Viktor Zhirmunsky 1934


Author: Viktor Zhirmunsky;
Written: 1934;
First published: 1934 in Encyclopedia Granat, 7 ed., Vol. 36, book 3, pp. 265-274;
Translated by: Anton P.

Romanticism is a literary movement and a cultural trend that prevailed in Europe in the first third of the 19th century. The word romantic came into wide use at the beginning of the 18th century to denote the extraordinary, the fantastic (“like in novels”): romantic incidents, feelings, later a romantic landscape, romantic countries and centuries (spatially and temporally distant, especially the knightly Middle Ages). In the 18th century, the word first used – in the spirit of the prevalent rationalism – in a condemning sense, acquires, in connection with the revolution in artistic tastes in the pre-romantic era, a positive meaning. As a term denoting a literary school, Romanticism is introduced into use by the German romantics (criticism of Friedrich Schlegel in The Athenaeum, 1798; the works of Ludwig Tieck, collected under the title Romantische Dichtungen, and others); following the example of the Germans, “romantic schools” subsequently emerged in Romance, Scandinavian and Slavic literatures; in England, the term Romanticism was not used by contemporaries, it was introduced into circulation for similar literary movements in England by continental critics and scholars.

Romanticism as a worldview is a reaction against the rationalism and materialism of the bourgeois Enlightenment of the 18th century and deepens the anti-rationalist tendencies of the preceding sentimental era (sentimentalism). In this sense, Romanticism is an expression of the ideological reaction against the advanced bourgeois worldview on the part of the feudal nobility and the petty bourgeoisie, amid the general collapse of the feudal system in the era of the French Revolution and attempts to partially restore it in the post-revolutionary period. In particular, Romanticism as an ideology is associated with the revival of mystical feelings and religiosity, sometimes individualistic, sometimes clerical-Christian. Several types of romantic worldview can be distinguished: 1) the individualistic Romanticism seeks the meaning of life in personal experience that is infinitely intense and vivid. Often in connection with the criticism of life values, which is the legacy of the rationalistic skepticism of the 18th century, it leads to disillusionment in life and to the so-called world tribulation. The tinge of the romantic mourner is depicted in the poetry of Byron, Musset, Leopardi, in the novels of Chateaubriand (Rene, 1807), Benjamin Constant (Adolphe, 1816), and others. 2) the cosmic Romanticism perceives the world as a creative unity: a source of experiences of the infinite for Romantics of this type is a mystical sense of nature, love for women and an attitude towards art. This type includes many German romantics (Novalis, Tieck, Eichendorff) and the English Wordsworth and Shelley. 3) the national-historical Romanticism is addressed to the traditions of the past and subordinates the individual to the “objective” meaning of the historical process, the implementation of which it sees in the historical “idea”, the carriers of which are national collectives. In Germany, the exponents of this ideology were Arnim and the Heidelberg romantics; they aimed to create a national culture by reviving the artistic traditions of the German past. These ideas influenced Gogol’s philosophy of history. In the political realm, they served as an ideological justification for feudal restoration and the struggle against the ideology of the bourgeois revolution; but at the same time they became an instrument of struggle for small and young nationalities, national minorities, etc. (the struggle for the revival of Ireland, neo-Provencal poetry, Czech and Polish messianism, etc.).

