Much like its lighter-hearted cousin, Dark Romanticism grew out of a resistance to the Age of Enlightenment, to the Industrial Revolution and general rationalisation, placing special emphasis on raw emotion, pure aesthetic experiences and other forms of intense feeling. But taking a gloomier turn from there, Dark Romanticism focuses on all the negatives of this approach. This includes irrationality as the end-result of a resistance to absolute rationality, demonic and grotesque aspects of human nature, and some of the darkest possible themes – suicide, death, madness, terror.
Consequently, many of the motifs we can find in Dark Romanticism are part of the realm of the uncanny. Love becomes lust, imaginative experience becomes escapism, nature features mist and lightning, buildings often feature haunts and ruination.
Dark Romanticism also involves other elements, such as demons and ghosts, pseudo-sciences, alchemy and magic, occultism, drugs (especially opium or alcohol), nightmares, melancholy and depression, resignation, despair, possessiveness, decay and personified evil.
Picture yourself living in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, a time when the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the countryside is being changed overnight as people move from farming to mining and factories. Chances are you may feel a longing for the past, for the beauty of the countryside, and the pride that an individual can take in their own individuality. Congratulations, you are a Romantic! Romanticism really took off at about the same time as the Industrial Revolution.
However, let’s say that you see the darker side of humanity. Perhaps when others see a bucolic farm, you think about what evil could come from all those farm instruments. Or maybe you think that ghosts, or even a personification of Evil itself, could haunt humans for their actions. In that case, you could be considered a Dark Romantic.
Dark Romantics believed humans gravitate to evil and self-destruction (striving for a utopian society is a waste of time). Stories in this genre share many characteristics of Realism (tell it like it is, what can go wrong, will). Dark Romantics focus on human fallibility, self-destruction, judgement, punishment, as well as the psychological effects of guilt and sin. Authors who embrace this genre include Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Emily Dickinson. There’s an even darker side of the Dark Romantics: Gothic Literature, which involves sheer terror, personal torment, graphic morbidity, and the supernatural.