strikingly modern. She stresses the importance of “self-dependence,” which women lack because “they are taught to learn their rule from without, not to unfold it from within.”

Fuller is finally not a feminist so much as an activist and reformer dedicated to the cause of creative human freedom and dignity for all:

. . . Let us be wise and not impede the soul. . . . Let us have one creative energy. . . .Let it take what form it will, and let us not bind it by the past to man or woman, black or white.

Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)

Emily Dickinson is, in a sense, a link between her era and the literary sensitivities of the turn of the century. A radical individualist, she was born and spent her life in Amherst, Massachusetts, a small Calvinist village. She never married, and she led an unconventional life that was outwardly uneventful but was full of inner intensity. She loved nature and found deep inspiration in the birds, animals, plants, and changing seasons of the New England countryside.

Dickinson spent the latter part of her life as a recluse, due to an extremely sensitive psyche and possibly to make time for writing (for stretches of time she wrote about one poem a day). Her day also included homemaking for her attorney father, a prominent figure in Amherst who became a member of Congress.

Dickinson was not widely read, but knew the Bible, the works of William Shakespeare, and works of classical mythology in great depth. These were her true teachers, for Dickinson was certainly the most solitary literary figure of her time. That this shy, withdrawn, village woman, almost unpublished and unknown, created some of the greatest American poetry of the nineteenth century has fascinated the public since the 1950s, when her poetry was rediscovered.

Dickinson’s terse, frequently imagistic style is even more modern and innovative than Whitman’s. She never uses two words when one will do, and combines concrete things with abstract ideas in an almost proverbial, compressed style. Her best poems have no fat; many mock current sentimentality, and some are even heretical. She sometimes shows a terrifying existential awareness. Like Poe, she explores the dark and hidden part of the mind, dramatizing death and the grave. Yet she also celebrated simple objects – a flower, a bee. Her poetry exhibits great intelligence and often evokes the agonizing paradox of the limits of the human consciousness trapped in time. She had an excellent sense of humor, and her range of subjects and treatment is amazingly wide. Her poems are generally known by the numbers assigned them in Thomas H. Johnson’s standard edition of 1955. They bristle with odd capitalizations and dashes.

A nonconformist, like Thoreau she often reversed meanings of words and phrases and used paradox to great effect. From 435:

Much Madness is divinest sense – To a discerning Eye – Much Sense – the starkest Madness – ‘Tis the Majority In this, as All, prevail – Assent – and you are sane – Demur – you’re straightway dangerous And handled with a chain –

Her wit shines in the following poem (288), which ridicules ambition and public life:

I’m Nobody! Who are you? Are you – Nobody – Too? Then there’s a pair of us? Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know! How dreary – to be – Somebody! How public – like a Frog – To tell one’s name – the livelong June – To an admiring Bog!

Dickinson’s 1,775 poems continue to intrigue critics, who often disagree about them. Some stress her mystical side, some her sensitivity to nature; many note her odd, exotic appeal. One modern critic, R. P. Blackmur, comments that Dickinson’s poetry sometimes feels as if “a cat came at us speaking English.” Her clean, clear, chiseled poems are some of the most fascinating and challenging in American literature.

  • The Romantic Period, 1820-1860: Essayists and Poets. From Outline of American Literature. Authored by : Katherine VanSpanckeren. Located at : http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/ENGL405-1.1.1-The-Romantic-Period-1820-to-1860-Essayists-and-Poets.pdf . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright

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200, 300, 350, & 400 Word Essay on Romanticism with Examples in English

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200 Words Argumentative Essay on Romanticism in English

Romanticism is a complex and multifaceted movement that has lasting impacts on literature and art worldwide. It is a movement that began in the late 18th century and continued into the 19th century. It is characterized by a focus on emotions, individualism, and nature. It was a reaction to the Enlightenment and neoclassical ideals of rationality and order.

Romanticism was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and its effects on society. It was a celebration of the individual and a rejection of mechanization and commercialization. Romanticism saw nature as a refuge from modern artificiality and idealized the rural and the wilderness. Nature was seen as a source of inspiration, healing, and solace.

Romanticism also celebrated individualism and imagination. It encouraged people to explore their own feelings and emotions and express them creatively. It rejected the Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason and order, and instead embraced emotion and creativity. Romanticism also emphasized the power of the imagination to create new realities and shape the world.

Romanticism was a revolutionary and conservative movement. It was revolutionary in its rejection of traditional values and embrace of individualism and imagination. At the same time, it was conservative in its celebration of nature and rejection of the Industrial Revolution.

Romanticism profoundly affected literature and art. It is responsible for some of the greatest Romanticism literature works, such as William Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron. It also had a major influence on art development, with painters such as Caspar David Friedrich and J.M.W. Turner creating works that embraced romantic ideals of emotion, nature, and individualism.

Romanticism was a movement of remarkable complexity and diversity. It celebrated individualism and imagination, rejected modern mechanization, and embraced nature. It was a movement that had a lasting impact on literature and art and continues to influence our worldview today.

300 Words Descriptive Essay on Romanticism in English

Romanticism was a major literary, artistic, and philosophical movement that began in the late 18th century and lasted until the mid-19th century. It was a period of intense creativity and imagination. It was characterized by a focus on personal expression and emotion, a celebration of nature, and a belief in the power of the individual.

Romanticism was a reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Instead of relying on reason and logic, Romanticism embraced emotion, intuition, and imagination. It was a celebration of individual and personal expression. Writers, poets, and artists were encouraged to explore their innermost feelings and express them freely.

Romanticism also celebrated nature. The Romantics believed that nature was a source of beauty and inspiration, and they sought to capture its beauty in their works. They wrote about nature in a passionate and spiritual way, expressing their awe and reverence for the natural world.

Romanticism also believed in the individual’s power. Rather than accepting the status quo, the Romantics sought to challenge society’s norms and create their own paths. They believed in the power of the individual to make a difference and shape the world.

Romanticism influenced literature, art, and philosophy. Writers like Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats utilized the romantic style to explore their innermost feelings and express their love for nature. Artists like Turner and Constable used the same style to capture the natural world’s beauty. Philosophers like Rousseau and Schiller used the romantic style to express their ideas about the power of the individual and the importance of personal expression.

Romanticism has lasting effects on the world. Its focus on emotion, imagination, and nature has inspired generations of writers, artists, and philosophers. Its celebration of the individual is a source of hope and strength for those who challenge the status quo. Romanticism has been a powerful force in shaping the world, and it will continue to be a source of inspiration for many years to come.

350 Words Expository Essay on Romanticism in English

Romanticism is an artistic and intellectual movement that began in the late 18th century and has had lasting impacts on literature, art, and culture. It was a reaction to the Enlightenment, which saw reason and science as the only valid forms of knowledge. The Romantics sought to focus on emotion, passion, and intuition as valid forms of knowledge and celebrate the power of the individual.

Romanticism emphasizes emotion, imagination, and individualism. It is associated with a deep appreciation for nature and a belief in the power of the individual to create art and beauty. It was a reaction to the Enlightenment’s rationalism, which sought to explain the natural world through science and reason.

Romanticism is often associated with the arts, particularly literature and music. Writers such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were some of the most influential figures in the Romantic era. Their poetry is still widely read and studied today. Similarly, composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert wrote works profoundly influenced by the Romantic spirit.

Romanticism also had a profound effect on visual art, with painters such as Eugene Delacroix and Caspar David Friedrich creating works inspired by Romantic ideals. These works often featured nature scenes and sought to evoke awe and wonder.

Romanticism is also associated with social and political movements, such as the French Revolution and slavery abolition. The Romantics saw these movements as a sign of hope and progress and sought to contribute to them through their art and writing.

In conclusion, Romanticism was a movement that had a profound impact on the arts, literature, and culture. It was a reaction to the Enlightenment and its focus on reason and science and sought to emphasize emotion, imagination, and individualism. The works of Romantic writers, painters, and musicians are still widely read and studied today, and their influence can be seen in many aspects of modern culture.

400 Words Persuasive Essay on Romanticism in English

Romanticism is a movement that deeply influences literature, music, and art throughout the centuries. It is an aesthetic sensibility that emphasizes the beauty and power of emotion, imagination, and nature. It is a passionate, emotive, and revolutionary style of art and expression.

Romanticism is a vital movement to understand to appreciate the literature, music, and art of the period. It is a style of writing characterized by personal experience and emotion. It is a reaction to the Enlightenment’s rationalism and the emphasis on reason and logic in the period’s work. Romanticism is a rebellion against the limits of the established order and a celebration of individualism and the potential of the human spirit.

Romanticism also emphasizes nature’s beauty and power. Nature is a source of inspiration and healing. This idea of nature as a source of solace and comfort can be observed in Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and John Keats. Nature is seen as a reflection of the divine and a source of spiritual renewal.

Romanticism also focuses on the supernatural and the spiritual. It is an aesthetic that emphasizes the idea of the sublime, which is an experience of awe and wonder in the face of the infinite. This idea of the sublime can be seen in the work of Romantic painters such as Caspar David Friedrich and J.M.W. Turner.

Romanticism is an aesthetic sensibility that emphasizes emotion, imagination, and nature. It is a passionate, emotive, and revolutionary style of art and expression. It is a vital movement to understand to appreciate the period’s literature, music, and art. It is a rebellion against the limits of the established order and a celebration of individualism and the potential of the human spirit.

It is a source of solace, comfort, and spiritual renewal. It is an aesthetic that emphasizes the sublime, and it is an experience of awe and wonder in the face of the infinite. Romanticism is a movement that has deeply influenced literature, music, and art throughout the centuries, and it is still relevant today.

Romanticism and Art Characteristics

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that emerged in the late 18th century and reached its peak during the 19th century. It was a reaction to the Enlightenment’s rationalism and order, emphasizing emotion, individualism, and nature. Romanticism greatly influenced various art forms, including painting, literature, music, and sculpture. Here are some key characteristics of Romanticism in art:

  • Emotion and Expression: Romantic artists sought to evoke deep emotions and feelings through their work. They aimed to move the viewer or audience emotionally, often focusing on themes such as love, passion, awe, fear, and nostalgia.
  • Individualism: Romantic artists celebrated the individual and emphasized the uniqueness of each person’s experiences and emotions. They often depicted heroic figures, outcasts, or individuals in moments of intense personal contemplation.
  • Nature: Nature played a significant role in Romantic art. Artists were fascinated by the beauty and power of the natural world, portraying landscapes, storms, mountains, and wild environments to evoke a sense of the sublime and the awe-inspiring.
  • Imagination and Fantasy: Romantic artists embraced the power of imagination and fantasy. They explored dreamlike and surreal scenes, mythological themes, and supernatural elements to create an otherworldly atmosphere.
  • Medievalism and Nostalgia: Many Romantic artists drew inspiration from medieval art and literature, seeing it as a time of heroism and chivalry. This longing for the past and a sense of nostalgia can be seen in their works.
  • Nationalism and Patriotism: In a time of political and social upheaval, Romantic artists often expressed a strong sense of national identity and pride in their works. They celebrated their native cultures, folklore, and history.
  • Exoticism: As travel and exploration expanded during the 19th century, Romantic artists became intrigued by foreign lands and cultures. This fascination with the exotic is evident in some of their works.
  • Symbolism and Allegory: Romantic artists frequently used symbols and allegorical elements to convey deeper meanings and hidden messages in their artworks.
  • Introspection and the Sublime: The Romantic movement encouraged introspection and contemplation of the human condition. They explored themes related to the human psyche, the sublime, and the vastness of the universe.
  • Emotional Intensity and Drama: Romantic artists often depicted dramatic and emotionally charged scenes, creating a sense of tension and intensity in their works.

