‘Mediator between Old and New World’
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European Romanticism, that diffuse phenomenon in cultural and intellectual life which, in so many ways, took its cue from the traumatic historical moment of the French Revolution of 1789, stands between two worlds, the old and the new Europe, with an unease which persisted through the heart and mind of the nineteenth century in figures like Matthew Arnold who is forever ‘wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born’,1 and remains with us today in the new Romanticism which goes under the ill-defined term ‘postmodernism’. For its intellectual giants, Kant and Hegel in Germany and Coleridge in England together with the ‘rigorous teachers’ who seized Arnold in his youth in the Grande Chartreuse ‘Stanzas’, and above all Goethe and Carlyle, Romanticism was the expression of a drive towards wholeness and harmony, the need ‘to tie together – what we may call the need for reticulation’2 On the other hand, there was also in Romanticism a profound sense of a world which was falling apart, its assumptions crumbling and fragmenting in the face of scientific progress, and religious, philosophical and political change. Not only society, but the very nature of how things were perceived and understood, were changing radically and rapidly, so that the Romantic stress on imagination, the symbol and organic form, were themselves responses to the sense of ruin and disintegration. Like Frankenstein’s monster, things no longer quite fitted together, and out of the energetic creative urge new visions and nightmares were born.
KeywordsFrench Revolution Historical Critic Profound Sense Unify Vision Romantic Literature
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