ROMANTIC AFFINITIES: Portrait of an Age 1780-1830 by Rupert Christiansen

ROMANTIC AFFINITIES: Portrait of an Age 1780-1830

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Christiansen offered a knowledgeable but facile and poorly organized account of opera's leading ladies in Prima Donna (1985). In this assessment of the age of Romanticism, the author again concentrates on striking personalities, but with greater depth and structure. Christiansen's aim is to re-create, through the medium of some representative minds, a sense of the ""creative chaos"" generating ideas between 1780-1830. While making the usual objection to neatly sliced historical eras, the author nonetheless keeps within familiar bounds, identifying the French Revolution and its aftermath through to Napoleonic imperialism as operative forces on Romantic thought. But Christiansen's real interest lies with relatively brief biographical episodes that in some ways duplicate the larger historical graph, taking, for example, Coleridge's and Southey's soured dream of communal life as consistent with, though not directly tied to, a wider disillusionment settling in after the French Revolution's bloodied wind-down. The author also argues that the designation ""Romantic"" must include the notion of political awareness, and in this case Shelley's early atheistic radicalism (for which he was tossed out of Oxford) becomes the representative episode. Similarly, the pervasiveness of mental illness among the Romantics is here delineated through a series of life-chapters, including the literary precedents and biographical forces behind the suicide of the German Romantic Heinrich von Kleist. A suave record of representative Romantic moments, showing a connoisseurship for detail and a knack for illuminating the overlooked nooks and crannies of a much-discussed period.

Pub Date: June 3rd, 1988
Publisher: Putnam