This is a new one by Andrea Wulf, the same author as The Invention of Nature (on this site), which my reading group read and enjoyed so much. With this book, Wulf is staying in the same era and general location with some of the same writers and thinkers. I read it and listened to it at the same time but I can’t really give a review. I can rate it because I definitely saw the value. What this means is that I’m reading it again so that I really can say why it’s so good – in what ways.
Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of Self
by Andrea Wulf
2022: 868 pages
read by Julie Teal: 15h 1m
Rating – 9 / 18th century European history
(Both read and listened)
In Germany just after the French Revolution there was an informal group of writers and thinkers with similar ideas who were later known as the German Romantics.
I really knew nothing about these folks except there were some intellectuals associated with universities in central Germany and they kind of ushered in the German Romantics. I was familiar with Alexander Humboldt (not much about him in this book, due to Wulf’s prior book) and I’d read some about Novalis and Goethe. I’d heard of Schiller. The end. The end of my background and I didn’t look anything up prior to reading –
A NEW YORKER ESSENTIAL READ • From the best-selling author of The Invention of Nature comes an exhilarating story about a remarkable group of young rebels—poets, novelists, philosophers—who, through their epic quarrels, passionate love stories, heartbreaking grief, and radical ideas launched Romanticism onto the world stage, inspiring some of the greatest thinkers of the time.
I wish I’d really read some kind of solid review before popping the book open. I was expecting a literary analysis and more political-economic history. What I got was more akin to a book on the Bloomsbury Group (or Set), which I knew a bit more about. In projecting that idea, Wulf calls this German group of poets and writers “the Jena Set” and writes about several of the individuals and their influence. The social center seems to have been Carolina Schiller who was also a poet, unpublished in her lifetime.
Here are some excellent links but the bottom two aren’t linked because of paywalls.
How Goethe and Schiller ushered in the romantic age
A circle of friends in a provincial German town revolutionised language, literature and the world. But they could never escape the petty absurdities of everyday life
https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/arts-and-books/goethe-schiller-romantic-age-jena-andrea-wulf-book-review (Just click off the “register” prompt – it’s at the bottom, too. )
The ‘Jena Set’ The quiet German town that formed the backdrop for the first German Romantic movement.
And unlinked but they sound great: (I’m very curious about the Spectator one.)
How the quarrelsome ‘Jena set’ paved the way for Hitler
The Economist: The “Jena Set” was the heart of German Romanticism
Andrea Wulf brings them back to life in “Magnificent Rebels”