Tim Blanning’s book on ‘The Romantic Revolution’ focuses onthe epic Cultural Revolution that started to take shape around the middle andthe eighteenth and nineteenth century against the rational enlightenment movement.Even though it is made clear that there is no specific starting point to thisCultural Revolution, Blanning is keen to show that its roots run deep into themedieval period of European history. The main point Blanning wants to discussthroughout the book is how this time period is plagued with so many radical andrapid changes that the only was to describe them is by stating ‘Revolution’;the key ones being the economic Industrial Revolution, the Commercial andcommunications revolutions let alone the American and French Revolutions.
Withthis being said Blanning wants to make it clear that the Romantic (cultural)revolution deserves to have the same credit as the others due to its hugecultural influences and how arguably it is still going on to this day. From the start Blanning is trying to invite the reader toreally understand the culture of romanticism constantly referring to poems,literature, paintings and opera’s all throughout the book. He does this in away that is engaging and informative, while at the same time supporting hisnarrative, which is extremely effective. With this being said, he covers theworks of many iconic romantics of the era, from Rousseau to Kant, and fromHegel to Goya. By using so many different sources readers can find themselvesvisualising the bigger picture of romanticism and how these individual’s workinfluences the work of others. An excellent example used early on in the bookwas Ludwig Tieck’s influence on the influential painter Philipp Otto Runge fromhis Novel Franz Sternbald’s Wanderings “notthese trees, not these mountains do I wish to copy, but my soul, my mood, whichgoverns me at this moment.” (p. 31).
This paints a wonderful picture early onin the book of what the core concepts of the Romantic Revolution were allabout, even if the reader knows little about this period; making it obviousthat the romantics believed that intelligence and knowledge came from withinones self by focusing on their feelings and emotions. From the perspective of someone who isn’t an expert in thisfield, some parts of the book can appear to be overwhelming or just ratherintense with the vast amount of information that is presented. However, thisisn’t necessarily a bad thing just something that needs to be taken intoconsideration due to the immense size of the topic that is being covered andthe small amount of space that Blanning chooses to cover it in. He chooses to cover this topic with onlythree large chapters with the first being ‘The Crisis Of The Age Of Reason’that covers ‘ the cult of genius’ who were the main influencers in the rise ofRomanticism and especially focussing on Rousseau in good detail.
The secondchapter entitled ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ covers the side of these great romanticthinkers fuelled by how dreams and nightmares, drugs, insanity and the sexualelement of their inner selves was expressed through their work. The finalchapter ‘Language, History And Myth’ has to be the most effective one the book,focusing on the core elements that drove the Romantic Revolution. In this final chapter, Blanning goes into great detail onhis expertise in German history; the use of the Rhineland as a metaphor ofcultural significance that was shown in such novels like ‘The Pilgrims of the Rhine’ (p. 140) by Edward Bulwer Lytton, themajor role that the use of “the Volk” played in German Pride and the other majorrole of German myth. The myths surrounding German culture, being described as’pious lies’ (p. 149), was also seen by Blanning as having been a greatcontributor to German culture. Overall, even if at times the book did seemoverwhelming with just the pure amount of information given, Blanning stillsomehow makes it extremely clear the point he wants to get across, making itbetter is just the use of his sources being constantly scattered throughout thedialogue of the book. Even though the length of his chapters are considerablylong, the overall length of the book isn’t big at all, making it even moreobvious how effective Blanning is at condensing so much information on thishugely rich time period in just three themes.
Blanning does make references throughout the book of theviews of the enlightenment beliefs; however, more could have been said. Themain theme of the book is obviously on the Romantics, but these views can onlycoexist with that of the oppressive scientific rational views of theenlightenment. It would have been nice to see a bit more of this opposing sidethan there already was in order to get a more general understanding of thesubject, however this is easily the view of someone learning the subject.
On anothernote it would have also been nice to see more on the rise of Comte’s positivistviews and the relationship it had with the decline of romanticism. Having saidthis these are the only flaws I can find with this book, apart from theoccasional intensity of information. Blanning has done an amazing job ofsuccessfully advancing the scholarly debate of what was descibred by Hegel as the”absolute inwardness” that is the significant Romantic Cultural Revolution.His ability to condense such a wide-ranging amount of information and sourcesfrom all types of genres in just a short book is extremely effective; also, hisability to make such rich information appealing to students let alone impressexperts in this field surely is a testament to this books achievement’s andthis historian’s knowledge.