Symbolism, an outgrowth from Romanticism

The later movement (…) was an antidote to nineteenth-century Naturalism, as the earlier had been an antidote to the neo-classicism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries : Symbolism corresponds to Romanticism, and is in fact an outgrowth from it. But whereas it was characteristic of the Romantics to seek experience for its own sake, to try the possibilities of life ; the Symbolists (…) carry on their experimentation in the field of literature alone ; and though they, too, are essentially explorers, explore only the possibilities of imagination and thought. And whereas the Romantic, in his individualism, had usually revolted against or defied that Society with which he felt himself at odds, the Symbolist has detached himself in indifference to it : he will cultivate his unique personal sensibility even beyond the point to which the Romantics did, but he will not assert his individual will – he will end by shifting the field of literature altogether (…) from an objective to a subjective world, form an experience shared with society to an experience savored in solitude.

Edmund Wilson, in Axel’s castle,  A study of the imaginative literature of 1870-1930, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Editions, p17

Leave a Reply