As a literary trend, Romanticism was a reaction against the system of aesthetic rationalism that prevailed in the West at the beginning of the 18th century under the influence of French classicism (the so-called “false classicism”, the polemical term of the romantic era). Hence the opposition of Romanticism to Classicism, through which the aesthetics and poetics of the romantics were formed, and which was often considered, both in that era and subsequently, as the typological opposition of two fundamentally different forms of artistic creativity. If classicism recognized only one and only law, beauty, the same for all times and all peoples, as based on reason, then Romanticism asserts the existence of various types of artistic perfection. Classicism strove in art towards the typical and universal, Romanticism appreciated primarily the individual and characteristic, historical and national originality, the color of place and time (couleur locale). While the classics saw in the works of antiquity unsurpassed and canonical examples of art, the Romantics introduced into the circulation of art and literature the monuments of the national Middle Ages, to which they have a special sympathy, based on the similarity of their worldview and poetic tastes (ie, the “revival of the Middle Ages” by analogy with the “revival of classical antiquity” in the era of humanism); they are fond of Shakespeare, Italian Renaissance literature, Calderon and Cervantes, they imitate folk poetry and introduce European readers to the literature of the East. The idea of ??literary universalism (“Weltliteratur”, world literature) is being created: numerous translations of literary monuments, preserving the artistic features of the original, expand the field of national literatures (in Germany August Schlegel, in Russia Vasily Zhukovsky). For the classics, a work of art is an artistic building, a beautiful building, laid out according to the objective laws of beauty, independent of the individual (“the rules of art”). Romantics see art primarily as an expression of a particularly gifted, genius personality, original, individually different from other people; a work of art becomes a confession, a diary: hence the emergence of biographical interest in the personality of the writer, whose life explains his work (cf. Goethe’s autobiography Poetry and Truth). While classical poetics conducts strict boundaries between literary genres, considering them as normal types, or general forms of artistic creativity and recognizing the strict regulation of genre features in the choice of theme, composition and style, Romanticism breaks the boundaries between genres, striving for a new syncretism of genres, dominated by lyrics. There are: the lyric poem (Byron), the lyric drama (Faust by Goethe, Manfred by Byron, Dziady by Mitskevich), the lyric novel (New Heloise by Rousseau, Werther by Goethe, Rene by Chateaubriand, etc.); wherein pure lyricism, devoid of genre features, is isolated as a direct expression of an intimate personal experience (Goethe, German romantics Eichendorf, Uhland, Heine; in France Musset, later Verlaine; in Russia Lermontov, Fet). Syncretism is also observed between individual arts, with music dominating: characteristic features, the idea of ??musical and poetic syncretism (Tieck, Hoffmann). The dream of synthetic art (Gesamtkunstwerk) is transmitted through Wagner to the era of symbolism (Scriabin, Viacheslav Ivanov). The reform also concerns the language and style of poetry: among the classics, the word strives for rational accuracy of the concept, among the romantics it affects primarily its emotional, irrational qualities, arising from the metaphorical style, as a method of romantic transformation of reality, the poetry of hints and symbolic allegories, the musical (rhythmic, melodic) influence of the word plays an essential role; on the other hand, in the sublime, conditionally poetic syllable of classical poetry of high style, words and turns of colloquial speech are forbidden, and the traditional generalizing metonymic paraphrase is replaced by the exact name of the object (mot propre) and an individual definition.

Many of Romanticism’s tendencies are outlined already in the 18th century, in the era of the so-called sentimentalism. The term pre-romanticism is often used to denote transitional phenomena. In England in the middle of the 18th century the sentimentally the melancholy lyrics of the “graveyard” poets (Jung, Gray) are spreading. From Pope’s classicism, they return to the forgotten models of Milton, Spencer, Shakespeare. Instead of the concept of the ideal-perfect, the critic puts forward new artistic values: picturesque, original, romantic, gothic. Interest arises in the Middle Ages, real or imaginary, which feeds on the “Gothic novel” (mystery novel) by Horace Walpole (Castle of Otranto, 1764) and his imitators and The Song of Ossian, a forgery of the Scotsman MacPherson, which is successful throughout Europe; Percy publishes a collection of old English folk ballads (Reliques of ancient English poetry, 1765), which are imitated in England and Germany; Robert Burns introduces Scottish folk song traditions into literature in dialect. From England, new literary trends spread throughout Europe. In France, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) puts forward immediate feeling in the place of reason, unspoiled nature in the place of reasoned culture. Germany, already before the beginning of Romanticism, was going through the first literary revolution of the era of Storm and Onslaught (Sturm und Drang). Herder, young Goethe and their peers, following the example of Rousseau, preach a return to nature and immediate feeling, demand intense and passionate experience from the poet, originality and character from art, put forward Shakespeare as examples (criticism of French classical drama was already begun by Lessing), folk poetry, Gothic German architecture. Between Sturm und Drang and Romanticism in Germany lies a long and influential period of classicist reaction (the Weimar classicism of Goethe and Schiller). The early German romantics continue the tradition of Goethe (influenced by Wilhelm Meister and Gotz von Berlichingen), but start from Schiller. Goethe himself falls under the influence of Romanticism (Kindred Souls, 1810, Divan, 1819, the epilogue of Faust). In other literatures (in France, in Italy, in the Slavic countries) Goethe (as the author of Werther and Faust), Schiller and even Lessing are equally perceived under the sign of new romantic ideas and are opposed to the traditions of French classicism, as well as Romanticism itself.

