The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018
Romantic: A term with an array of meanings, first used to characterize narratives called romances that arose in medieval times and featured improbable plots, hence its often pejorative connotation as “implausible.” Later, in seventeenth-century France, the term was used more sympathetically to signify the tender or sad, a usage that spread to England and Germany in the eighteenth century, when it was often applied to melancholy works with exotic settings. Some critics viewed these works as imaginative, others as patently silly. Nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Schlegel was the first to apply the term to a literary movement that arose in opposition to neoclassicism, which looked to classical literature as a model and thus emphasized reason, order, restraint, balance, and decorum; subsequently, French writer Madame de Staël popularized this usage in De l’Allemagne (1810), her study of Germany and German culture, including its philosophy and literature. The movement, which became known as romanticism, is generally said to have extended from the end of the eighteenth century through much of the nineteenth, depending on the country in question; for instance, England’s Romantic Period spanned the years 1798—1837, America’s 1828—65. Today the terms classic(al) and romantic are still used in binary opposition, with classic(al) designating the rational, unified, orderly, stately, enduring, and finite and romantic referring to the emotional, changing, chaotic, improbable, visionary, and infinite.