Tracing Women's Romanticism: Gender, History and Transcendence

Tracing Women's Romanticism: Gender, History and Transcendence

Tracing Women's Romanticism: Gender, History and Transcendence

Tracing Women's Romanticism: Gender, History and Transcendence

Synopsis

Tracing Women's Romanticism explores a cosmopolitan tradition of nineteenth-century novels written in response to Germaine de Sta¿l's originary novel of the artist as heroine, corinne . The first book to delineate the contours of an international women's Romanticism, it argues that the k¿nstlerromane of Mary Shelley, Bettine von Arnim, and George Sand offer feminist understandings of history and transcendence that constitute a critique of Romanticism from within. The book examines meditative, mystical and utopian visions of religious and artistic transcendence in the novels of women Romanticists as vehicles for the representation of a gendered subjectivity that seeks detachment and distance from the interests and strictures of the existing patriarchal social and cultural order. For these writers, the author argues, self-transcendence means an abandonment or dissolution of the individual self through political and spiritual efforts that culminate in a revelation of the divinity of a collective selfhood that comes into being through historical process.

Excerpt

George Sand's monumental Consuelo and its sequel La Comtesse de Rudolstadt, written from 1842 to 1844 and serialized in La Revue Indépendante, constitute a kind of compendium of the separate critiques of previous models of Romantic genius and of masculinist history and Bildung engaged in by Staël, Shelley, and Arnim. a historical novel set in the decades prior to the French Revolution of 1789, Consuelo provides a panoramic view of European culture and politics during the pre-revolutionary era, as it takes its eponymous heroine from her triumphs on the Venetian opera stage through a series of Gothic trials in a Bohemian castle, to a picaresque journey with the composer Joseph Haydn, and into the courts of Maria Theresa and Frederick the Great. the novel concludes with an initiation into a secret society called "Les Invisibles" from which Consuelo emerges to become a wandering musician who devotes herself to an art of the people, an art explicitly in the service of "Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité."

As a female Bildungsroman as well as a feminist historical novel, Consuelo provides a portrait of the heroine's development into an exemplary artist who is also potentially an agent of revolutionary change. in the 1,600 pages that comprise Consuelo and its sequel, George Sand rewrites pre-revolutionary European history as well as the Romantic response to the French Revolution in order to suggest an alternative political, spiritual, and aesthetic vision that, she believed, might actually realize the emancipatory and egalitarian ideals of that revolutionary moment. Indeed, more than simply a historical novel whose pages bring to life a fascinating array of eighteenth-century cultural and political figures, from Voltaire and Frederick the Great to Cagliostro and Saint Germain, Consuelo takes history itself as its subject as it seeks to illuminate the ideal role of the artist as an agent of historical process and progress. Just as Sand brings its hero Albert Rudolstadt back to life in La Comtesse de Rudolstadt after he is dead and buried at the end of Consuelo, so she resuscitates key eighteenth-century historical figures in an effort to reveal their political and cultural meaning for a collective, ongoing effort to transform Europe into a socialist utopia.

Sand thus clearly shares the profoundly historical consciousness already strikingly in evidence in Staël, Shelley, and Arnim in their presentations of the intergenerational significance of the individual woman artist. She fills in with

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