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What Is Dark Romanticism?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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Dark romanticism is a term with various meanings, but one of the most popular ones is a literary genre that has a darkly emotional aspect, similar to what has been called the “transcendentalist” literary movement. Other definitions relate to other arts, like music, visual arts, and performance arts. It can also be a general ethos related to a person’s individual style and outlook on life. In all of these, the idea of “darkness,” itself, related to cynicism, pessimism, or obsession with Gothic nature, is juxtaposed with the idea of romanticism, which implies not only amorous passion, but nearly any deeply emotional or dramatic aspiration.

As a literary genre, dark romanticism tends to be engaged with the idea of darkness in the human soul, the concept of original sin, or a certain dark outlook on society in general. In traditional American studies, writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson represent this genre. Others might describe Edgar Allen Poe and other writers of that time as being part of it as well. In more modern literature, the genres of noir fiction and hard-boiled detective fiction, represented by writers like Elmore Leonard, might also be called darkly romantic.

In terms of a general cultural phenomenon, this term is often associated with what people call “goth” in many English-speaking societies. In general, this sort of genre combines traditional love objects, like visual heart shapes, cute costumes, and cupids, with distinct elements of the Gothic, such as the color black, animal familiars like cats and bats, or other “dark” figures common to Western symbolism, and may also include aspects of the supernatural, such as vampires or witchcraft.

All of the above tend to show up in the arts in the context of dark romanticism, for example, in the cover art for musical compositions, in cartoons or graphic novels, or in self-made props for performance art. Individual definitions of this term can vary, and so do the personal expressions of it in arts. In general, the visual appeal of this type of idea is making it somewhat common in modern English-speaking societies such as America and England. Many mainstream producers of consumer goods have even adopted these types of aesthetic schemes to reach out to a growing consumer audience mainly younger buyers. In general, a dark romantic aspect lends itself well as a “fresh” way to advertise or promote a wide variety of products, and as such, gets a good deal of play in the worlds of marketing and social media.

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Discussion Comments
By indigomoth — On Jul 22, 2012

@browncoat - Most people who like those styles, like them because they remind them of that kind of writing. Or, possibly they like that writing because it contains people who seem to identify with their style.

Dark romanticism isn't always negative for the sake of it. Poe is considered one of the most intelligent and celebrated authors that ever existed. And wearing dark lipstick and a corset seems to be fairly common now. You could be trying for steampunk or even just general clothes, not for dark romanticism.

I've always associated dark romanticism with authors rather than clothing trends anyway. The Cthulhu mythos, for example, seems to be undergoing quite a revival since the rights to Lovecraft's work became public domain. Although that involves a particular kind of horror fiction, while I have always felt what bound together a dark romantic literature was the theme of the darkness within human beings.

By browncoat — On Jul 21, 2012

I really love the aesthetic of this trend, although I'm not so much of a fan of some of the philosophy that goes along with it. In my experience it tends to be negative and cynical without any real experience or reasoning to back itself up. I guess this might be because it is often championed by disillusioned teenagers.

But, the look of it is really interesting, with lots of texture and subtext.

Goth isn't always the same as dark romanticism, but it is often linked with it and gothic styles are interesting and often very inventive. I just wish that dressing with that kind of trend in mind didn't make people automatically think that you adhere to all the philosophy that goes along with it. I can enjoy reading Poe without thinking that life is going to be constantly tragic and pointless, just as I can enjoy wearing black lipstick and a corset without giving up my love for chick lit.

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