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4.5 out of 5 stars
The Romantic Revolution
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on 7 October 2017
Energetic and full of flavour. It manages to embrace complexity without being burdened by it. I enjoyed reading it as much as the author seems to have enjoyed writing it. A great read that got me thinking.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 December 2011
There are several good short introductions to Romanticism (by J.L.Talmon, H.G.Schenk and Rupert Christiansen - to name only the ones on my shelves), but now this excellent short text of just 186 pages joins them. It is particularly rich in short but well-chosen excerpts from a wide range of the writings of the time. It covers all the usual themes, but there are also a passages about less familiar aspects or episodes. I had not previously been conscious of the Romantic cult of the Night as opposed to the Enlightenment's cult of the Light. We learn about a little-known Czech epic forged by one Vaclav Hanka, which for the Czech imagination was as influential as that other forgery by James Macpherson - the poems of Ossian - was for Europe in general and for Scotland in particular. There is the story of the British handing over to the Turks the Greek town of Parga in 1818, "well-reported" at the time but which hardly figures in the history books today: it was a tragic episode which contributed to the role that Greece played in the Romantic imagination.

In his short last chapter Blanning deals with the apparent death of Romanticism as Realism in art and literature took over and materialism asserted itself - but that death was only apparent; and the reaction to that world took the form of the neo-Romanticism of Symbolism, and of a new romantic obsession with death and night and sex. Blanning shows that even thereafter the swing of the pendulum (he sees it as dialectical development - I prefer to see it as co-existence) had not come to a end.

Blanning has packed an enormous amount into his short space, and it is only the last thirty pages or so which I thought were a little too hectic.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 June 2014
It’s hard in less than 200 pages to go into a great deal of detail, but in this book, Tim Blanning manages to sketch out the why and how of romanticism. Why this “movement” began, as a reaction against the Enlightenment, but also as an outgrowth of societal and political change. How romanticism spread, through the most important countries – Germany, France and England – and how new modes of production led to the diffusion of romantic ideas.

For the romantic movement is more than just an artistic movement, even though it covered the major forms of art: music, literature and painting. Many of the causes of its spread were due to new structures, institutions and technologies. Romantic music was spawned in part by the change from patronage to public support for musicians, both in performance and in publication, and to performances both in concert halls and in salons. Literature spread through the many changes in technology that made printing and books cheaper. And images circulated in the form of lithographs and other types of prints that were developed in the early 19th century.

Romanticism is, at heart, about the imagination, about feeling, about art for art’s sake, about the individual being the most important element in the world. Beethoven is the best example of the romantic artist, with Schubert a close second. But romanticism had many forms, from the near-transcendence of Beethoven’s late works, or of Schubert’s finest songs, to the development of characters in literature, such as in Hugo and Balzac. The rise of tourism – notably to the Alps and the Rhine – led to a new appreciation of nature, and a discovery of other lands and worlds. All in all, the romantic movement is probably the greatest cultural and artistic revolution of our time, and this book, in less than 200 pages, sketches the main figures and themes.

While this book is just an introduction, it gives plenty of suggestions of books to read, music to listen to, and art to see to better understand just how powerful this period was. This is a revolution that has not ended; our arts and culture are still influenced by the ideas of the romantics. And this book helps grasp just how important this period was.
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on 18 September 2010
A while ago I read Blanning's The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 (Penguin History of Europe) and was completely bowled over by the learning and originality, all of it delivered in a seemingly effortless style and manner. This book, though on a completely different subject matter, is certainly no less an achievement. In the short span of just 186 pages (not counting the notes, list for further reading and index) Blanning masterly summarizes this most fascinating of subjects: Romanticism.

In the introduction Blanning argues that, besides the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, the Romantic Revolution was as (if not more) important, and just as radical and far-reaching. He then sets out to prove his point in a very logical framework. Chapter I ('the crisis of the age of reason') deals with the beginnings of romanticism, the radical shift it caused from a mimetic to an expressive aesthetic, how it led to the cult of the artist genius (which is still very much alive today), and these same artists' dual relation with their public.

In chapter II ('the dark side of the moon') he covers the romantics' fascination with all aspects of the human experience so alien to the Enlightenment: dreams and nightmares, madness, the 'wonder-world of the night'. In chapter III ('language, history and myth') he turns his attention to how romanticism sparked a renewed interest in (national) history, folk tales and folk lore, and how each nation searched (and found, if necessary using forgeries) their own 'golden age, often set in medieval times. Finally, in the conclusion Blanning demonstrates how romanticism never really died (although with the advent of Realism such seemed the case) but re-emerged, transfigured, in e.g. symbolism and even post-modernism (which, just as romanticism, 'squarely belongs with the culture of feeling').

Add to this that Blanning's text abounds with a whole host of examples and quotes, ranges across all arts and most of Europe (though concentrating on England, France and Germany), is written in crystal-clear language, and the end result is the definitive introduction to Romanticism. This is certainly not the largest, most detailed survey of Romanticism, but as an introduction to the subject I find it very hard to imagine how this book could be bettered.
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on 31 December 2010
The best thing about this book is its length. For a history book by a professional historian, it is laudably short. The book gets its points across clearly and with precision. As something to dip into for the desperate, essay writing sixth former or undergraduate looking for an idea or quote, it would be hard to better.

