ideological and stylistic trends in Western European literature of the second half of the 18th and early 19th centuries; in the fine arts the movement existed during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
A precursor of romanticism, preromanticism retained some motifs and ideas of the literature of sentimentalism, such as an appeal to feeling, a defense of a natural existence, and a poetization of peaceful nature. However, these were ideologically disparate schools: sentimentalism merely criticized the rationalism of the Enlightenment, while preromanticism marked the beginning of a total and uncompromising rejection of rationalism.
The tentative, transitional nature of preromanticism was evident in the literary work of the preromantics, who are often identified either with romanticism (W. Blake) or sentimentalism (J. H. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre). Preromanticism emerged alongside the third estate and was permeated with an enthusiastic self-determination and affirmation of the individual. These traits are found in J. Cazotte’s The Enamored Devil and to a certain extent in the works of the Marquis de Sade. During the period preceding the French Revolution, preromanticism in France took on a civic and antifeudal tone.
Preromanticism developed most characteristically and fully in England. In response to the crisis of the Enlightenment consciousness, English preromanticism deliberately recalled former times, as can be seen in the literary fabrications of T. Chatterton and J. MacPherson, in the return to folk literature, exemplified by the songs and ballads of T. Percy and A. Ramsay, and in the creation of the Gothic novel by such writers as A. Radcliffe. Poetically revealing the emotional element and delving deeply into it, English preromanticism shifted the focus to sudden changes in individual human destiny. Akin to preromanticism’s fascination with the Middle Ages was a revival of interest in the “barbarous” Shakespeare as a model of true poetry (E. Young’s “Conjectures on Original Composition,” 1759). Bourgeois progress was criticized in Young’s “graveyard poetry” (“The Complaint, or Night Thoughts,” 1742–45) and in T. Gray’s melancholy “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”
Preromanticism also appeared in the literatures of the USA, Hungary, Italy, and Spain. In Russia, the trend did not attain full expression: there, the literary syncretism of the late 18th century —the concurrent presence of different ideological and literary tendencies—reduced preromanticism to separate occurrences in the poetry of G. R. Derzhavin, N. I. Gnedich, and V. A. Zhukovskii.
In the fine arts, preromanticism’s transformation into romanticism itself was much more natural. Here the trend also strove to individualize images and was drawn to dramatic motifs and strongly expressive forms; in addition, it often had a civic tone.
V. A. KHARITONOV