Notable Romantic artists include J.M.W. Turner, Caspar David Friedrich, Francisco Goya, Eugène Delacroix, and William Blake. These artists, along with many others, left a profound impact on art development during the Romantic period.

Romanticism Examples

Certainly! Here are some notable examples of Romanticism in various art forms:

  • “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich: This iconic painting portrays a lone figure standing on a rocky precipice, gazing into a misty landscape, symbolizing the Romantic fascination with nature’s vastness and the individual’s contemplation.
  • “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix: This painting depicts a powerful and allegorical figure of Liberty leading the people during the July Revolution of 1830 in France. It represents the Romantic themes of liberty, nationalism, and political upheaval.
  • “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley: This Gothic novel, published in 1818, explores themes of science, creation, and the consequences of playing god, while also delving into the complexities of human emotions and the darker aspects of human nature.
  • “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë: A classic novel known for its passionate and intense depiction of love and revenge, set against the backdrop of the desolate and wild Yorkshire moors.
  • “Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125” (commonly known as “Choral Symphony”) by Ludwig van Beethoven: This monumental symphony is known for its final movement, featuring the “Ode to Joy,” expressing the ideals of universal brotherhood and joy, reflecting the Romantic emphasis on emotions and humanity.
  • “Nocturnes” by Frédéric Chopin: Chopin’s compositions, particularly his Nocturnes, are famous for their lyrical, emotional, and introspective qualities, capturing the essence of Romanticism in music.
  • “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats: This poem explores themes of mortality, escape, and the beauty of nature, showcasing the Romantic fascination with the natural world and the expression of intense emotions.
  • “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe: This Gothic poem is a haunting exploration of grief, loss, and the macabre, illustrating the darker side of Romanticism.

These examples provide a glimpse into Romanticism’s diversity and richness across different art forms. Each contributes to the movement’s lasting impact on the 19th-century cultural and artistic landscape.

Why is it called the Romantic period?

The term “Romantic period” or “Romanticism” refers to the artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that emerged in the late 18th century and reached its peak during the 19th century. The movement was given this name because of its association with the concept of “romance,” which, in this context, doesn’t refer to love stories as we commonly understand it today.

The word “romance” in this context has its roots in ancient literature, where “romances” were tales of heroism, chivalry, and adventure. Medieval romances focused on individual experiences, emotions, and wonderment. The Romantic movement drew inspiration from these medieval romances and embraced similar themes. However, it expanded them to include a broader range of emotions and experiences.

During the Romantic period, artists, writers, and intellectuals sought to break away from the rationalism and order of the Enlightenment era that came before it. They emphasized the importance of emotion, imagination, individualism, and nature in contrast to the Enlightenment’s focus on reason, science, and societal conventions.

As the movement gained momentum, critics and scholars called it “Romanticism” to capture its association with romance, individualism, and emotional expression. The term “Romantic period” has since become the standard way to describe this influential artistic and intellectual movement that left a profound impact on Western culture and shaped literature, art, and philosophy for years to come.

Romanticism Summary

Romanticism was a cultural, artistic, and intellectual movement that emerged in the late 18th century and flourished during the 19th century. It was a reaction to the Enlightenment’s rationalism and order, emphasizing emotion, individualism, nature, and imagination. Here’s a summary of Romanticism:

  • Emphasis on Emotion: Romanticism celebrated intense emotions and emotional expression. Artists, writers, and musicians sought to evoke deep feelings and moved away from the restrained and rational approach of the previous era.
  • Individualism: Romanticism celebrated the uniqueness and importance of the individual. It focused on the inner world of the human psyche and the expression of personal experiences and emotions.
  • Nature as a Source of Inspiration: Nature played a significant role in Romantic art and literature. Artists were captivated by the beauty, power, and mystery of the natural world, portraying landscapes and elements of nature to evoke a sense of awe and the sublime.
  • Imagination and Fantasy: Romantic artists embraced the power of imagination and explored fantastical and dreamlike elements in their works. They drew inspiration from myths, legends, and the supernatural, creating otherworldly and imaginative atmospheres.
  • Nationalism and Patriotism: In a time of political and social change, Romanticism fostered a sense of national identity and pride. Artists celebrated their native cultures, folklore, and history.
  • Medievalism and Nostalgia: Romantic artists looked back to the medieval era with a sense of nostalgia, seeing it as a time of heroism, chivalry, and simpler, more authentic values.
  • Symbolism and Allegory: Romantic artists often used symbols and allegorical elements to convey deeper meanings and messages in their artworks.
  • Rejection of Industrialization: With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, many Romantic thinkers criticized the negative impact of industrialization on nature, society, and the human spirit.
  • Contemplation of the Sublime: Romanticism explored the concept of the sublime—the overwhelming and awe-inspiring aspects of nature and human experience, which could be both beautiful and terrifying.
  • Interest in the Exotic: As travel expanded, Romantic artists were intrigued by foreign lands and cultures, and this fascination with the exotic is evident in their works.

The Romantic period produced some of the most influential and enduring works in literature, art, music, and philosophy. It challenged conventional norms and encouraged a more profound exploration of the human experience. This left a lasting impact on Western culture and artistic movements.

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Literary Theory and Criticism

Home › Literary Terms and Techniques › The Sublime

The Sublime

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on February 16, 2021 • ( 2 )

The sublime is a central category of aesthetics in romanticism. It was a major topic of aesthetic theory in the 18th century, especially in England and Germany, but its inauguration as a topic was due to the translation by Nicolas Boileau (1636– 1711) of Longinus’s third-century treatise Peri Hypsos (Of elevation) into French in 1674. The word sublime is Boileau’s translation of Longinus ’s height, or elevation, and it stuck.

The beautiful had been a perennial object of aesthetic and philosophical interest, from Plato onward. But the sublime is something different, and what that difference is was interesting, first of all, to Longinus, then to Boileau, and then to the 18th-century theorists and philosophers (Edmund Burke, Hugh Blair, Immanuel Kant, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel especially) and the 19th-century poets who followed them. Boileau coined the famous phrase “je ne sais quoi” (literally, “I do not know”) to describe what made something sublime—something powerful, perhaps overwhelmingly so, but not conformable to some preexistent category, like that by which we think of beauty as harmonious (for example).

romanticism summary essay

We have to distinguish between two aspects of the sublime in order to see what was novel about the modern account of it. Longinus’s treatise was about style in writing. He collected and considered passages that filled the soul with exaltation (the “elevation” of his title), passages which might interrupt the reader’s unfolding experience of the work in which they appeared to stand alone in their power. For Longinus, such passages characterized Homer especially, as in Ajax’s great prayer for light in the Iliad after the gods have suddenly blinded them with mist and darkness: “O father Zeus—draw our armies clear of the cloud, / give us a bright sky, give us back our sight! / Kill us all in the light of day at least” (17.645, translated by Fagles, treated by Longinus at 9.9). It is not for life but light that Ajax prays; Longinus compares this passage to the opening of the Book of Genesis and the creation of light as the first of things. The sublime is not a question of language, though it may be, but of greatness of soul, and so Longinus writes that “the silence of Ajax in the Underworld is great and more sublime than words” when Ajax turns away from Odysseus in the Odyssey (11.543). One definition Longinus gives, therefore, is that “Sublimity is the echo of a great soul” (9.2), and it finds an echo in its perceiver, as can be seen by how even the father of the gods, Zeus, responds to Ajax’s prayer for light, “So he prayed / and the Father filled with pity, seeing Ajax weep, / He dispelled the mist at once.” ( Iliad 17.728–730, Fagles translation) For this reason, the central hallmark of the experience of the literary sublime, and the insight most quoted from Longinus, is that it is “as if instinctively, our soul is uplifted by the true sublime; it takes a proud flight, and is filled with joy and vaunting, as though it had itself produced what it has heard” (7.2).

That elevation of soul is what obsessed the modern theorists and poets. It was an elevation that Longinus ascribed to the power of writing—that is, to the description of the world and the people in it—but that the moderns ascribed to the power of the world itself, as well as to that of writing. Ajax’s silence would be sublime in reality as well as in Homer’s invention of it. Light itself was sublime. Alexander Pope famously said that Longinus was the great sublime he drew, the critic inspired with a poet’s fire by all the muses ( Essay on Criticism , 3.675–680), a description which captures both the sense of the sublime as occurring in exalted response to what is perceived and the idea that what can be perceived is an object in the real world—Longinus himself and not just the purely textual literature that exalts its readers.

The turn to the natural sublime characterized its 18th-century theorists, most importantly Edmund Burke (1729–97). His Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) carefully distinguished between the two terms and between the aesthetic responses they elicited. The beautiful, according to Burke, produces pleasure pure and simple. The pleasure is one of the perception of harmonies. The mind perceives beautiful objects in a way that does not cause anxiety but, rather, allows it to use its faculties serenely and naturally. Beauty is a matter of smoothness, proportion, and gradation.

The sublime, on the other hand, does not procure pleasure but delight . Delight is, for Burke, by no means a synonym for pleasure. Although it is more intense than pleasure (in common parlance as well), that intensity comes from the fact that the sublime is associated with pain, danger, and anxiety, but not pleasure. The experience of the sublime is one of intense relief. It is associated with scenes like those of the Alps or the Grand Canyon because our first, instinctive response is one of fear. We perceive altitudes or depths that could kill us; then we recall that our vantage point is one of comparative safety—they could kill us, but they will not. Delight is the exalting relief that we feel: We have been overwhelmed with some vehement negative passion, and we have recovered. The thrill of the sublime is that of danger courted and overcome. It is not a positive pleasure but a more intense and delighting experience of danger survived.

The sublime is therefore associated with obscurity, fear, uncertainty, speed, and similar experiences. But how does it work in literature? For Burke, sublime literature first of all depicts scenes of sublimity and therefore shows the way (in Longinus’s terms) in which the writer’s soul has been exalted by what he or she has seen or imagined. But in a fascinating coda to the book, a section called “How Words Influence the Passions,” Longinus talks about how literature can be the origin of the sublime and not only its recorder. There is a kind of literature that defeats the reader’s imagination and threatens the psyche’s self-confidence, much as sublime natural phenomena do. For Burke, the great English writer of the sublime was John Milton, who could turn a natural description into a sublime one through the sudden and overwhelming force of his language, which defeats the r epresentational abilities of his readers but not their cognitive abilities. Burke’s example of the type of transformation that Milton makes his language undergo is a profound one: “To represent an angel in a picture, you can only draw a beautiful young man winged: but what painting can furnish out anything so grand as the addition of one word, ‘the angel of the Lord’?” Painting cannot do it, but literature can fill one with the exaltation of the unrepresentable.

