After almost half a century of being out of print, in fact, a rare book, E.H. Carr's "The Romantic Exiles" is once more available. It is, to put it mildly, a rare treat. This dramatic portrait of Alexander Herzen and his family (and followers) reads almost like a novel--but is certainly not fiction.
Herzen the radical publicist, wrongly portrayed as a far-Left radical, was one of the responsible promoters of democratic reform in tsarist Russia. While now and then he turned his eye on other countries, especially Poland, he was chiefly a journalist for political reform in his native Russia--from which he fled with his family.
But "The Romantic Exiles," while partly about Herzen's life and times, is chiefly about his personal life, his amours and his friendships. These were tangled, to say the least. The followers attracted to him were ambitious but flawed personalities, wrapped up in their love affairs and love failures. In covering these events. E. H. Carr seems to be dabbling in melodrama. But it's really not the case. His portrait of this group of troubled Russian rebels is as moving as a Chekhov play--which sometimes it resembles.
Rising above it all is Herzen--a truly noble figure in the politics of 19th century Europe. Noble, yes, but tragic. Battling for reform in Russia, he suddenly found himself outmoded when the reforming tsar, Alexander II, came to the throne. His reforms were exactly what Herzen had called for, liberation of the serfs, changes in legal procedures. Herzen felt suddenly out of date.
Anyone interested in this period and in the extraordinary figure of Alexander Herzen, must read this wonderful reissue.