the romantic era -- 1/20/17

Today's selection -- from The Pursuit of Power by Richard J. Evans. The Romantic Era in art and philosophy, which emphasized emotions and nature, had its predominant influence from roughly 1800 to 1850. It was in part a response to the machines and factories of the Industrial Revolution, and partly a reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment Era that preceded it. Here we see examples in music, painting and literature:

"[Hector] Berlioz's own compositions breathed the unmistakable spirit of Roman­ticism, the new artistic movement that reacted to the rationalism of the Enlightenment by emphasizing the emotions, the exotic and the wild. Their themes encompassed not only a Byronic hero's encounter with brig­ands and his experiences wandering alone in the mountains (Harold in Italy, 1834), but also, in another Byronic piece, The Corsair (1844), the world of the Mediterranean pirate; and in the Symphonie Fantastique (1830) the drug-induced dreams of an artist, including a 'March to the Scaffold' and 'Witches' Sabbath'. A number of early Romantic works were written under the influence of opium, including, famously, the poem Kubla Khan (1816) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), who became a serious addict, consuming up to four quarts of laudanum (tincture of opium) a week. The drug's impact was recorded in detail by Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859) in his Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821). Opium distorted perceptions of time and space and heightened emotional experi­ence, something that strengthened its appeal to the Romantics. Whereas the Enlightenment had stressed the need to subordinate the emotions to the intellect, Romanticism instead stressed feeling as the fundamental source of truth and authenticity and their expression in art.

Wanderer above the sea of fog -- Caspar David Friedrich

"The characteristic Romantic figure was a lone individual such as the Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (1818) by the German painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), standing on a mountain top above a sublime landscape after conquering its peaks, and, with his back turned to the viewer, contemplating an unknown and uncertain future, perhaps in the next life. The idea of the tortured genius was central to this ideal of art: art and suffering were intertwined in the Romantic agony in the figure of Beethoven, who was afflicted by increasing deafness from his mid-twenties until he had lost all his hearing by 1814. ... Beethoven was a transitional figure, beginning firmly in the Classical tradition and break­ing free of it in his late works, whose inspiration followed Romantic principles by eschewing rule-bound forms (for example, in the number and length of different movements) and expressing emotion in seemingly spontaneous and unfettered fashion.

"The Romantic hero as emotional being was expressed most dramati­cally perhaps in the character of Heathcliff, the protagonist of Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Bronte (1818-48): a 'dark-skinned gypsy', as she described him, who is adopted as a child by a Yorkshire gentleman farmer, is spurned in love by his daughter, and, consumed by rage and despair, spends the rest of his life in pursuit of revenge upon the family. Critics preferred the novels of Emily's more famous sister Charlotte. In her best-known work, Jane Eyre (1847), she described the eponymous hero­ine's growing independence and her rejection of the constricting conditions of governessing and teaching. Romantic themes continually recur in the novel, above all the ghostly and mysterious noises which, it is eventually revealed, are caused by a madwoman kept hidden in the attic of the remote Yorkshire house where Jane is employed by Mr Rochester. The two fall in love, but the madwoman in the attic is revealed as Rochester's wife, whom he had married unwisely in his passionate youth, and so Jane and Rochester are prevented by law from marrying. The novel ends with the madwoman setting fire to the house, which burns down, blinding its owner. Jane, who narrates the story, returns to rescue him, and opens the concluding chapter with the famous words: 'Reader, I married him.'



Richard J. Evans


The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914 (The Penguin History of Europe)


Viking and Imprint of Penguin Random House


Copyright 2016 by Richard J Evans


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