Burke’s idea of the sublime overshadows the great philosophical treatment that the German philosopher Immanuel Kant gave it in The Critique of Judgment (1790). For Kant, too, the beautiful is harmonious, in particular in harmony with the mind’s perceptive faculties. But the sublime defeats those faculties, and Kant described it as occurring in a double movement. We perceive something that exceeds our powers of sensory intuition or imitative representation. We are blocked and baffled and suddenly feel ourselves to be as nothing compared to the natural world. From this sense of being overwhelmed, the mind shifts to its transcendental aspirations, its fundamental commitment not to the “empirical world” where we are very little, but to the world of our imagination, which transcends the empirical and in which our minds participate. We are awestruck by the unmeasurable power of some object in the outside world, but we have the inner resources to measure absolute magnitude or power. The world may be bewilderingly large, but it is finite; the mind can conceive of the infinite, which is its proper home. Thus, as William Wordsworth said, “Our destiny, our nature, and our home, / Is with infinitude—and only there” ( The Prelude , 1805 version, book 6, ll. 538–539) in a passage that describes his response to an experience of blockage, of being caught in a mist in his writing, much like the mist that Ajax prayed to Zeus to dissipate.

The sublime in nature sends the mind back to its own “supersensible destiny,” as Kant called it, and shows how we transcend the world that seems to trap us. The loss of power within the world leads to a gain of power in our relation to the world. This is the central and perennial theme of romanticism, to be found in all of Wordsworth’s and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s great philosophical poetry; in Percy Bysshe Shelley; and in their greatest Victorian followers, especially Robert Browning and, in America, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. Loss leads to a perception of intensity, and that perception is what gives rise to poetry, both in the poet writing it and in the reader reading it. The intensity of the romantic sublime and its precursors, especially Milton, is one of the greatest glories of English literature.

Bibliography Bloom, Harold. Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Burke, Edmund. Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968. De Bolla, Peter. The Discourse of the Sublime: Readings in History, Aesthetics, and the Subject. New York: Blackwell, 1989. De Man, Paul. The Rhetoric of Romanticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. Hartman, Geoffrey. Wordsworth’s Poetry, 1787–1814. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1971. Hertz, Neil. The End of the Line: Essays on Psychoanalysis and the Sublime. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Hegel, G. W. F. Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. 2 vols. Translated by T. M. Knox. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974–75. Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgment. Translated by Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 1987. Monk, Samuel Holt. The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII-Century England. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960. Weiskel, Thomas. The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

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Watch CBS News

Fulton County D.A.'s office disputes new Trump claims about Fani Willis' relationship with her deputy Nathan Wade

By Daniel Klaidman

Updated on: February 24, 2024 / 1:41 AM EST / CBS News

The Fulton County District Attorney's office filed a response Friday to an analysis filed by former President Donald Trump's lawyers of phone records that purport to raise questions about the timeline D.A. Fani Willis gave regarding when her relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade began. 

Trump's attorneys filed an analysis Friday of cellphone data that allegedly belongs to Wade as part of their motion to disqualify D.A. Fani Willis and her office from prosecuting the Trump 2020 Georgia election interference case . The defense team seeks to use the data to show that Wade was at the condominium where Willis was living late at night and well into the early morning hours on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12, 2021, and Nov. 29 and Nov. 30 of that same year. Willis acknowledged the romantic relationship in court papers, and both Wade and Willis testified under oath last week that their romantic relationship did not begin until early 2022, after Willis hired Wade to work on the Georgia election case. 

A source close to Willis said lawyers in her office are trying to challenge the interpretation of the data filed by Trump's lawyers. If the data analysis is proven to be accurate, it might serve as powerful evidence that Wade and Willis misled the court about when their relationship began.  

In Willis' filing, the district attorney objected to the defense's document and requested that the court exclude the data, arguing that it "contains both 2 telephone records that have not been admitted into evidence and an affidavit and other documents containing unqualified opinion evidence." Willis said in the filing that Trump had not provided enough written notice to the court or a summary of its "purported expert's testimony" and offered no information on the witness' qualifications to serve as an expert witness.  

Willis also asserted that the phone records themselves had not been authenticated and contended that the records "do not prove, in any way, the content of the communications between Special Prosecutor Wade and District Attorney Willis." They don't prove that the two "were ever in the same place during any of the times listed," she wrote, and she also stated that "on multiple relevant dates and times, evidence clearly demonstrates that District Attorney Willis was elsewhere, including at work at the Fulton County District Attorney's Office" and visiting "three crime scenes." 

The Trump team's analysis was conducted by a private investigator who used a geofencing analytics tool called CellHawk, which the investigator called the "gold standard" in cellphone records analysis. 

Defense lawyers in the case have been trying to prove that Willis entered into a corrupt bargain with Wade during their romantic relationship to place him on the prosecution team, pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars, so that the two of them could benefit financially. 

On Friday, lawyers for the D.A.'s office were trying to find their own expert witnesses who would be able to counter what the Trump lawyers have asserted, according to the source. Their hope is to be able to file a response as early as Friday or this weekend.  

"The interpretation of the data is not what you think it is," the source told CBS News. 

Lawyers for the D.A.'s office are not expected to claim that Wade did not visit the condo on multiple occasions — indeed both Wade and Willis have testified that Willis was there as many as 10 times — but they will maintain that the relationship had not developed into a romance during that period.  

The source also says that it was not uncommon for Willis to hold work meetings at the condo. Wade wasn't working in the D.A.'s office until November of 2021, but the source says he was part of her "kitchen cabinet" before that. In one meeting, according to the source, Wade was involved in discussions about the Atlanta spa shooting case in which eight people were allegedly shot to death by a disturbed 21-year old gunman. 

At the end of the two-day hearing last week, Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee questioned defense lawyers on whether they had any other witnesses or evidence they planned to introduce. Only Trump's lawyer, Steven Sadow, did. He informed McAfee that the defense had obtained cellphone records that he wanted to make part of the record. The records, he indicated, related to his questioning of Wade about visits to the condo and said they dealt with the period between February and November 2021.  

"Based on our preliminary research," Sadow said, "we'd like to re-open and be able to introduce the records and someone to explain what they mean." 

Judge McAfee was noncommittal. But should the D.A.'s office further respond with evidence that counters the cellphone data introduced by Sadow, McAfee could extend the evidentiary hearing, rather than proceed immediately to closing arguments, which are currently scheduled for March 1.

Should that happen, the two sides will argue over the reliability of the data and whose interpretation is correct. But the critical question, which could determine Willis' fate in the case, is whether the judge believes the Fulton County D.A. misled the court, legal experts say.  

Willis' most ardent defenders are continuing to rally to her side. In an interview with CBS News, Norman Eisen, a lawyer and former Obama administration ethics czar, questioned the reliability of cellphone data and the defense tactics.  

"This kind of data is unreliable, as shown by a similar failed effort in the 2020 Mules case," Eisen said, referring to a case that involved false claims made by election deniers in 2020 to use drop boxes to commit voter fraud. Moreover, Eisen said that the issue should have been raised earlier "when it could have been tested," by Willis' lawyers. Still, Eisen acknowledged that "as a general matter judges always care about the honesty of those appearing before them," before noting that in this case the defense is "attempting to cross a bridge too far – and one that rests on shaky foundations."    

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  • Published: 19 February 2024

Genomic data in the All of Us Research Program

The all of us research program genomics investigators.

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  • Genetic variation
  • Genome-wide association studies

Comprehensively mapping the genetic basis of human disease across diverse individuals is a long-standing goal for the field of human genetics 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 . The All of Us Research Program is a longitudinal cohort study aiming to enrol a diverse group of at least one million individuals across the USA to accelerate biomedical research and improve human health 5 , 6 . Here we describe the programme’s genomics data release of 245,388 clinical-grade genome sequences. This resource is unique in its diversity as 77% of participants are from communities that are historically under-represented in biomedical research and 46% are individuals from under-represented racial and ethnic minorities. All of Us identified more than 1 billion genetic variants, including more than 275 million previously unreported genetic variants, more than 3.9 million of which had coding consequences. Leveraging linkage between genomic data and the longitudinal electronic health record, we evaluated 3,724 genetic variants associated with 117 diseases and found high replication rates across both participants of European ancestry and participants of African ancestry. Summary-level data are publicly available, and individual-level data can be accessed by researchers through the All of Us Researcher Workbench using a unique data passport model with a median time from initial researcher registration to data access of 29 hours. We anticipate that this diverse dataset will advance the promise of genomic medicine for all.

Comprehensively identifying genetic variation and cataloguing its contribution to health and disease, in conjunction with environmental and lifestyle factors, is a central goal of human health research 1 , 2 . A key limitation in efforts to build this catalogue has been the historic under-representation of large subsets of individuals in biomedical research including individuals from diverse ancestries, individuals with disabilities and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds 3 , 4 . The All of Us Research Program (All of Us) aims to address this gap by enrolling and collecting comprehensive health data on at least one million individuals who reflect the diversity across the USA 5 , 6 . An essential component of All of Us is the generation of whole-genome sequence (WGS) and genotyping data on one million participants. All of Us is committed to making this dataset broadly useful—not only by democratizing access to this dataset across the scientific community but also to return value to the participants themselves by returning individual DNA results, such as genetic ancestry, hereditary disease risk and pharmacogenetics according to clinical standards, to those who wish to receive these research results.

Here we describe the release of WGS data from 245,388 All of Us participants and demonstrate the impact of this high-quality data in genetic and health studies. We carried out a series of data harmonization and quality control (QC) procedures and conducted analyses characterizing the properties of the dataset including genetic ancestry and relatedness. We validated the data by replicating well-established genotype–phenotype associations including low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and 117 additional diseases. These data are available through the All of Us Researcher Workbench, a cloud platform that embodies and enables programme priorities, facilitating equitable data and compute access while ensuring responsible conduct of research and protecting participant privacy through a passport data access model.

The All of Us Research Program

To accelerate health research, All of Us is committed to curating and releasing research data early and often 6 . Less than five years after national enrolment began in 2018, this fifth data release includes data from more than 413,000 All of Us participants. Summary data are made available through a public Data Browser, and individual-level participant data are made available to researchers through the Researcher Workbench (Fig. 1a and Data availability).

figure 1

a , The All of Us Research Hub contains a publicly accessible Data Browser for exploration of summary phenotypic and genomic data. The Researcher Workbench is a secure cloud-based environment of participant-level data in a Controlled Tier that is widely accessible to researchers. b , All of Us participants have rich phenotype data from a combination of physical measurements, survey responses, EHRs, wearables and genomic data. Dots indicate the presence of the specific data type for the given number of participants. c , Overall summary of participants under-represented in biomedical research (UBR) with data available in the Controlled Tier. The All of Us logo in a is reproduced with permission of the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program.

