The more precise characterization and specific definition of Romanticism has been the subject of debate in the fields of intellectual history and literary history throughout the 20th century, without any great measure of consensus emerging.
That it was part of the Counter-Enlightenment, a reaction against the Age of Enlightenment, is generally accepted in current scholarship.
Romanticism assigned a high value to the achievements of "heroic" individualists and artists, whose examples, it maintained, would raise the quality of society.
It also promoted the individual imagination as a critical authority allowed of freedom from classical notions of form in art.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge and others believed there were natural laws the imagination—at least of a good creative artist—would unconsciously follow through artistic inspiration if left alone.
As well as rules, the influence of models from other works was considered to impede the creator's own imagination, so that originality was essential.
The early period of the Romantic era was a time of war, with the French Revolution (1789–1799) followed by the Napoleonic Wars until 1815.
These wars, along with the political and social turmoil that went along with them, served as the background for Romanticism.
In contrast to the Rationalism and Classicism of the Enlightenment, Romanticism revived medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived as authentically medieval in an attempt to escape population growth, early urban sprawl, and industrialism.
Although the movement was rooted in the German Sturm und Drang movement, which preferred intuition and emotion to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, the events and ideologies of the French Revolution were also proximate factors.