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LOOKING BACK
Nationalism and the Hero
  • For nineteenth-century Romantics, the hero was an expression of the expansive subjectivity of the individual. Characterized by superhuman ambition and talents, the hero, whether a historical figure or a fictional personality, experienced life with self-destructive intensity.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte's remarkable career became a model for heroic action propelled by an unbounded imagination and ambition.

  • To a great extent, Western literature of the early nineteenth century resembles a personal diary recording the moods and passions of the hero as a larger-than-life personality.

The Promethean Hero
  • Prometheus, a Greek deity who selflessly imparted wisdom to humanity, influenced the Romantics as a symbol of heroic freedom. Mary Shelley, Byron, and other Romantics found in Prometheus an apt metaphor for the creative and daring human spirit. Byron in England and Pushkin in Russia took Napoleon as their source of inspiration.

  • In America, Frederick Douglass, champion of the abolitionist movement, served as a prime example of Promethean defiance of authority and defense of human liberty.

Goethe's Faust: The Quintessential Romantic Hero
  • Faust, the literary hero who symbolizes the quest to exceed the limits of knowledge and power, became the quintessential figure for Romantic writers, painters, and composers (discussed in chapter 29).

  • Goethe envisioned the legendary Faust as a symbol of the ever-striving human will to master all forms of experience, at the risk of imperiling his eternal soul.

Romantic Love and Romantic Stereotypes
  • Romantic love was a popular theme among nineteenth-century writers, many of whom tended to stereotype females as either angels or femmes fatales.

  • The nineteenth century, the first great age of female novelists, produced such outstanding writers as George Eliot, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen.

  • In the novels of George Sand, the Romantic heroine might be a self-directed creature whose passions incite her to contemplate (if not actually exercise) sexual freedom.