I was still hungry for more info on these people who made up the Jena Set of early Romantics in Jena, Germany – as written up by Andrea Wulf in Magnificent Rebels (my review/this site). I’d been confused for about half of Magnificent Rebels and then read it a second time loving it. (I think I’d missed some the first time though.) Anyway – I’d seen this book available and went over to Audible and after listening to about a chapter or two of it I got the Kindle version to go with it.
Jena 1800: The Republic of Free Spirits
By Peter Neumann 2021
Translator – Shelly Frisch
Read by Christa Lewis
Rating – 9.5 – / European History
(both read and listened)
Given that both books are basically about the same small group of people writing at the same place and time, Wulf and Neumann focus on different things. They feel quite different and both books are great – both 9.5/10 – but where Neumann’s is much shorter, it’s denser. (Fwiw, there are 868 pages, with 461 pages of text, in Wulf compared to 250 pages and about 200 pages of text in Neumann.). Wulf’s notes are basically source notes and Neumann’s notes are more comprehensive.
I’m really glad I read Magnificent Rebels first because I was confused enough as it was with all those names. I was familiar with the van Humboldts and Novalis plus a bit of Goethe and Hegel. I read Wulf’s excellent book about Alexander von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature in 2021. All the other names I’d only come across in my reading. That’s it; I didn’t know Schlegel from Fichte, much less their wives. I kind of knew the French Revolution – LOL.
Some reviewer gave Jena 1800 a very lukewarm review, but I don’t agree at all. Neumann IS a poet and a philosopher with several prior books to his credit although this is the first one translated. There is more information on history and philosophy and less on the tangled domestic issues of the characters. I think there must be a wealth of information out there in letters and other documents about the Jena Set (as Wulf calls them) during this time. But imo, it seems Neumann knows better how to explain the philosophy.
A joy to read.