Characteristics of 19th Century Literature

Nineteenth-century literature flourished amidst the liberal revolutions that paved the way for the establishment of the bourgeoisie.

As a result of the restoration of the monarchy in Europe, the Romantic movement began, which grew slightly thanks to the high literacy achieved at that time. In this article, we tell you about 19th-century literature with special features.

In addition to Romanticism, the literature of the nineteenth century was characterized by the emergence of two other great movements such as realism and naturalism.

Each one of them brought with them different and interesting styles, proposals, and themes. In the case of Romanticism, its most prominent feature was individualism.

On the other hand, the literature of the nineteenth century handled a significant range of issues. However, the most predominant theme was related to love, nationalism, the Middle Ages, reality, and life itself. For example, realism put aside rhetorical embellishments to objectively describe everyday events.

To some extent, the authors of the 19th century felt some kind of rejection by the modern changes that were coming and decided to anchor themselves in environments undisturbed by man.

Some of the most prominent intellectuals were: Walter Scott, Lord Byron, José de Espronceda, Alejandro Dumas, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, and Èmile Zola.

Historic context

As mentioned at the beginning, the literature of the nineteenth century unfolded in a struggle between liberals and conservatives, in which the former almost always had the upper hand.

Later, at the end of the sixties, the industrialization process appeared and the intellectuals reflected the fear of society through texts set in unknown places.

The description of the previous panorama was located in Europe, specifically in Spain, where in 1875 the monarchical restoration stage began with the arrival to the throne of Alfonso XII.

For a short time, political and social life seemed to gain stability, but the war between Spain and Cuba in 1898 shook the pillars of development.

On the other hand, in Latin America, the process of modernization was experienced through the rural exodus, at the same time the path toward political freedoms made the writers portray the day-to-day in their works.

All this was mixed with the love themes that arose with the arrival of Romanticism in Argentina through the pen of Esteban Echeverría.

Characteristics of 19th-century literature with characteristics

To make references to the characteristics of the literature of the nineteenth century is to stop at the characteristics of the three movements that emerged at this time. The most outstanding aspects are described below:



This 19th-century literary movement emerged in Germany in the 1950s and 1970s. In this sense, its birth dates back to the so-called pre-romantic current, whose main authors were: Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. From then on, the historical novel was developed with the work Willhelm Tell.


One of the main features of Romanticism was the separation of the authors from the collective feeling to give way to the manifestation of individual emotions and thoughts. That meant the highest expression of “I”. As evidenced in the poem “Once I had a nail” by Rosalía de Castro.

The irrational prevails

The authors of Romanticism gave priority to the fantastic, dreamlike, symbolic, and emotional elements within their works. In such a way, reason and logic were put aside. An example of this is “The Student of Salamanca” by Spanish José de Espronceda, where the ghost of a woman appears.

Freedom and idealism

In the literature of the nineteenth century, freedom was present in works through the defense and achievement of some ideals, often unattainable. The love, political, social, and moral spheres were the most treated. This feature is evident in Bécquer’s “Rima LIII”, in which the idealization of love leads to disappointment.



This movement in 19th-century literature originated in the late 1940s, as a result of the revolutionary movements that took place in France and resulted in the Second Republic. Consequently, democracy was activated and the working class began to participate in political decisions.

In this sense, the writers found it necessary to capture the reality of life in their works. All of this is from a more objective perspective.


The texts were characterized by being precise and simple, that is, the authors put their emotions aside to focus on the truth of the everyday. Clarity, conciseness, and accuracy were predominant. A prominent representative was Benito Pérez Galdós with works such as Fortunata y Jacinta or Doña Perfecta.

The predominance of the narrative

The representatives of realism chose the genre of the novel as the main window to expose the political, social, economic, and individual realities of the time in which they lived. In this way, intellectuals such as Emilia Pardo Bazán, Leopoldo Alas Clarín, Gustave Flaubert, and León Tolstoi stood out.

The constant presence of the omniscient narrator

The writers of the realism movement were in favor of the use of an omniscient narrator. Perhaps that “know-it-all” trait was essential to be able to expose the reality of the world. This characteristic is identified in novels such as Los Pazos de Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

– Naturalism


Naturalism as a 19th-century movement began to develop in France in the early 1970s.

This current arose from the motivations and concerns of Èmile Zola. The writer used writing as a scientific method in which it was necessary to study through observation, research, and documentation of human behavior.

Objectivity 19th-century literature with characteristics

Objectivity was based on the expression of what was real without including feelings or emotions. In this way, the authors employed a know-it-all storyteller to tell the stories. This feature is observable in Federico Gamboa’s work Santa.

Literature as a laboratory

Naturalists used literature as the field to experiment with their characters, therefore the most developed genre was the novel. In this sense, they investigated future assumptions and hypothetical consequences according to their decisions. This characteristic is evident in most of the works of the father of naturalism Èmile Zola.

Pessimism about life and circumstances 

Pessimism was an outstanding feature within this current of the nineteenth century. Because naturalists were inclined to reflect reality from a scientific point of view, their works carried the weight of negativity, disease, vices, evil and other aspects that are part of human life.

Topics 19th-century literature with characteristics

The themes of 19th-century works of literature were subject to the characteristics of the three movements that came to life at that time. So the authors wrote about love, heartbreak, hopelessness, customs, culture, history, everyday life, society, and the existence of man.

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