Participant data include a rich combination of phenotypic and genomic data (Fig. 1b ). Participants are asked to complete consent for research use of data, sharing of electronic health records (EHRs), donation of biospecimens (blood or saliva, and urine), in-person provision of physical measurements (height, weight and blood pressure) and surveys initially covering demographics, lifestyle and overall health 7 . Participants are also consented for recontact. EHR data, harmonized using the Observational Medical Outcomes Partnership Common Data Model 8 ( Methods ), are available for more than 287,000 participants (69.42%) from more than 50 health care provider organizations. The EHR dataset is longitudinal, with a quarter of participants having 10 years of EHR data (Extended Data Fig. 1 ). Data include 245,388 WGSs and genome-wide genotyping on 312,925 participants. Sequenced and genotyped individuals in this data release were not prioritized on the basis of any clinical or phenotypic feature. Notably, 99% of participants with WGS data also have survey data and physical measurements, and 84% also have EHR data. In this data release, 77% of individuals with genomic data identify with groups historically under-represented in biomedical research, including 46% who self-identify with a racial or ethnic minority group (Fig. 1c , Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Note ).

Scaling the All of Us infrastructure

The genomic dataset generated from All of Us participants is a resource for research and discovery and serves as the basis for return of individual health-related DNA results to participants. Consequently, the US Food and Drug Administration determined that All of Us met the criteria for a significant risk device study. As such, the entire All of Us genomics effort from sample acquisition to sequencing meets clinical laboratory standards 9 .

All of Us participants were recruited through a national network of partners, starting in 2018, as previously described 5 . Participants may enrol through All of Us - funded health care provider organizations or direct volunteer pathways and all biospecimens, including blood and saliva, are sent to the central All of Us Biobank for processing and storage. Genomics data for this release were generated from blood-derived DNA. The programme began return of actionable genomic results in December 2022. As of April 2023, approximately 51,000 individuals were sent notifications asking whether they wanted to view their results, and approximately half have accepted. Return continues on an ongoing basis.

The All of Us Data and Research Center maintains all participant information and biospecimen ID linkage to ensure that participant confidentiality and coded identifiers (participant and aliquot level) are used to track each sample through the All of Us genomics workflow. This workflow facilitates weekly automated aliquot and plating requests to the Biobank, supplies relevant metadata for the sample shipments to the Genome Centers, and contains a feedback loop to inform action on samples that fail QC at any stage. Further, the consent status of each participant is checked before sample shipment to confirm that they are still active. Although all participants with genomic data are consented for the same general research use category, the programme accommodates different preferences for the return of genomic data to participants and only data for those individuals who have consented for return of individual health-related DNA results are distributed to the All of Us Clinical Validation Labs for further evaluation and health-related clinical reporting. All participants in All of Us that choose to get health-related DNA results have the option to schedule a genetic counselling appointment to discuss their results. Individuals with positive findings who choose to obtain results are required to schedule an appointment with a genetic counsellor to receive those findings.

Genome sequencing

To satisfy the requirements for clinical accuracy, precision and consistency across DNA sample extraction and sequencing, the All of Us Genome Centers and Biobank harmonized laboratory protocols, established standard QC methodologies and metrics, and conducted a series of validation experiments using previously characterized clinical samples and commercially available reference standards 9 . Briefly, PCR-free barcoded WGS libraries were constructed with the Illumina Kapa HyperPrep kit. Libraries were pooled and sequenced on the Illumina NovaSeq 6000 instrument. After demultiplexing, initial QC analysis is performed with the Illumina DRAGEN pipeline (Supplementary Table 2 ) leveraging lane, library, flow cell, barcode and sample level metrics as well as assessing contamination, mapping quality and concordance to genotyping array data independently processed from a different aliquot of DNA. The Genome Centers use these metrics to determine whether each sample meets programme specifications and then submits sequencing data to the Data and Research Center for further QC, joint calling and distribution to the research community ( Methods ).

This effort to harmonize sequencing methods, multi-level QC and use of identical data processing protocols mitigated the variability in sequencing location and protocols that often leads to batch effects in large genomic datasets 9 . As a result, the data are not only of clinical-grade quality, but also consistent in coverage (≥30× mean) and uniformity across Genome Centers (Supplementary Figs. 1 – 5 ).

Joint calling and variant discovery

We carried out joint calling across the entire All of Us WGS dataset (Extended Data Fig. 2 ). Joint calling leverages information across samples to prune artefact variants, which increases sensitivity, and enables flagging samples with potential issues that were missed during single-sample QC 10 (Supplementary Table 3 ). Scaling conventional approaches to whole-genome joint calling beyond 50,000 individuals is a notable computational challenge 11 , 12 . To address this, we developed a new cloud variant storage solution, the Genomic Variant Store (GVS), which is based on a schema designed for querying and rendering variants in which the variants are stored in GVS and rendered to an analysable variant file, as opposed to the variant file being the primary storage mechanism (Code availability). We carried out QC on the joint call set on the basis of the approach developed for gnomAD 3.1 (ref.  13 ). This included flagging samples with outlying values in eight metrics (Supplementary Table 4 , Supplementary Fig. 2 and Methods ).

To calculate the sensitivity and precision of the joint call dataset, we included four well-characterized samples. We sequenced the National Institute of Standards and Technology reference materials (DNA samples) from the Genome in a Bottle consortium 13 and carried out variant calling as described above. We used the corresponding published set of variant calls for each sample as the ground truth in our sensitivity and precision calculations 14 . The overall sensitivity for single-nucleotide variants was over 98.7% and precision was more than 99.9%. For short insertions or deletions, the sensitivity was over 97% and precision was more than 99.6% (Supplementary Table 5 and Methods ).

The joint call set included more than 1 billion genetic variants. We annotated the joint call dataset on the basis of functional annotation (for example, gene symbol and protein change) using Illumina Nirvana 15 . We defined coding variants as those inducing an amino acid change on a canonical ENSEMBL transcript and found 272,051,104 non-coding and 3,913,722 coding variants that have not been described previously in dbSNP 16 v153 (Extended Data Table 1 ). A total of 3,912,832 (99.98%) of the coding variants are rare (allelic frequency < 0.01) and the remaining 883 (0.02%) are common (allelic frequency > 0.01). Of the coding variants, 454 (0.01%) are common in one or more of the non-European computed ancestries in All of Us, rare among participants of European ancestry, and have an allelic number greater than 1,000 (Extended Data Table 2 and Extended Data Fig. 3 ). The distributions of pathogenic, or likely pathogenic, ClinVar variant counts per participant, stratified by computed ancestry, filtered to only those variants that are found in individuals with an allele count of <40 are shown in Extended Data Fig. 4 . The potential medical implications of these known and new variants with respect to variant pathogenicity by ancestry are highlighted in a companion paper 17 . In particular, we find that the European ancestry subset has the highest rate of pathogenic variation (2.1%), which was twice the rate of pathogenic variation in individuals of East Asian ancestry 17 .The lower frequency of variants in East Asian individuals may be partially explained by the fact the sample size in that group is small and there may be knowledge bias in the variant databases that is reducing the number of findings in some of the less-studied ancestry groups.

Genetic ancestry and relatedness

Genetic ancestry inference confirmed that 51.1% of the All of Us WGS dataset is derived from individuals of non-European ancestry. Briefly, the ancestry categories are based on the same labels used in gnomAD 18 . We trained a classifier on a 16-dimensional principal component analysis (PCA) space of a diverse reference based on 3,202 samples and 151,159 autosomal single-nucleotide polymorphisms. We projected the All of Us samples into the PCA space of the training data, based on the same single-nucleotide polymorphisms from the WGS data, and generated categorical ancestry predictions from the trained classifier ( Methods ). Continuous genetic ancestry fractions for All of Us samples were inferred using the same PCA data, and participants’ patterns of ancestry and admixture were compared to their self-identified race and ethnicity (Fig. 2 and Methods ). Continuous ancestry inference carried out using genome-wide genotypes yields highly concordant estimates.

figure 2

a , b , Uniform manifold approximation and projection (UMAP) representations of All of Us WGS PCA data with self-described race ( a ) and ethnicity ( b ) labels. c , Proportion of genetic ancestry per individual in six distinct and coherent ancestry groups defined by Human Genome Diversity Project and 1000 Genomes samples.

Kinship estimation confirmed that All of Us WGS data consist largely of unrelated individuals with about 85% (215,107) having no first- or second-degree relatives in the dataset (Supplementary Fig. 6 ). As many genomic analyses leverage unrelated individuals, we identified the smallest set of samples that are required to be removed from the remaining individuals that had first- or second-degree relatives and retained one individual from each kindred. This procedure yielded a maximal independent set of 231,442 individuals (about 94%) with genome sequence data in the current release ( Methods ).

Genetic determinants of LDL-C

As a measure of data quality and utility, we carried out a single-variant genome-wide association study (GWAS) for LDL-C, a trait with well-established genomic architecture ( Methods ). Of the 245,388 WGS participants, 91,749 had one or more LDL-C measurements. The All of Us LDL-C GWAS identified 20 well-established genome-wide significant loci, with minimal genomic inflation (Fig. 3 , Extended Data Table 3 and Supplementary Fig. 7 ). We compared the results to those of a recent multi-ethnic LDL-C GWAS in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) TOPMed study that included 66,329 ancestrally diverse (56% non-European ancestry) individuals 19 . We found a strong correlation between the effect estimates for NHLBI TOPMed genome-wide significant loci and those of All of Us ( R 2  = 0.98, P  < 1.61 × 10 −45 ; Fig. 3 , inset). Notably, the per-locus effect sizes observed in All of Us are decreased compared to those in TOPMed, which is in part due to differences in the underlying statistical model, differences in the ancestral composition of these datasets and differences in laboratory value ascertainment between EHR-derived data and epidemiology studies. A companion manuscript extended this work to identify common and rare genetic associations for three diseases (atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes) and two quantitative traits (height and LDL-C) in the All of Us dataset and identified very high concordance with previous efforts across all of these diseases and traits 20 .

figure 3

Manhattan plot demonstrating robust replication of 20 well-established LDL-C genetic loci among 91,749 individuals with 1 or more LDL-C measurements. The red horizontal line denotes the genome wide significance threshold of P = 5 × 10 –8 . Inset, effect estimate ( β ) comparison between NHLBI TOPMed LDL-C GWAS ( x  axis) and All of Us LDL-C GWAS ( y  axis) for the subset of 194 independent variants clumped (window 250 kb, r2 0.5) that reached genome-wide significance in NHLBI TOPMed.

