Dark Romanticism

From 1840s - late 1870s

Dark Romanticism is a subgenre of the important literary movement— Romanticism. It includes works of a more grotesque nature. 

E.g. The author's works are often considered to be an example of dark romanticism, exploring themes of guilt, fear, and mortality.

Authors included in the genre of Dark Romanticism often include literary elements like ghosts, crime, insanity, melancholy, and more, in their work. These authors craft characters suffering from various disorders such as depression and who encounter terrible events in their lives, suffer loss and are haunted by the past. It’s not uncommon to find ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and demons in poems, short stories, and plays of the Dark Romanticism genre.

Dark Romanticism definition and examples

Dark Romanticism Definition

Dark Romanticism is a subgenre of the broader Romanticism movement. This means that authors valued individuality, emotion, and subjective experience, but they were primarily influenced by dark themes, such as loss and death.

They were interested in human failings, sin, and the capacity of human beings to seek out their destruction. Sometimes, their works featured characters who were alienated by their surroundings and peers or were considered outcasts by society. 

The Dark Romanticism subgenre was at its height in the 18th and 19th centuries. Authors included in the movement, and their works, are discussed below. 

Examples of Dark Romanticism 

Darkness by Lord Byron 

Byron is usually classified as a Romantic author. But, some of his darker literary works are categorized as examples of Dark Romanticism. This particular poem serves as a warning against the growing inequality in Byron’s time and a prediction for what will happen to the planet if the human race does not change. 

This piece begins with a description of the sun, stars, and moon being extinguished, and the Earth is left to stumble through space without direction. All of the people of the Earth have been doomed to live in darkness. Here are a few lines which follow: 

And men forgot their passions in the dread 

Of this their desolation; and all hearts 

Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light: 

And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones, 

The palaces of crowned kings—the huts, 

The habitations of all things which dwell, 

Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d, 

Read more of Lord Byron’s poetry.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe 

Edgar Allan Poe’s works are commonly associated with the Dark Romanticism movement. His short stories and poems embody the themes most often seen in the genre. These include alienation, suffering, grief, loss, and the supernatural. For example, in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe describes an unnamed narrator who arrives at the house of his friend, Roderick Usher. Here are a few lines:

I know not how it was–but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasureable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. 

As the story progresses, the narrator reveals more about the dark history of the family mansion.

Explore Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry.

“The Birth-Mark” by Nathanial Hawthorne 

This classic story of the Dark Romanticism movement was first published in March 1843 in The Pioneer. The story describes a scientist, Aylmer, who marries a young woman with a hand-shaped birthmark on her cheek. As the story progresses, he becomes more and more obsessed with the birthmark and even dreams of cutting it out of her cheek. His wife is upset by his obsession and declares that she’d rather take the risk of having the birthmark removed than have it continue to drive her husband crazy. Here are a few lines: 

Had Aylmer reached a profounder wisdom, he need not thus have flung away the happiness which would have woven his mortal life of the selfsame texture with the celestial. The momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of time, and, living once for all in eternity, to find the perfect future in the present.

Discover Nathanial Hawthorne’s poetry


What are the characteristics of Dark Romanticism?

Works of the Dark Romanticism genre focus on sin, grief, sorrow, the psychological effects of guilt, and self-destruction. It is common to find elements of the supernatural, such as vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, and more within these literary works as well.

What is Dark Romanticism also known as?

Sometimes, Dark Romanticism is referred to as “gothic fiction” or as a type of transcendentalism

What is the difference between Romanticism and Dark Romanticism?

Both Romanticism and Dark Romanticism are characterized by a focus on individual experience and emotion. But, works of the Dark Romantic genre are primarily interested in the worst parts of the human experience. For example, characters may be plagued with guilt, commit murder, go insane, see spirits, and more.

How is Poe a Dark Romantic writer?

Poe’s literary works are filled with the characteristics of the Dark Romanticism literary genre. His characters are haunted by events of the past, see spirits, experience supernatural events, go insane, and more. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Aestheticism: a literary and artistic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries that focused on the importance of beauty.
  • Dadaism: an art and literary movement in Europe during the 20th century. It was a reaction to the senselessness of war during the early 1900s. 
  • Dirty Realism: a literary movement of the 20th century in North America. The movement’s authors use concise language and clear descriptions of the darkest parts of reality.
  • Fugitives: a movement comprised of a group of poets and scholars from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee in the mid-1920s. 
  • Futurism:  an avant-garde movement that originated in Italy in the 20th century. It was part of the broader Futurist art movement.
  • Genre:  a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.

Other Resources 

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