The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism

By Franzel, Sean | German Quarterly, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism


Franzel, Sean, German Quarterly


Saul, Nicholas, ed. The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 360 pp. £17.90 paperback, £45.00 hardcover.

The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism is a useful guide to the intellectual and literary history of the Romantic era. Scholars in other fields as well as Germanists in need of informed refreshing will find broad overviews and focalized topic-specific investigations side-by-side; this book should also become a valuable tool for undergraduate or graduate teaching, providing students with a general orientation to key figures, themes, and terms. In addition, many of the chapters survey historiographical perspectives that have shaped the confrontation with Romanticism since the early 19th century, a topic that can often be as fascinating and vexing as Romantic writers themselves.

At the risk of oversimplification, the volume features three types of chapters/ essays: (a) overviews of Romanticism as a whole, with attention to issues of periodization; (b) surveys of paradigmatic Romantic genres; and (c) more in-depth investigations of one particular aspect of Romanticism that we might call "R[omanticismJ and X:" serving as X are topics such as women writers, other cultures, science, religion, politics, music, painting, and more. This structure enables broad summary as well as attention to detail.

The scholars responsible for the broad-brush summaries of Romanticism as a whole certainly have the hardest task. The editor Nicholaus Saul notes in the foreword that Romanticism has "come to be recognized as a kind of classic." Describing the classical or the canonical inevitably involves traversing well-trodden conceptual paths that have led to canonization in the first place. Essays by Azade Seyhan, Richarda Schmidt and Margarete Kohlenbach frame the more topical chapters on genre or specific issue, as they adeptly retell many stories about Romanticism with which we are familiar: of Romantics early and late, affinities and antagonisms with Goethe, Schiller, Fichte and Kant, the Romantics' unambiguously modern aesthetic sensibility, and their decidedly ambiguous political legacy. The register of these essays tends to remain firmly indebted to established intellectual histories of the era.

The genre-driven essays by Anthony Phelan (prose fiction), Charlie Louth (lyric), Roger Paulin (drama), and John McCarthy (criticism) linger with some of the specifics of Romantic literary production. …

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