Genotype-by-phenotype associations

As another measure of data quality and utility, we tested replication rates of previously reported phenotype–genotype associations in the five predicted genetic ancestry populations present in the Phenotype/Genotype Reference Map (PGRM): AFR, African ancestry; AMR, Latino/admixed American ancestry; EAS, East Asian ancestry; EUR, European ancestry; SAS, South Asian ancestry. The PGRM contains published associations in the GWAS catalogue in these ancestry populations that map to International Classification of Diseases-based phenotype codes 21 . This replication study specifically looked across 4,947 variants, calculating replication rates for powered associations in each ancestry population. The overall replication rates for associations powered at 80% were: 72.0% (18/25) in AFR, 100% (13/13) in AMR, 46.6% (7/15) in EAS, 74.9% (1,064/1,421) in EUR, and 100% (1/1) in SAS. With the exception of the EAS ancestry results, these powered replication rates are comparable to those of the published PGRM analysis where the replication rates of several single-site EHR-linked biobanks ranges from 76% to 85%. These results demonstrate the utility of the data and also highlight opportunities for further work understanding the specifics of the All of Us population and the potential contribution of gene–environment interactions to genotype–phenotype mapping and motivates the development of methods for multi-site EHR phenotype data extraction, harmonization and genetic association studies.

More broadly, the All of Us resource highlights the opportunities to identify genotype–phenotype associations that differ across diverse populations 22 . For example, the Duffy blood group locus ( ACKR1 ) is more prevalent in individuals of AFR ancestry and individuals of AMR ancestry than in individuals of EUR ancestry. Although the phenome-wide association study of this locus highlights the well-established association of the Duffy blood group with lower white blood cell counts both in individuals of AFR and AMR ancestry 23 , 24 , it also revealed genetic-ancestry-specific phenotype patterns, with minimal phenotypic associations in individuals of EAS ancestry and individuals of EUR ancestry (Fig. 4 and Extended Data Table 4 ). Conversely, rs9273363 in the HLA-DQB1 locus is associated with increased risk of type 1 diabetes 25 , 26 and diabetic complications across ancestries, but only associates with increased risk of coeliac disease in individuals of EUR ancestry (Extended Data Fig. 5 ). Similarly, the TCF7L2 locus 27 strongly associates with increased risk of type 2 diabetes and associated complications across several ancestries (Extended Data Fig. 6 ). Association testing results are available in Supplementary Dataset 1 .

figure 4

Results of genetic-ancestry-stratified phenome-wide association analysis among unrelated individuals highlighting ancestry-specific disease associations across the four most common genetic ancestries of participant. Bonferroni-adjusted phenome-wide significance threshold (<2.88 × 10 −5 ) is plotted as a red horizontal line. AFR ( n  = 34,037, minor allele fraction (MAF) 0.82); AMR ( n  = 28,901, MAF 0.10); EAS ( n  = 32,55, MAF 0.003); EUR ( n  = 101,613, MAF 0.007).

The cloud-based Researcher Workbench

All of Us genomic data are available in a secure, access-controlled cloud-based analysis environment: the All of Us Researcher Workbench. Unlike traditional data access models that require per-project approval, access in the Researcher Workbench is governed by a data passport model based on a researcher’s authenticated identity, institutional affiliation, and completion of self-service training and compliance attestation 28 . After gaining access, a researcher may create a new workspace at any time to conduct a study, provided that they comply with all Data Use Policies and self-declare their research purpose. This information is regularly audited and made accessible publicly on the All of Us Research Projects Directory. This streamlined access model is guided by the principles that: participants are research partners and maintaining their privacy and data security is paramount; their data should be made as accessible as possible for authorized researchers; and we should continually seek to remove unnecessary barriers to accessing and using All of Us data.

For researchers at institutions with an existing institutional data use agreement, access can be gained as soon as they complete the required verification and compliance steps. As of August 2023, 556 institutions have agreements in place, allowing more than 5,000 approved researchers to actively work on more than 4,400 projects. The median time for a researcher from initial registration to completion of these requirements is 28.6 h (10th percentile: 48 min, 90th percentile: 14.9 days), a fraction of the weeks to months it can take to assemble a project-specific application and have it reviewed by an access board with conventional access models.

Given that the size of the project’s phenotypic and genomic dataset is expected to reach 4.75 PB in 2023, the use of a central data store and cloud analysis tools will save funders an estimated US$16.5 million per year when compared to the typical approach of allowing researchers to download genomic data. Storing one copy per institution of this data at 556 registered institutions would cost about US$1.16 billion per year. By contrast, storing a central cloud copy costs about US$1.14 million per year, a 99.9% saving. Importantly, cloud infrastructure also democratizes data access particularly for researchers who do not have high-performance local compute resources.

Here we present the All of Us Research Program’s approach to generating diverse clinical-grade genomic data at an unprecedented scale. We present the data release of about 245,000 genome sequences as part of a scalable framework that will grow to include genetic information and health data for one million or more people living across the USA. Our observations permit several conclusions.

First, the All of Us programme is making a notable contribution to improving the study of human biology through purposeful inclusion of under-represented individuals at scale 29 , 30 . Of the participants with genomic data in All of Us, 45.92% self-identified as a non-European race or ethnicity. This diversity enabled identification of more than 275 million new genetic variants across the dataset not previously captured by other large-scale genome aggregation efforts with diverse participants that have submitted variation to dbSNP v153, such as NHLBI TOPMed 31 freeze 8 (Extended Data Table 1 ). In contrast to gnomAD, All of Us permits individual-level genotype access with detailed phenotype data for all participants. Furthermore, unlike many genomics resources, All of Us is uniformly consented for general research use and enables researchers to go from initial account creation to individual-level data access in as little as a few hours. The All of Us cohort is significantly more diverse than those of other large contemporary research studies generating WGS data 32 , 33 . This enables a more equitable future for precision medicine (for example, through constructing polygenic risk scores that are appropriately calibrated to diverse populations 34 , 35 as the eMERGE programme has done leveraging All of Us data 36 , 37 ). Developing new tools and regulatory frameworks to enable analyses across multiple biobanks in the cloud to harness the unique strengths of each is an active area of investigation addressed in a companion paper to this work 38 .

Second, the All of Us Researcher Workbench embodies the programme’s design philosophy of open science, reproducible research, equitable access and transparency to researchers and to research participants 26 . Importantly, for research studies, no group of data users should have privileged access to All of Us resources based on anything other than data protection criteria. Although the All of Us Researcher Workbench initially targeted onboarding US academic, health care and non-profit organizations, it has recently expanded to international researchers. We anticipate further genomic and phenotypic data releases at regular intervals with data available to all researcher communities. We also anticipate additional derived data and functionality to be made available, such as reference data, structural variants and a service for array imputation using the All of Us genomic data.

Third, All of Us enables studying human biology at an unprecedented scale. The programmatic goal of sequencing one million or more genomes has required harnessing the output of multiple sequencing centres. Previous work has focused on achieving functional equivalence in data processing and joint calling pipelines 39 . To achieve clinical-grade data equivalence, All of Us required protocol equivalence at both sequencing production level and data processing across the sequencing centres. Furthermore, previous work has demonstrated the value of joint calling at scale 10 , 18 . The new GVS framework developed by the All of Us programme enables joint calling at extreme scales (Code availability). Finally, the provision of data access through cloud-native tools enables scalable and secure access and analysis to researchers while simultaneously enabling the trust of research participants and transparency underlying the All of Us data passport access model.

The clinical-grade sequencing carried out by All of Us enables not only research, but also the return of value to participants through clinically relevant genetic results and health-related traits to those who opt-in to receiving this information. In the years ahead, we anticipate that this partnership with All of Us participants will enable researchers to move beyond large-scale genomic discovery to understanding the consequences of implementing genomic medicine at scale.

The All of Us cohort

All of Us aims to engage a longitudinal cohort of one million or more US participants, with a focus on including populations that have historically been under-represented in biomedical research. Details of the All of Us cohort have been described previously 5 . Briefly, the primary objective is to build a robust research resource that can facilitate the exploration of biological, clinical, social and environmental determinants of health and disease. The programme will collect and curate health-related data and biospecimens, and these data and biospecimens will be made broadly available for research uses. Health data are obtained through the electronic medical record and through participant surveys. Survey templates can be found on our public website: https://www.researchallofus.org/data-tools/survey-explorer/ . Adults 18 years and older who have the capacity to consent and reside in the USA or a US territory at present are eligible. Informed consent for all participants is conducted in person or through an eConsent platform that includes primary consent, HIPAA Authorization for Research use of EHRs and other external health data, and Consent for Return of Genomic Results. The protocol was reviewed by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the All of Us Research Program. The All of Us IRB follows the regulations and guidance of the NIH Office for Human Research Protections for all studies, ensuring that the rights and welfare of research participants are overseen and protected uniformly.

Data accessibility through a ‘data passport’

Authorization for access to participant-level data in All of Us is based on a ‘data passport’ model, through which authorized researchers do not need IRB review for each research project. The data passport is required for gaining data access to the Researcher Workbench and for creating workspaces to carry out research projects using All of Us data. At present, data passports are authorized through a six-step process that includes affiliation with an institution that has signed a Data Use and Registration Agreement, account creation, identity verification, completion of ethics training, and attestation to a data user code of conduct. Results reported follow the All of Us Data and Statistics Dissemination Policy disallowing disclosure of group counts under 20 to protect participant privacy without seeking prior approval 40 .

At present, All of Us gathers EHR data from about 50 health care organizations that are funded to recruit and enrol participants as well as transfer EHR data for those participants who have consented to provide them. Data stewards at each provider organization harmonize their local data to the Observational Medical Outcomes Partnership (OMOP) Common Data Model, and then submit it to the All of Us Data and Research Center (DRC) so that it can be linked with other participant data and further curated for research use. OMOP is a common data model standardizing health information from disparate EHRs to common vocabularies and organized into tables according to data domains. EHR data are updated from the recruitment sites and sent to the DRC quarterly. Updated data releases to the research community occur approximately once a year. Supplementary Table 6 outlines the OMOP concepts collected by the DRC quarterly from the recruitment sites.

Biospecimen collection and processing

Participants who consented to participate in All of Us donated fresh whole blood (4 ml EDTA and 10 ml EDTA) as a primary source of DNA. The All of Us Biobank managed by the Mayo Clinic extracted DNA from 4 ml EDTA whole blood, and DNA was stored at −80 °C at an average concentration of 150 ng µl −1 . The buffy coat isolated from 10 ml EDTA whole blood has been used for extracting DNA in the case of initial extraction failure or absence of 4 ml EDTA whole blood. The Biobank plated 2.4 µg DNA with a concentration of 60 ng µl −1 in duplicate for array and WGS samples. The samples are distributed to All of Us Genome Centers weekly, and a negative (empty well) control and National Institute of Standards and Technology controls are incorporated every two months for QC purposes.

Genome Center sample receipt, accession and QC

On receipt of DNA sample shipments, the All of Us Genome Centers carry out an inspection of the packaging and sample containers to ensure that sample integrity has not been compromised during transport and to verify that the sample containers correspond to the shipping manifest. QC of the submitted samples also includes DNA quantification, using routine procedures to confirm volume and concentration (Supplementary Table 7 ). Any issues or discrepancies are recorded, and affected samples are put on hold until resolved. Samples that meet quality thresholds are accessioned in the Laboratory Information Management System, and sample aliquots are prepared for library construction processing (for example, normalized with respect to concentration and volume).

