Comparison of the Modern Romantic Age

As the world shifted from the individual to the Romantic Heart period, mankind became aware of emotional characteristics; especially that of the heart.  Humanity embraced romance while romanticists memorialized it.  Analyzing the works of Jonathan Swift, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, and Leo Tolstoy will help readers envision how romanticists influenced not only the modern era but society itself.  The authors collectively inspired humanity by showing the importance of the romantic heart by displaying different characteristics of its uses.  The Modern Era was a time of rebuilding.  It produced great authors that changed the negative influences in society that they did not like.  As this essay analyzes the works of notable authors of that period, it will show a clear representation of men that conveyed their ideas and beliefs with clear writing styles and visions of the society in which they wanted to live, but often denied.  It started a movement of using the heart to find one’s individuality and self-worth.

Romantic versus Romanticist

Many people may claim to be romantic, but few possess the skills needed to be a romanticist.  In theory, being romantic and a romanticist are two quite different things.  Research shows, “If one consults the accepted sources of information about romanticism, one is likely to be told that its outstanding feature is individualism” (Barzun, 1961, p. 6).  By definition, a romanticist is composed of a group of men, in a particular time, who contributed to future generations as those who defined the romantic renaissance period.

Authors like Swift, Goethe, and Tolstoy understood the value of the heart to the individualistic movement in society and captured their feelings with words.  It noted the importance of emotion within society as an element of the human characteristic which set into motion a new age of literature.  While each of these authors embodied the definition of a romanticist, they all respectively stood apart in their work.  While the romantic era ended around 1850, it still influenced many writers to continue their legacy by writing from an emotional viewpoint.  It was the need for the words of the romanticists that were used by the romantics that inspired individuals to look within oneself to find a higher purpose.

Analyzing and Comparing

Jonathan Swift wore many hats during his lifetime.  Among them, he was known as a satirist, author of political pamphlets for the Tories, and a clergyman.  His knowledge gained from these different positions helped him in developing his ideas about the meaning of life.  His writing style was simple, and he used diction in a way that was easy for readers to understand.  His poem, The Lady’s Dressing Room displayed several different negative aspects of society that Swift might have been trying to bring attention to.  He wrote, “Whereof, to make the matter clear, An inventory follows here” (as cited by Damrosch, Alliston, Brown, Dubois, Hafez, Heise, U. K., et al., 2008, p. 1995).  This part of the poem offers the first hint of satire.  It is comical to think of the indignation the character felt as he had to sneak into the room to figure out what took women five hours.  After his initial reaction of horror, it turns to disgust as he wrote, “And first, a dirty smock appeared, Beneath the arm-pits well besmeared” (as cited by Damrosch, 2008, p. 1995).  He then turns the emotions to vanity as he wrote, “Now listen while he next produces, the various combs for various uses” (as cited by Damrosch, 2008, p. 1995).  He gives great detail to the many things a woman used to become beautiful as society dictated she should.  Swift also showed respect for Greek mythology by using Pandora and Epimetheus to relate to the horrors in which Strephon believed the dressing room reflected.  The satire he used to express his views on vanity showed he was conscious of this behavior in society and wanted to change or even express his disdain for it.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe was another Romanticist that helped to bring a voice to his beliefs.  While Swift used satire as his writing style, Goethe’s work reflected a much darker struggle within himself.  Damrosch (et al., 2008) noted, “Goethe’s concerns extend from the depths of the human psyche to the universe” (p. 2039).  In Faust; Goethe uses prose as his writing style.  He starts by setting the stage for a dark poem.  He speaks of happier times that foreshadow the remaining lyrics.  He wrote, “Those dear companions, by their fates unkind Decree cut short, who left me here behind” (as cited by Damrosch et al., 2008, p. 2040).  Goethe then showed his emotional mindset as he longed for what once was.  He seemed to write in an emotional and heartfelt way as he tried to understand his value in life.  His heart hurt was an inspiration for his poetry.  He looked at the life he was living and yearned for the one he had of happier times.  It is on page 2055 in our textbook that Faust hints at suicide as he said, “That little task; why does sweet light break over me” (as cited by Damrosch et al., 2008).  As his writing became more erratic and focused on death, it becomes evident that Goethe himself was the muse for his lyrics.

Leo Tolstoy was another Romanticist that reflected the use of the heart eloquently.  He was not unlike Swift and Goethe as he also wrote with an uncomplicated style.  His depression was also evident in The Death of Ivan Ilyich.  His writing also reflected a deep need to understand what his place in the world was.  At the beginning of chapter II, Tolstoy wrote, “Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible” (as cited by Damrosch et al., 2008).  The reflection of Ivan living a simple life can be compared to Tolstoy’s way of life and simple style of writing.  Did Tolstoy regret the way he had lived his life before his depression became unbearable?  His reflection on religion also showed his strong moral and religious beliefs at that time.  His quest for the meaning of life can be fully recognized early on as he wrote, “Then what does it mean?  Why?  It can’t be that life is so senseless and horrible” (as cited by Damrosch et al., 2008, p. 2339).  Tolstoy’s characters displayed real qualities of his life that showed he was searching for the value of life.

The characteristics of the individual could have been a shared interest with each of these authors analyzed during this essay.  Their unique writing styles and an understandable diction made analyzing their work much easier than other periods.  Possibly, the authors wrote what was in their hearts and readers also use the same to analyze it; strengthening the bond between the writer and the reader.  Previous authors like Montaigne and Machiavelli introduced the role of the individual into society and Romanticists helped to show that emotions were also human characteristic of importance to the individualistic movement in society.


Swift used satire while Goethe and Tolstoy often used pain and grief to express their emotions.  All looked at the world in which they lived and found fault.  Swift had a very comical outlook while it seems that Goethe and Tolstoy were lost by the happiness denied them.  While this era was about the Romantic Heart, the different styles showed that the heart was more than just romance.  It also brought pain and hurt to one’s life.  Each author was able to show a different element of just how mighty the heart was in that period.  Swift, Goethe, and Tolstoy embodied the true spirit of the romanticists of that era as each showed that the heart was the single most valuable element to individuality.

Barzun, J. (1961). Classic, romantic, and modern (Vol. 255). University of Chicago Press.
Damrosch, D., Alliston, A., Brown, M., Dubois, P., Hafez, S., Heise, U. K., et al. (2008). The Longman anthology of world literature: Compact edition. New York, NY: Pearson Longman.



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