For those looking for a more comprehensive purview of the romantic movement and its effect on society, it leaves a lot to be desired. There seems to be a whole chapter missing - the one that deals with romantic theories of science. These had a powerful influence on the biological sciences in particular.

The chapter on the romantics' interest in language, history and myth is the high point of the book. This is taken forward into the complex, almost incomprehensible positioning of the romantics in contemporary politics - a sort of reactionary liberalism, loosely tied to an idealised pastoral volk and terrified of the urban mob.

The influence of the romantics on contemporary political thinking and on social policies is not covered; it is treated as an almost exclusively artistic movement. Again romantic thinking on what constituted a "people" revolutionised concepts of nationhood, which had reverberations beyond the nineteenth century into the twentieth.

The book ends with the classical-romantic "dialectic" continuing all the way up to the present day. This further confuses the definition of the word "romantic". To support the book's arguments, quotes seem to be selected at random across the period 1760-1880. I could have used a little more rigour around the definition of the term, but perhaps that deserves a (longer) book by itself.
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on 18 February 2014
"The Romantic Revolution" is after "Pursuit of Glory", Tim Blanning's second book that blew me away. The writer provides a breathtaking overview of the first 100 years of the movement, describing vividly how it influenced Europe's culture in arts, music, literature, architecture, language, mythology and eventually politics.

By structuring the chapters by topic, the wonderful but often dark world of the Romantics is revealed. An inward-looking world ruled by the night, dreams, madness and emotions is explored by taking the reader on an exciting cultural journey. This time the grand tour goes from England and France via the Rhine and the Alps to Germany and includes side trips to the Czech Republic and Scotland. Travel companions include Rousseau, Beethoven, Liszt, Goya, Herder, Chatterton and Friedrich. The result is a fascinating story of a cultural revolution whose influence, especially in music, can still be felt to this day.

Blanning's pace and style are both appealing and lucid and topics covered filled many a blind spot in my knowledge. Especially the writer's explanation of "the cult of genius" helped me enjoy Peter Watson's The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century much more. All in all, I immensely enjoyed this masterwork from page one and highly recommend "The Romantic Revolution".
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 August 2015
Although “by its nature, romanticism does not lend itself to precise definition”, this is a coherent and very readable introduction. Blanning even manages to interest a reader like me who finds romantic poetry and art too full of mawkish sentimentality and overblown emotion. My initial aim was simply to understand how romanticism arose as a backlash against the “cold and sterile” rationality of the C18 Enlightenment, which Blanning admits is an over-simplification.

Rousseau with his originality and “insistence on doing everything from the inside”, the “Sturm und Drang” movement in Germany and English poets like Blake and Coleridge all in their various ways attacked the Enlightenment developments of philosophy, science and mathematics as being too concerned with what could be measured and proved. Coleridge criticised rationally educated people who “were marked by a microscopic acuteness, but when they looked at great things, all became blank and they saw nothing”. He suggested that the souls of five hundred Newtons would go to the making up of one Shakespeare or Milton.

John Locke in particular was condemned for maintaining that at birth, the human mind was “white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas”. This seemed to put too much importance on development through the senses, involving social engineering, as opposed to Baudelaire’s view that romanticism lies “in a way of feeling”. It was also a focus on individual creativity from the inside out, which would give free rein to geniuses like “the romantic hero” Beethoven, or more arguably Wagner, who maintained, “Only religion and art can educate a nation – what use is science which analyses everything and explains nothing?”

The Enlightenment was also seen as hostile to history, a clear example of this being the French Revolution with its violence and imposition of a new order, treating society like a system for which the past could be erased.

With the downgrading of organised religion in the C18, art in its various forms could fill the gap, and the exploration of this forms the bulk of the book. Blanning writes of the composers who became the “high priests” of art; the poetic imagination which knows “how like a dream imagination is, how it loves nights, and solitude”, the same being applicable to writers and painters. The fascination with insanity, linked to the idea of “the mad genius” and the interest in folk art, folk dancing and folk songs are also covered. Even landscapes could become romantic, such as the Rhine and the Alps. It is easy to see how all this could feed the nationalism of German or Italian unification, fed by myths of past heroes.

In a final chapter linking to the present, Blanning shows how the force of technological change eventually forced romanticism to cede to modernism, giving the Enlightenment “the last laugh” – yet suggests in a somewhat rushed conclusion that there is now a renewed reaction to the culture of reason.

My only minor criticism is that the author makes too great a demand on the reader by flitting between examples without making the chronology clear. I like his heavy use of well-chosen quotations which create a vivid sense of romanticism in its varied aspects.
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on 18 March 2011
The author sets out the basic tension between Classicism and Romanticism clearly. He shows the period's on-going influence on our ideas of and reactions to art and artists. Many of the people and their works have passed into obscurity, so understanding their influence is very valuable. The Romantics were difficult and self-indulgent by turns, but they managed to make virtues of both. We need to know this era to understand our own art and artists.
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on 6 July 2014
An easy-to-read introduction to the romantic movement and the prevailing culture of the time period in question. Just enough detail to whet the appetite.
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on 1 July 2013
This book is good but does not explore in any real depth, however a good supplement to denser tomes on the period.
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