WGS library construction, sequencing and primary data QC

The DNA sample is first sheared using a Covaris sonicator and is then size-selected using AMPure XP beads to restrict the range of library insert sizes. Using the PCR Free Kapa HyperPrep library construction kit, enzymatic steps are completed to repair the jagged ends of DNA fragments, add proper A-base segments, and ligate indexed adapter barcode sequences onto samples. Excess adaptors are removed using AMPure XP beads for a final clean-up. Libraries are quantified using quantitative PCR with the Illumina Kapa DNA Quantification Kit and then normalized and pooled for sequencing (Supplementary Table 7 ).

Pooled libraries are loaded on the Illumina NovaSeq 6000 instrument. The data from the initial sequencing run are used to QC individual libraries and to remove non-conforming samples from the pipeline. The data are also used to calibrate the pooling volume of each individual library and re-pool the libraries for additional NovaSeq sequencing to reach an average coverage of 30×.

After demultiplexing, WGS analysis occurs on the Illumina DRAGEN platform. The DRAGEN pipeline consists of highly optimized algorithms for mapping, aligning, sorting, duplicate marking and haplotype variant calling and makes use of platform features such as compression and BCL conversion. Alignment uses the GRCh38dh reference genome. QC data are collected at every stage of the analysis protocol, providing high-resolution metrics required to ensure data consistency for large-scale multiplexing. The DRAGEN pipeline produces a large number of metrics that cover lane, library, flow cell, barcode and sample-level metrics for all runs as well as assessing contamination and mapping quality. The All of Us Genome Centers use these metrics to determine pass or fail for each sample before submitting the CRAM files to the All of Us DRC. For mapping and variant calling, all Genome Centers have harmonized on a set of DRAGEN parameters, which ensures consistency in processing (Supplementary Table 2 ).

Every step through the WGS procedure is rigorously controlled by predefined QC measures. Various control mechanisms and acceptance criteria were established during WGS assay validation. Specific metrics for reviewing and releasing genome data are: mean coverage (threshold of ≥30×), genome coverage (threshold of ≥90% at 20×), coverage of hereditary disease risk genes (threshold of ≥95% at 20×), aligned Q30 bases (threshold of ≥8 × 10 10 ), contamination (threshold of ≤1%) and concordance to independently processed array data.

Array genotyping

Samples are processed for genotyping at three All of Us Genome Centers (Broad, Johns Hopkins University and University of Washington). DNA samples are received from the Biobank and the process is facilitated by the All of Us genomics workflow described above. All three centres used an identical array product, scanners, resource files and genotype calling software for array processing to reduce batch effects. Each centre has its own Laboratory Information Management System that manages workflow control, sample and reagent tracking, and centre-specific liquid handling robotics.

Samples are processed using the Illumina Global Diversity Array (GDA) with Illumina Infinium LCG chemistry using the automated protocol and scanned on Illumina iSCANs with Automated Array Loaders. Illumina IAAP software converts raw data (IDAT files; 2 per sample) into a single GTC file per sample using the BPM file (defines strand, probe sequences and illumicode address) and the EGT file (defines the relationship between intensities and genotype calls). Files used for this data release are: GDA-8v1-0_A5.bpm, GDA-8v1-0_A1_ClusterFile.egt, gentrain v3, reference hg19 and gencall cutoff 0.15. The GDA array assays a total of 1,914,935 variant positions including 1,790,654 single-nucleotide variants, 44,172 indels, 9,935 intensity-only probes for CNV calling, and 70,174 duplicates (same position, different probes). Picard GtcToVcf is used to convert the GTC files to VCF format. Resulting VCF and IDAT files are submitted to the DRC for ingestion and further processing. The VCF file contains assay name, chromosome, position, genotype calls, quality score, raw and normalized intensities, B allele frequency and log R ratio values. Each genome centre is running the GDA array under Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-compliant protocols. The GTC files are parsed and metrics are uploaded to in-house Laboratory Information Management System systems for QC review.

At batch level (each set of 96-well plates run together in the laboratory at one time), each genome centre includes positive control samples that are required to have >98% call rate and >99% concordance to existing data to approve release of the batch of data. At the sample level, the call rate and sex are the key QC determinants 41 . Contamination is also measured using BAFRegress 42 and reported out as metadata. Any sample with a call rate below 98% is repeated one time in the laboratory. Genotyped sex is determined by plotting normalized x versus normalized y intensity values for a batch of samples. Any sample discordant with ‘sex at birth’ reported by the All of Us participant is flagged for further detailed review and repeated one time in the laboratory. If several sex-discordant samples are clustered on an array or on a 96-well plate, the entire array or plate will have data production repeated. Samples identified with sex chromosome aneuploidies are also reported back as metadata (XXX, XXY, XYY and so on). A final processing status of ‘pass’, ‘fail’ or ‘abandon’ is determined before release of data to the All of Us DRC. An array sample will pass if the call rate is >98% and the genotyped sex and sex at birth are concordant (or the sex at birth is not applicable). An array sample will fail if the genotyped sex and the sex at birth are discordant. An array sample will have the status of abandon if the call rate is <98% after at least two attempts at the genome centre.

Data from the arrays are used for participant return of genetic ancestry and non-health-related traits for those who consent, and they are also used to facilitate additional QC of the matched WGS data. Contamination is assessed in the array data to determine whether DNA re-extraction is required before WGS. Re-extraction is prompted by level of contamination combined with consent status for return of results. The arrays are also used to confirm sample identity between the WGS data and the matched array data by assessing concordance at 100 unique sites. To establish concordance, a fingerprint file of these 100 sites is provided to the Genome Centers to assess concordance with the same sites in the WGS data before CRAM submission.

Genomic data curation

As seen in Extended Data Fig. 2 , we generate a joint call set for all WGS samples and make these data available in their entirety and by sample subsets to researchers. A breakdown of the frequencies, stratified by computed ancestries for which we had more than 10,000 participants can be found in Extended Data Fig. 3 . The joint call set process allows us to leverage information across samples to improve QC and increase accuracy.

Single-sample QC

If a sample fails single-sample QC, it is excluded from the release and is not reported in this document. These tests detect sample swaps, cross-individual contamination and sample preparation errors. In some cases, we carry out these tests twice (at both the Genome Center and the DRC), for two reasons: to confirm internal consistency between sites; and to mark samples as passing (or failing) QC on the basis of the research pipeline criteria. The single-sample QC process accepts a higher contamination rate than the clinical pipeline (0.03 for the research pipeline versus 0.01 for the clinical pipeline), but otherwise uses identical thresholds. The list of specific QC processes, passing criteria, error modes addressed and an overview of the results can be found in Supplementary Table 3 .

Joint call set QC

During joint calling, we carry out additional QC steps using information that is available across samples including hard thresholds, population outliers, allele-specific filters, and sensitivity and precision evaluation. Supplementary Table 4 summarizes both the steps that we took and the results obtained for the WGS data. More detailed information about the methods and specific parameters can be found in the All of Us Genomic Research Data Quality Report 36 .

Batch effect analysis

We analysed cross-sequencing centre batch effects in the joint call set. To quantify the batch effect, we calculated Cohen’s d (ref.  43 ) for four metrics (insertion/deletion ratio, single-nucleotide polymorphism count, indel count and single-nucleotide polymorphism transition/transversion ratio) across the three genome sequencing centres (Baylor College of Medicine, Broad Institute and University of Washington), stratified by computed ancestry and seven regions of the genome (whole genome, high-confidence calling, repetitive, GC content of >0.85, GC content of <0.15, low mappability, the ACMG59 genes and regions of large duplications (>1 kb)). Using random batches as a control set, all comparisons had a Cohen’s d of <0.35. Here we report any Cohen’s d results >0.5, which we chose before this analysis and is conventionally the threshold of a medium effect size 44 .

We found that there was an effect size in indel counts (Cohen’s d of 0.53) in the entire genome, between Broad Institute and University of Washington, but this was being driven by repetitive and low-mappability regions. We found no batch effects with Cohen’s d of >0.5 in the ratio metrics or in any metrics in the high-confidence calling, low or high GC content, or ACMG59 regions. A complete list of the batch effects with Cohen’s d of >0.5 are found in Supplementary Table 8 .

Sensitivity and precision evaluation

To determine sensitivity and precision, we included four well-characterized control samples (four National Institute of Standards and Technology Genome in a Bottle samples (HG-001, HG-003, HG-004 and HG-005). The samples were sequenced with the same protocol as All of Us. Of note, these samples were not included in data released to researchers. We used the corresponding published set of variant calls for each sample as the ground truth in our sensitivity and precision calculations. We use the high-confidence calling region, defined by Genome in a Bottle v4.2.1, as the source of ground truth. To be called a true positive, a variant must match the chromosome, position, reference allele, alternate allele and zygosity. In cases of sites with multiple alternative alleles, each alternative allele is considered separately. Sensitivity and precision results are reported in Supplementary Table 5 .

Genetic ancestry inference

We computed categorical ancestry for all WGS samples in All of Us and made these available to researchers. These predictions are also the basis for population allele frequency calculations in the Genomic Variants section of the public Data Browser. We used the high-quality set of sites to determine an ancestry label for each sample. The ancestry categories are based on the same labels used in gnomAD 18 , the Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP) 45 and 1000 Genomes 1 : African (AFR); Latino/admixed American (AMR); East Asian (EAS); Middle Eastern (MID); European (EUR), composed of Finnish (FIN) and Non-Finnish European (NFE); Other (OTH), not belonging to one of the other ancestries or is an admixture; South Asian (SAS).

We trained a random forest classifier 46 on a training set of the HGDP and 1000 Genomes samples variants on the autosome, obtained from gnomAD 11 . We generated the first 16 principal components (PCs) of the training sample genotypes (using the hwe_normalized_pca in Hail) at the high-quality variant sites for use as the feature vector for each training sample. We used the truth labels from the sample metadata, which can be found alongside the VCFs. Note that we do not train the classifier on the samples labelled as Other. We use the label probabilities (‘confidence’) of the classifier on the other ancestries to determine ancestry of Other.

To determine the ancestry of All of Us samples, we project the All of Us samples into the PCA space of the training data and apply the classifier. As a proxy for the accuracy of our All of Us predictions, we look at the concordance between the survey results and the predicted ancestry. The concordance between self-reported ethnicity and the ancestry predictions was 87.7%.

PC data from All of Us samples and the HGDP and 1000 Genomes samples were used to compute individual participant genetic ancestry fractions for All of Us samples using the Rye program. Rye uses PC data to carry out rapid and accurate genetic ancestry inference on biobank-scale datasets 47 . HGDP and 1000 Genomes reference samples were used to define a set of six distinct and coherent ancestry groups—African, East Asian, European, Middle Eastern, Latino/admixed American and South Asian—corresponding to participant self-identified race and ethnicity groups. Rye was run on the first 16 PCs, using the defined reference ancestry groups to assign ancestry group fractions to individual All of Us participant samples.

