The German poet Novalis (1772-1801) was really Friedrich Leopold von Hardenberg and Fitzgerald (The Gates of Angels, 1992; Offshore, 1987, etc.) here re-creates him, his family, his doomed young lover Sophie von Kühn, and Sophie's huge family—not to mention the era all of them lived in—in the most human-sized and yet intellectually capacious narrative a reader could wish for. Times were once better for the Hardenbergs, who've sold two estates, may have to sell another, and meanwhile live in a more manageable house in town. The pious and old (he's 56) father of the many-childrened family is Director of the Salt Mining Administration of Saxony, one of the few vocations (the military is another) not forbidden to members of the aristocracy, and the same calling the oldest Hardenberg son, Fritz, will follow upon conclusion of his studies at the universities of Jena, Leipzig, and Wittenberg. To say he's a salt inspector, though, is a little like saying Shakespeare was an actor. Not only have Fritz's studies brought him among faculty the likes of Fichte, Schiller, and Schlegel—but he himself is already a visionary poet helping bring the 18th century to its close (" 'The universe, after all, is within us. The way leads inwards, always inwards' ''). What transpires, then, in the inward universe, when Fritz first sees 12-year-old Sophie von Kühn standing at a window looking out? Says he: " 'Something happened to me.' '' This cheerful, careless, laughing child-woman becomes Fritz's star, his guide, "his Philosophy.'' Against all precedent (Sophie isn't of the real nobility), and in keeping with the changing times (there's been the revolution in France), he gets his father's permission to become engaged—but dreadful sorrow lies just ahead. A historical novel that's touching, funny, unflinchingly tragic, and at the same time uncompromising in its accuracy, learning and detail: a book that brings its subject entirely alive, almost nothing seeming beyond its grasp.