As a reaction against Romanticism, in the middle of the 19th century, Realism is gradually gaining ground in the West. However, the romantic tradition has individual representatives, especially in England, where throughout the “Victorian era” the school of Coleridge and Keats dominated, which uses medieval motives for the poetic embodiment of modern romantic experiences (Tennyson, Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites, Swinburne and William Morris). At the end of the 19th century in the poetry of symbolism in England, France and Belgium, in the Scandinavian countries and in Russia, there is a return to the romantic tradition (neo-romanticism) in the new social conditions of the era of imperialism, characterized by the decomposition of bourgeois ideology.

As a broad cultural and historical movement, Romanticism is not limited to the field of literature. Representatives of Romanticism in music are in Germany Weber, Schubert, Schumann; Richard Wagner’s reformatory ideas continue the traditions of the musical aesthetics of the romantic era. In painting, Romanticism is represented in Germany by the Nazarene school, whose artists realized the aesthetic ideas of Tieck and Wackenroder in their work; in France, for example, Delacroix, close to the dominant romantic individualism and Byronism in French literature; in England, by “Pre-Raphaelite” artists. Approaching German philosophical idealism, Romanticism influenced it in the direction of religious ontologism. Under the influence of Romanticism are Schelling’s natural philosophy, the philosophy of religion and the ethics of Schleiermacher, the metaphysics of Schopenhauer and the philosophy of history of Hegel in its reactionary aspect. The romantic natural philosophy of Schelling and his students influenced the development of the natural sciences, especially in Germany, Hegel’s philosophy of history influenced the historical sciences. German romantic philosophy penetrates into England through the poets Coleridge and Shelley, its main representative is Thomas Carlyle, from the latter originates an independent tradition of English romantic philosophy, which puts forward, for the most part, questions of aesthetics, morality and social justice (Ruskin, Emerson, Walter Pater and the so-called “aesthetic movement”, William Morris).

But this is already a phenomenon of a much later period, in part due to the decomposition of the capitalist system at the end of the 19th century. During its heyday, in the first third of the 19th century, Romanticism expresses the socio-political ideology of those social groups, feudal nobility and petty bourgeoisie, which from different points of view are fighting against the new bourgeois order, which destroys the foundations of their historical existence. In England, the controversy between Ricardo and Malthus is extremely indicative in this respect. In France, under this influence, the petty-bourgeois Simonde de Sismondi was formed, but in the purest feudal-serf spirit, the romantic trend finds expression in Germany in the works of Adam Muller and partly in the activities of Savigny, the founder of the “historical school of law”, which put forward the principle of organic development from the spirit of the people in the interests of maintaining the semi-feudal system of the German states and the struggle against the political ideas of the bourgeois revolution. At the same time, hostility to the triumphant bourgeoisie, sharpening criticism of the emerging capitalist system, gives rise to sympathy for the direct victims of capitalist exploitation, for the workers, as well as for the colonies and peoples oppressed by capital. Under the influence of such sentiments, the “romantic individualists” associate themselves with the revolutionary aspirations of the advanced bourgeois intelligentsia, and the English philosophers with certain currents of Chartism and utopian socialism. Romanticism had a particularly significant influence on the development of the historical sciences. On the one hand, with Romanticism begins a historical interest in the Middle Ages as a national past (in Germany, for example, Raumer’s History of the Hohenstaufens); on the other hand, the romantics are trying to build a “world history” (Weltgeschichte) on the basis of broad ideological generalizations of idealistic character (for example, Ranke). The romantic concept of history is characterized by the cult of “heroes” as providential exponents of the “spirit of the era” (cf. in particular Carlyle, On Heroes and the Cult of Heroes, 1846; his book on the French Revolution, 1837, etc.). Also a creation of Romanticism is the history of literature, using a broad comparative method and considering literature as an expression of the spiritual culture of a people and an era; following Herder, this idea is carried out by the Schlegels (Friedrich Schlegel, History of Ancient and New Literature, 1815; August Schlegel, Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, 1805-1811). From the interest in poetic monuments of the Middle Ages, new sciences are born: Germanic and Romance philology; their founders, the brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, and Fr. Dietz, were pupils of romantics. From the literary revival of folk song (collections of Percy, 1765; Herder, 1778-1779; Arnim and Brentano, 1806-1808) folklore studies are developing. Acquaintance with the Sanskrit language (Fr. Schlegel) leads to a hypothesis about the relationship of Indo-European languages ??and to the creation of a comparative grammar (Franz Bopp).