Relatedness

We calculated the kinship score using the Hail pc_relate function and reported any pairs with a kinship score above 0.1. The kinship score is half of the fraction of the genetic material shared (ranges from 0.0 to 0.5). We determined the maximal independent set 41 for related samples. We identified a maximally unrelated set of 231,442 samples (94%) for kinship scored greater than 0.1.

LDL-C common variant GWAS

The phenotypic data were extracted from the Curated Data Repository (CDR, Control Tier Dataset v7) in the All of Us Researcher Workbench. The All of Us Cohort Builder and Dataset Builder were used to extract all LDL cholesterol measurements from the Lab and Measurements criteria in EHR data for all participants who have WGS data. The most recent measurements were selected as the phenotype and adjusted for statin use 19 , age and sex. A rank-based inverse normal transformation was applied for this continuous trait to increase power and deflate type I error. Analysis was carried out on the Hail MatrixTable representation of the All of Us WGS joint-called data including removing monomorphic variants, variants with a call rate of <95% and variants with extreme Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium values ( P  < 10 −15 ). A linear regression was carried out with REGENIE 48 on variants with a minor allele frequency >5%, further adjusting for relatedness to the first five ancestry PCs. The final analysis included 34,924 participants and 8,589,520 variants.

Genotype-by-phenotype replication

We tested replication rates of known phenotype–genotype associations in three of the four largest populations: EUR, AFR and EAS. The AMR population was not included because they have no registered GWAS. This method is a conceptual extension of the original GWAS × phenome-wide association study, which replicated 66% of powered associations in a single EHR-linked biobank 49 . The PGRM is an expansion of this work by Bastarache et al., based on associations in the GWAS catalogue 50 in June 2020 (ref.  51 ). After directly matching the Experimental Factor Ontology terms to phecodes, the authors identified 8,085 unique loci and 170 unique phecodes that compose the PGRM. They showed replication rates in several EHR-linked biobanks ranging from 76% to 85%. For this analysis, we used the EUR-, and AFR-based maps, considering only catalogue associations that were P  < 5 × 10 −8 significant.

The main tools used were the Python package Hail for data extraction, plink for genomic associations, and the R packages PheWAS and pgrm for further analysis and visualization. The phenotypes, participant-reported sex at birth, and year of birth were extracted from the All of Us CDR (Controlled Tier Dataset v7). These phenotypes were then loaded into a plink-compatible format using the PheWAS package, and related samples were removed by sub-setting to the maximally unrelated dataset ( n  = 231,442). Only samples with EHR data were kept, filtered by selected loci, annotated with demographic and phenotypic information extracted from the CDR and ancestry prediction information provided by All of Us, ultimately resulting in 181,345 participants for downstream analysis. The variants in the PGRM were filtered by a minimum population-specific allele frequency of >1% or population-specific allele count of >100, leaving 4,986 variants. Results for which there were at least 20 cases in the ancestry group were included. Then, a series of Firth logistic regression tests with phecodes as the outcome and variants as the predictor were carried out, adjusting for age, sex (for non-sex-specific phenotypes) and the first three genomic PC features as covariates. The PGRM was annotated with power calculations based on the case counts and reported allele frequencies. Power of 80% or greater was considered powered for this analysis.

Reporting summary

Further information on research design is available in the  Nature Portfolio Reporting Summary linked to this article.

Data availability

The All of Us Research Hub has a tiered data access data passport model with three data access tiers. The Public Tier dataset contains only aggregate data with identifiers removed. These data are available to the public through Data Snapshots ( https://www.researchallofus.org/data-tools/data-snapshots/ ) and the public Data Browser ( https://databrowser.researchallofus.org/ ). The Registered Tier curated dataset contains individual-level data, available only to approved researchers on the Researcher Workbench. At present, the Registered Tier includes data from EHRs, wearables and surveys, as well as physical measurements taken at the time of participant enrolment. The Controlled Tier dataset contains all data in the Registered Tier and additionally genomic data in the form of WGS and genotyping arrays, previously suppressed demographic data fields from EHRs and surveys, and unshifted dates of events. At present, Registered Tier and Controlled Tier data are available to researchers at academic institutions, non-profit institutions, and both non-profit and for-profit health care institutions. Work is underway to begin extending access to additional audiences, including industry-affiliated researchers. Researchers have the option to register for Registered Tier and/or Controlled Tier access by completing the All of Us Researcher Workbench access process, which includes identity verification and All of Us-specific training in research involving human participants ( https://www.researchallofus.org/register/ ). Researchers may create a new workspace at any time to conduct any research study, provided that they comply with all Data Use Policies and self-declare their research purpose. This information is made accessible publicly on the All of Us Research Projects Directory at https://allofus.nih.gov/protecting-data-and-privacy/research-projects-all-us-data .

Code availability

The GVS code is available at https://github.com/broadinstitute/gatk/tree/ah_var_store/scripts/variantstore . The LDL GWAS pipeline is available as a demonstration project in the Featured Workspace Library on the Researcher Workbench ( https://workbench.researchallofus.org/workspaces/aou-rw-5981f9dc/aouldlgwasregeniedsubctv6duplicate/notebooks ).

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Acknowledgements

The All of Us Research Program is supported by the National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director: Regional Medical Centers (OT2 OD026549; OT2 OD026554; OT2 OD026557; OT2 OD026556; OT2 OD026550; OT2 OD 026552; OT2 OD026553; OT2 OD026548; OT2 OD026551; OT2 OD026555); Inter agency agreement AOD 16037; Federally Qualified Health Centers HHSN 263201600085U; Data and Research Center: U2C OD023196; Genome Centers (OT2 OD002748; OT2 OD002750; OT2 OD002751); Biobank: U24 OD023121; The Participant Center: U24 OD023176; Participant Technology Systems Center: U24 OD023163; Communications and Engagement: OT2 OD023205; OT2 OD023206; and Community Partners (OT2 OD025277; OT2 OD025315; OT2 OD025337; OT2 OD025276). In addition, the All of Us Research Program would not be possible without the partnership of its participants. All of Us and the All of Us logo are service marks of the US Department of Health and Human Services. E.E.E. is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. We acknowledge the foundational contributions of our friend and colleague, the late Deborah A. Nickerson. Debbie’s years of insightful contributions throughout the formation of the All of Us genomics programme are permanently imprinted, and she shares credit for all of the successes of this programme.

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Division of Genetic Medicine, Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, USA

Alexander G. Bick & Henry R. Condon

Human Genome Sequencing Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA

Ginger A. Metcalf, Eric Boerwinkle, Richard A. Gibbs, Donna M. Muzny, Eric Venner, Kimberly Walker, Jianhong Hu, Harsha Doddapaneni, Christie L. Kovar, Mullai Murugan, Shannon Dugan, Ziad Khan & Eric Boerwinkle

Vanderbilt Institute of Clinical and Translational Research, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, USA

Kelsey R. Mayo, Jodell E. Linder, Melissa Basford, Ashley Able, Ashley E. Green, Robert J. Carroll, Jennifer Zhang & Yuanyuan Wang

Data Sciences Platform, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA, USA

Lee Lichtenstein, Anthony Philippakis, Sophie Schwartz, M. Morgan T. Aster, Kristian Cibulskis, Andrea Haessly, Rebecca Asch, Aurora Cremer, Kylee Degatano, Akum Shergill, Laura D. Gauthier, Samuel K. Lee, Aaron Hatcher, George B. Grant, Genevieve R. Brandt, Miguel Covarrubias, Eric Banks & Wail Baalawi

Verily, South San Francisco, CA, USA

Shimon Rura, David Glazer, Moira K. Dillon & C. H. Albach

Department of Biomedical Informatics, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, USA

Robert J. Carroll, Paul A. Harris & Dan M. Roden

All of Us Research Program, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA

Anjene Musick, Andrea H. Ramirez, Sokny Lim, Siddhartha Nambiar, Bradley Ozenberger, Anastasia L. Wise, Chris Lunt, Geoffrey S. Ginsburg & Joshua C. Denny

School of Biological Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA

I. King Jordan, Shashwat Deepali Nagar & Shivam Sharma

Neuroscience Institute, Institute of Translational Genomic Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA

Robert Meller

Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA

Mine S. Cicek, Stephen N. Thibodeau & Mine S. Cicek

Department of Genetic Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA

Kimberly F. Doheny, Michelle Z. Mawhinney, Sean M. L. Griffith, Elvin Hsu, Hua Ling & Marcia K. Adams

Department of Genome Sciences, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA

Evan E. Eichler, Joshua D. Smith, Christian D. Frazar, Colleen P. Davis, Karynne E. Patterson, Marsha M. Wheeler, Sean McGee, Mitzi L. Murray, Valeria Vasta, Dru Leistritz, Matthew A. Richardson, Aparna Radhakrishnan & Brenna W. Ehmen

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

Evan E. Eichler

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA, USA

Stacey Gabriel, Heidi L. Rehm, Niall J. Lennon, Christina Austin-Tse, Eric Banks, Michael Gatzen, Namrata Gupta, Katie Larsson, Sheli McDonough, Steven M. Harrison, Christopher Kachulis, Matthew S. Lebo, Seung Hoan Choi & Xin Wang

Division of Medical Genetics, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA

Gail P. Jarvik & Elisabeth A. Rosenthal

Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, USA

Dan M. Roden

Department of Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, USA

Center for Individualized Medicine, Biorepository Program, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA

Stephen N. Thibodeau, Ashley L. Blegen, Samantha J. Wirkus, Victoria A. Wagner, Jeffrey G. Meyer & Mine S. Cicek

Color Health, Burlingame, CA, USA

Scott Topper, Cynthia L. Neben, Marcie Steeves & Alicia Y. Zhou

School of Public Health, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, USA

Eric Boerwinkle

Laboratory for Molecular Medicine, Massachusetts General Brigham Personalized Medicine, Cambridge, MA, USA

Christina Austin-Tse, Emma Henricks & Matthew S. Lebo

Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA

Christina M. Lockwood, Brian H. Shirts, Colin C. Pritchard, Jillian G. Buchan & Niklas Krumm

Manuscript Writing Group

  • Alexander G. Bick
  • , Ginger A. Metcalf
  • , Kelsey R. Mayo
  • , Lee Lichtenstein
  • , Shimon Rura
  • , Robert J. Carroll
  • , Anjene Musick
  • , Jodell E. Linder
  • , I. King Jordan
  • , Shashwat Deepali Nagar
  • , Shivam Sharma
  •  & Robert Meller

All of Us Research Program Genomics Principal Investigators

  • Melissa Basford
  • , Eric Boerwinkle
  • , Mine S. Cicek
  • , Kimberly F. Doheny
  • , Evan E. Eichler
  • , Stacey Gabriel
  • , Richard A. Gibbs
  • , David Glazer
  • , Paul A. Harris
  • , Gail P. Jarvik
  • , Anthony Philippakis
  • , Heidi L. Rehm
  • , Dan M. Roden
  • , Stephen N. Thibodeau
  •  & Scott Topper

