A Study in Character: The Romantic Hero

One reactionary refusal to the despotic pace of Modernity consists in Romantic literature and the accompanying idealisms of the Romantic Hero. Romanticism emerged through a rejection of the Modern way of life, suggesting Modernity as altogether a corruption, a “restraint[] of theological and social conventions,” and that one should pay heed to pre-Modern values in order to live a fulfilled life. Romantics view Modernity as a “spiritual disaster, a demeaning routinization of life…” The Romantic Hero, by result, is defined and depicted as someone “placed outside the structure of civilization…yet with a sense of power, and often leadership, that society has impoverished itself by rejecting;” he is a highly introspective character who triumphs the individual over the group, and saturated with traits of “wanderlust, melancholy, misanthropy, alienation, and isolation.” One might summarize the Romantic sentiment as mirroring the famous words of Max Weber: “The whole cosmos of the modern economic order is an iron cage, producing its specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart, and its delusion that this nullity… has achieved a level of development never before attained by mankind.” This belief that one can simply transport oneself to another time can, for some Romantic characters, pave a well-cobbled path towards “Modern Melancholy… [and] false autonomy.” Stark opposition to Romantic characters and their sentiments see Romanticism as but an illusion of escape from the responsibility of Modernity, indeed often further connoting it as an ideology capable of becoming militant.