September 4, 2010

Antiromanticism is a movement in English literature that emerged in the 20th century as a reaction to Romanticism that dominated the field of literature during the late 18th and the early 19th centuries. Antiromanticism shares some tenets of Classicism, which was subsequently opposed by Romanticism. From this point of view, Antiromanticism could be considered as the resurgence of Classicism in a new name and guise. Antiromanticism questioned the stability and rationality of Romanticism and necessitated a reassessment of the nature of literature and the role of the writer in society. When first arrived, this new type of literary tendency not only baffled but also shocked the audience, writers, and critics around the globe with its novel, unconventional, and highly disputable ideas. The basic difference between Romanticism and Antiromanticism is that whereas the former has a strong predilection to idealisation of life, the latter tends to explore life from practical point of view. Though hard to assign precisely, literary works based on antiromantic attitude roughly hinge round the following concepts:
  • Ironic, indirect, and impersonal (objective) representation of ideas.
  • Uncompromising criticism of romantic illusions.
  • Opposition of unreal ideas and artificiality of treatment.
  • Satirisation of irrational and whimsical attitudes of the so-called aristocracy.
  • Criticism of established conventions of sentimental love, marriage, sex, religion, and rituals.
  • Criticism of social, political, cultural, and moral customs and manners of the contemporary society.
  • Advocacy of pragmatism and disapproval of idealism.
  • Valuing reason over emotion and imagination.

Chief Representatives

The major literary artists who helped to establish Antiromanticism through explicit rejection of Romanticism include:
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Shaw is antiromantic in person and by nature. He opposed Romanticism for he assumed that it shamelessly and irrationally deals with imaginary and vague artificiality of emotions. Shaw wrote a number of plays on antiromantic tone. The greatest expression of this outlook found its way in his first successfully staged drama Arms and the Man (1894), where he wittily, humorously, and critically exposes the futility of romantic and emotional concept of war, love, heroism, and marriage. Another critically acclaimed play is Man and Superman (1903), dealing with the antiromantic attitude towards marriage.
W.H. Auden (1907-1973)
Auden is strongly antiromantic. His poetry reveals a strong rejection of the ideas of the poetry of earlier generation and an admiration of earlier and less fashionable poetic movements. Auden’s poetic theory and practice are largely engendered by impersonality, that is, he is able to write poetry by keeping his own feelings aloof. He sought to exercise objectively the anarchy, dismay, desolation and spiritual decay of the contemporary society to portray the obscurity of modern life. Due to his scepticism about the idealistic claims about the nature of poetry, imagination, love, society, politics, etc., he was able to forge himself as one of the strongest representatives of Antiromanticism.
Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
Apart from Auden, Philip Larkin happens to be the most representative of the poets who gave expression to the antiromantic sensibility. He treats the modern English setting in a withdrawn and non-sentimental manner, but often with considerable feeling. The works which established Larkin as a fine antiromantic poet of great wit, sophistication, and compassion include The North Ship (1945), and The Less Deceived (1955).
Kingsley Amis (1922-1995)
The tone of Amis’ work is antiromantic and rational. His works take a humorous yet highly critical look at British society, especially of the period following the end of World War II in 1945. In a number of novels he explored his disillusionment: Lucky Jim (1954), That Uncertain Feeling (1955), and Take a Girl Like You (1960).

Other antiromantic poets of the same generation include Donald Alfred Davie (1922-1995), D (ennis) J (oseph) Enright (1920-), John Barrington Wain (192-1994), Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001) and Robert Conquest (1917-).

In America a similar type of literary tendency was prevalent during the mid-nineteenth century. It was known as Antitranscendentalism (also known as Dark Romanticism). It stemmed from Transcendentalism, which was developed in the first half of the 19th century. But the antitranscendentalists did not accept all ideas of Transcendentalism; rather they rejected or modified most of the utopian ideas. Transcendentalism was regarded by many scholars as the American version of English Romanticism. Transcendentalism was based on the belief that there was inherent goodness in man, and that nature always cares for the wellbeing of the humankind, since it is created by god. In contrast, Antitranscendentalism held a less optimistic view about the Transcendentalist assertions. To the antitranscendentalist, man was capable of evil and nature was destructive and unsympathetic. Thus the chief difference between the two schools of thought is that whereas the former is predominantly utopian in nature, the latter is essentially down-to-earth in its thoughts. Generally, the antitranscendental outlook centers round the following principles:
  • Less optimistic assertion about the inherent goodness in mankind, nature, and the universe.
  • Disclosure of the dark sides of the human heart.
  • Acceptance of nature as a spiritual force.
  • Revelation of the destructive and indifferent side of nature.
  • Exposure of social corruption.

Chief Representatives

The major representatives of the antitranscendental sensibility include:
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
Hawthorne is widely deemed to be one of the distinguished members of the antitranscendentalist movement. His writings features psychological probing into human nature, especially its darker side. Hawthorne’s psychological exploration found its greatest expression in his allegorical magnum opus The Scarlet Letter (1850), a tale of sin, punishment, and redemption.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Allan Poe is the unchallengeable leader of the antitranscendentalist movement in American literature. He is, perhaps the best of the antitranscendentalists. In his masterful works, Poe tries to explore human psychology with a keen interest in the perverse and self-destructive nature of the conscious and subconscious mind. Amongst Poe’s literary output, the short stories: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), The Pit and the Pendulum (1842), The Tell-Tale Heart (1843), The Cask of Amontillado (1846) and the poems: The Raven (1845), The Sleeper (1831), Lenore (1831), and Annabel Lee (1849) are distinguished for their uniqueness.
Herman Melville (1819-1891)
Psychological exploration provides the force and vitality to the works of the Antitranscendental writer Herman Melville. It is this psychological exploration, for which his works remained in obscurity until the 1920s, when his genius was finally recognised. Among many of his creations, Moby Dick; or The Whale (1851) is the most-appreciated one, and it is definitely the apex of his creation. The novel, in its entirety, is a meticulous illustration of man's evil toward fellow man and nature.


“Dark Romanticism.” Wikipedia. 2010. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 August 2010
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“Kingsley Amis.” Microsoft Encarta. DVD-ROM. Redmond: Microsoft, 2005.

“Philip Larkin.” Microsoft Encarta. DVD-ROM. Redmond: Microsoft, 2005.

“Philip Larkin.” Encyclop√¶dia Britannica. 2010. Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, Inc. 25 August 2010

NB: This article was last updated on January 09, 2018
Tanvir Shameem Tanvir Shameem is not the biggest fan of teaching, but he is doing his best to write on various topics of language and literature just to guide thousands of students and researchers across the globe. You can always find him experimenting with presentation, style and diction. He will contribute as long as time permits. You can find him on:

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