Biobank, Mayo

  • Ashley L. Blegen
  • , Samantha J. Wirkus
  • , Victoria A. Wagner
  • , Jeffrey G. Meyer
  •  & Stephen N. Thibodeau

Genome Center: Baylor-Hopkins Clinical Genome Center

  • Donna M. Muzny
  • , Eric Venner
  • , Michelle Z. Mawhinney
  • , Sean M. L. Griffith
  • , Elvin Hsu
  • , Marcia K. Adams
  • , Kimberly Walker
  • , Jianhong Hu
  • , Harsha Doddapaneni
  • , Christie L. Kovar
  • , Mullai Murugan
  • , Shannon Dugan
  • , Ziad Khan
  •  & Richard A. Gibbs

Genome Center: Broad, Color, and Mass General Brigham Laboratory for Molecular Medicine

  • Niall J. Lennon
  • , Christina Austin-Tse
  • , Eric Banks
  • , Michael Gatzen
  • , Namrata Gupta
  • , Emma Henricks
  • , Katie Larsson
  • , Sheli McDonough
  • , Steven M. Harrison
  • , Christopher Kachulis
  • , Matthew S. Lebo
  • , Cynthia L. Neben
  • , Marcie Steeves
  • , Alicia Y. Zhou
  • , Scott Topper
  •  & Stacey Gabriel

Genome Center: University of Washington

  • Gail P. Jarvik
  • , Joshua D. Smith
  • , Christian D. Frazar
  • , Colleen P. Davis
  • , Karynne E. Patterson
  • , Marsha M. Wheeler
  • , Sean McGee
  • , Christina M. Lockwood
  • , Brian H. Shirts
  • , Colin C. Pritchard
  • , Mitzi L. Murray
  • , Valeria Vasta
  • , Dru Leistritz
  • , Matthew A. Richardson
  • , Jillian G. Buchan
  • , Aparna Radhakrishnan
  • , Niklas Krumm
  •  & Brenna W. Ehmen

Data and Research Center

  • Lee Lichtenstein
  • , Sophie Schwartz
  • , M. Morgan T. Aster
  • , Kristian Cibulskis
  • , Andrea Haessly
  • , Rebecca Asch
  • , Aurora Cremer
  • , Kylee Degatano
  • , Akum Shergill
  • , Laura D. Gauthier
  • , Samuel K. Lee
  • , Aaron Hatcher
  • , George B. Grant
  • , Genevieve R. Brandt
  • , Miguel Covarrubias
  • , Melissa Basford
  • , Alexander G. Bick
  • , Ashley Able
  • , Ashley E. Green
  • , Jennifer Zhang
  • , Henry R. Condon
  • , Yuanyuan Wang
  • , Moira K. Dillon
  • , C. H. Albach
  • , Wail Baalawi
  •  & Dan M. Roden

All of Us Research Demonstration Project Teams

  • Seung Hoan Choi
  • , Elisabeth A. Rosenthal

NIH All of Us Research Program Staff

  • Andrea H. Ramirez
  • , Sokny Lim
  • , Siddhartha Nambiar
  • , Bradley Ozenberger
  • , Anastasia L. Wise
  • , Chris Lunt
  • , Geoffrey S. Ginsburg
  •  & Joshua C. Denny

Contributions

The All of Us Biobank (Mayo Clinic) collected, stored and plated participant biospecimens. The All of Us Genome Centers (Baylor-Hopkins Clinical Genome Center; Broad, Color, and Mass General Brigham Laboratory for Molecular Medicine; and University of Washington School of Medicine) generated and QCed the whole-genomic data. The All of Us Data and Research Center (Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Verily) generated the WGS joint call set, carried out quality assurance and QC analyses and developed the Researcher Workbench. All of Us Research Demonstration Project Teams contributed analyses. The other All of Us Genomics Investigators and NIH All of Us Research Program Staff provided crucial programmatic support. Members of the manuscript writing group (A.G.B., G.A.M., K.R.M., L.L., S.R., R.J.C. and A.M.) wrote the first draft of this manuscript, which was revised with contributions and feedback from all authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexander G. Bick .

Ethics declarations

Competing interests.

D.M.M., G.A.M., E.V., K.W., J.H., H.D., C.L.K., M.M., S.D., Z.K., E. Boerwinkle and R.A.G. declare that Baylor Genetics is a Baylor College of Medicine affiliate that derives revenue from genetic testing. Eric Venner is affiliated with Codified Genomics, a provider of genetic interpretation. E.E.E. is a scientific advisory board member of Variant Bio, Inc. A.G.B. is a scientific advisory board member of TenSixteen Bio. The remaining authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

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Nature thanks Timothy Frayling and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended data fig. 1 historic availability of ehr records in all of us v7 controlled tier curated data repository (n = 413,457)..

For better visibility, the plot shows growth starting in 2010.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Overview of the Genomic Data Curation Pipeline for WGS samples.

The Data and Research Center (DRC) performs additional single sample quality control (QC) on the data as it arrives from the Genome Centers. The variants from samples that pass this QC are loaded into the Genomic Variant Store (GVS), where we jointly call the variants and apply additional QC. We apply a joint call set QC process, which is stored with the call set. The entire joint call set is rendered as a Hail Variant Dataset (VDS), which can be accessed from the analysis notebooks in the Researcher Workbench. Subsections of the genome are extracted from the VDS and rendered in different formats with all participants. Auxiliary data can also be accessed through the Researcher Workbench. This includes variant functional annotations, joint call set QC results, predicted ancestry, and relatedness. Auxiliary data are derived from GVS (arrow not shown) and the VDS. The Cohort Builder directly queries GVS when researchers request genomic data for subsets of samples. Aligned reads, as cram files, are available in the Researcher Workbench (not shown). The graphics of the dish, gene and computer and the All of Us logo are reproduced with permission of the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Proportion of allelic frequencies (AF), stratified by computed ancestry with over 10,000 participants.

Bar counts are not cumulative (eg, “pop AF < 0.01” does not include “pop AF < 0.001”).

Extended Data Fig. 4 Distribution of pathogenic, and likely pathogenic ClinVar variants.

Stratified by ancestry filtered to only those variants that are found in allele count (AC) < 40 individuals for 245,388 short read WGS samples.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Ancestry specific HLA-DQB1 ( rs9273363 ) locus associations in 231,442 unrelated individuals.

Phenome-wide (PheWAS) associations highlight ancestry specific consequences across ancestries.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Ancestry specific TCF7L2 ( rs7903146 ) locus associations in 231,442 unrelated individuals.

Phenome-wide (PheWAS) associations highlight diabetic consequences across ancestries.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information.

Supplementary Figs. 1–7, Tables 1–8 and Note.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary dataset 1.

Associations of ACKR1, HLA-DQB1 and TCF7L2 loci with all Phecodes stratified by genetic ancestry.

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The All of Us Research Program Genomics Investigators. Genomic data in the All of Us Research Program. Nature (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06957-x

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Published : 19 February 2024

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‘Sunset Baby’ Review: Don’t Let Nina Be Misunderstood

Moses Ingram makes her New York stage debut in Dominique Morisseau’s love poem to Nina Simone.

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A man in a red knit hat and brown leather jacket and bluejeans stands inside a doorway with the door partially open. He is facing a woman with long red hair and a leopard skin coat, who is next to the doorway.

By Juan A. Ramírez

Dominique Morisseau’s characters are, as the post-colonial thinker Frantz Fanon once described himself, often paralyzed “at the crossroads between nothingness and infinity.” Her plays craft realistic depictions of marginalized people inextricably caught in the tide of history.

In her 2013 piece “Sunset Baby,” receiving a potent revival at Signature Theater, Morisseau lays bare both a romantic relationship and a father-daughter drama while also exploring the effects of revolution, the deferment of dreams and the bind of being a Black woman in America.

The play’s complexities find their avatar in its hardened protagonist, Nina (Moses Ingram, making a strong New York stage debut). As a drug dealer and (as conjured by the costume designer Emilio Sosa’s tiny dress and thigh-high boots) a honey pot eking out a living in Brooklyn, Nina’s life is a far cry from the dreams envisioned by her Black revolutionary parents, who named her after the singer-activist Nina Simone.

After the death of her mother, Ashanti X, from a slow, ugly slide into addiction, Nina’s estranged father, Kenyatta Shakur (Russell Hornsby), reappears to collect a stash of letters her mother had written to him while he was a political prisoner.

Kenyatta seems earnest in his attempt to reconnect. But having prioritized the good fight over his family — and Nina’s poverty being the very thing he’d set out to combat — he is seen by Nina only as an absentee father, and she refuses to budge. (She had already rebuffed cushy offers from universities and publishers wanting to purchase the correspondences between her parents, adding to the list of forces — family, history, the government — seeking to take from her.)

Damon (J. Alphonse Nicholson), Nina’s devoted partner in love and crime, who thinks of the two as a righteous Bonnie and Clyde, adds relationships to that list. He finds in Kenyatta a kindred sense of anti-establishment disruption and, knowing some cash could take them out of the projects, tries to change her mind.

Morisseau’s choice to make this a tonal love poem to Nina Simone , whose life and music were rich with power and contradiction, is perfect. And this production, thoughtfully directed by Steve H. Broadnax III, highlights the musician’s presence over the material. A preshow voice-over quotes Simone’s belief that an artist’s duty is to reflect her times, and a final, gut-punching fade-out features her rendition of “Sinnerman” (“Where you gonna run to?”).

As in her other works, characters are both overwhelmed and motivated by forces beyond their control, and are charged with rhythmic, intelligent language that this tight ensemble wields beautifully. Through a series of two-hand conversations — equally compelling as human dramas and as social treatises — they debate ideas of liberation versus survival; lofty ideals versus lived realities.

Videos recorded live by Kenyatta, which punctuate the dialogue, are projected (by the designer Katherine Freer) onto a shabby apartment set (by Wilson Chin). He recalls memories of Kwame Ture speeches and of the future his generation tried to build. The heartbreaking Hornsby delivers them in the way a father might to a child he’ll never see again.

And then there’s Simone’s music. Some songs are dictated by the script, and others from her catalog are included by sound designers Curtis Craig and Jimmy Keys. Their soundscape creates a lush portrait of a woman born of, and torn by, impossible circumstances: the preacher’s daughter behind “Work Song”; the rueful mourner of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”; the swaggering, street-smart goddess who’s “Feeling Good”; and the disillusioned exile remembering “Baltimore.”

Morisseau imbues Nina with equal interior abundance, and Ingram embodies her with authoritative understanding. Refusing to condescend, the playwright inverts the melodramatic setup — how easily this could have fallen into “look how my daughter lives!” — to interrogate the way women and children frequently wind up the fallout of revolutionary men.

Ingram’s Nina is an unfussy, recognizable creation — an unshakable heroine worthy of her eponym, in a play whose revival reminds us of its writer’s ability to put a spell on us.

Sunset Baby Through March 10 at the Signature Theater, Manhattan; signaturetheatre.org . Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

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