SINGLE IN THE CITY: Rethinking Romanticism

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First Posted: 1/27/2014

When people hear the word “Romanticism,” they usually think of flowers, poems and love… and they are partly correct. But the movement that dominated throughout the 19th century with names such as Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau — a movement that stressed creativity, imaginative powers, individualism, and romance — remains relevant in the modern dating realm.

Beginning as a literary and intellectual movement, the Romantic thinkers prized emotions over reason (rejecting their 18th century, more scientific-minded predecessors) and idealized women. When he wasn’t penning famous works of poetry like “Don Juan,” Byron, for example, persisted as the Wilt Chamberlain of his day, supposedly sleeping with lots of willing admirers. He died in 1824 while fighting in the Greek War of Independence.

Another flowery Romantic, William Wordsworth — known for his lengthy, autobiographical lyrical ballads — led a less interesting life than his contemporaries like Byron; still, though, his works of poetry, penning phrases such as, “In my heart of hearts…” and “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” continues to inspire and endure.

Finally, a noteworthy proto-Romantic, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who lived roughly a generation before Byron and Wordsworth, stands as the founding father of the movement. Rousseau’s interests remain varied, writing on topics as diverse as poetry, music, education, philosophy, and political theory. Even by today’s standards, Rousseau’s antics (he once had an affair with an older woman, Françoise-Louise de Warens, who he called “Maman”) continue to intrigue. Moreover, toward the end of his life, he wrote “Reveries of a Solitary Walker,” a classic book containing his observations during walks around Paris. The book persists as a classic of Romanticism.

Long before Byron, Wordsworth, or Rousseau, Romantic thinking thrived throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. At that time, during the 11th century in particular, members of the nobility would cross “erotic desire” and “spiritual attainment.” “The Age of Chivalry” defined gender roles and established codes of conduct for those seeking knighthood. Commonly, though, chivalric values — those such as honor and courtesy — seem worn and outmoded today. Yet these values persist in many ways and stand the test of time.

Rethinking Romanticism may not stand as a bad idea.

These literary figures and the ideals they espouse live on and remain more than just historical curiosities. Romantic love, idealism, individuality, and a reverence for the natural world — these values carry through and stand as ideas and practices worth preserving.