Prominence Of Desire And Loss In Romantic Literature

3162 words - 13 pages

The Prominence of Desire and Loss in Romantic Literature

Romanticism is defined as “a sweeping but indispensable modern term applied to the profound shift in Western attitudes to art and human creativity that dominated much of European culture in the first half of the 19th century, and that has shaped most subsequent developments in literature--even those reacting against it” (Baldick). Though the time period that American Romanticism spans is rather vast and many of the literary works that spark out of this movement are unique in themselves, various unifying elements are present in these texts that categorize them as Romantic works. These elements, sometimes referred to as the “Romantic Spirit,” consist of principles such as idealism, rebellion, individualization, nostalgia, sublimity, and most importantly, desire and loss. Because desire is generally the drive for Romance, desire and loss seems to be the foundation of American Romanticism. In other words, each Romantic text contains some degree of desire and loss in it, with remnants of the other Romantic ideals. Both the pattern and importance of desire and loss in Romantic texts can be recognized by examining Columbus’ letters entitled “Letter to Luis de Santangel Regarding the First Voyage” and “Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella Regarding the Fourth Voyage,” Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia.”

The pattern of desire and loss is perhaps the most prominent in the works of the Pre-Romantic writer, Christopher Columbus. Columbus, under the ruling of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, is given permission to seek out “a commercially viable Atlantic route to Asia” (“Christopher Columbus” 11). In doing so, he instead discovers the New World and is engulfed by a desire for it. His letter to Luis de Santangel, “Regarding the First Voyage,” is written fresh upon his arrival to the New World. Desire first presents itself in this letter by Columbus’ longing to conquer the land. This can be seen as he states, “And there I found very many islands filled with people innumerable, and of them all I have taken possession for their highness, by proclamation made and with the royal standard unfurled, and no opposition was offered to me” (Columbus, “Luis” 12). Certainly, it is noticeable that Columbus enjoys this conquering of the land, especially in the latter portion of the statement, as he seems to offer the information about having no opposition as a tribute to his own greatness. Yet, his desire does not end here. Despite his excitement over the discovery and naming of these islands, it is no longer enough for him, and desire for more land tugs at his heart. Columbus, as if some land from afar is calling out to him, sends two of his men “inland to learn if there were a king or great cities” (Columbus, “Luis” 12). When they return with no news of such a land, desire rears its head again. Although he could have given up after their...

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