Romanticism, a literary theory or a movement or whatever name it can be called with very much familiar to a student of literature. Even before delving into the deep ocean of the Romantic realm of poetry he or she feels at one with this very word as soon as he or she hears it. In this regard, this book has elements that give insight into the idea or theory, or movement of Romanticism both for the beginners and professors/experts alike. Though Romanticism as a movement or literary trend emerged as something totally different which revolutionized western literature especially English poetry, this book does not deal with the Romantic trend in English poetry, rather it explores Romanticism in the realm of art, music, and philosophy, etc.
Michael Ferber divides the book into six chapters namely The meaning of the word, Sensibility, The poet, Religion, philosophy, and science, The social vision of Romanticism, and The arts.
To begin with, Michael Ferber asks what romanticism is, a question which he terms as a “difficult question” and feels tempted to answer “who are the Romantics” and he names the most prominent English & French Romantic poets. He also names other continental poets & philosophers. And then again Ferber asserts with confidence that merely knowing the names of the Romantics is not enough. The readers need to know the answer of the “harder question” i.e. what Romanticism is and what commonalities like ideas, beliefs, and commitments all these great men had inside them. As we know Romanticism is the celebration of individuality, so all the Romantics were unique in their beliefs, and tastes. So, before proceeding to investigate into these matters Ferber warns about generalization. And rightly throughout the book, he strives to show Romanticism from various angles, as Romanticism is, while striving to find commonalities.
Though Ferber writes the book for the undergrad students and general readers in mind In the first chapter, The meaning of the word, he tries to make the readers understand the underlying meaning of the word by navigating the works of intellectual historian A.O. Lovejoy, Emile Deschamps & Alfred de Musset. Though he seems very much studious in presenting the meaning of the word from works of the above-mentioned intellectuals, Ferber seems drifting away/unaware that this presentation of intellectual history/navigation might sway the readers from engaging more into the book. Ferber then hovers on the etymology of the word and tries to find its origin in different European languages. Then before attempting his own “effort at a definition” of Romanticism Ferber incorporates the ideas of Rene Wellek and Harold Bloom. As soon as he attempts at his own definition he opines that this “will join the long list of deflated definitional balloons someday”. Finally, at the end of the chapter, it seems that the readers are struck to find a meaning or definition of the word Romanticism as Ferber himself advises to keep in mind just “two referents of the term”.
He with his minute observation depicts how Romanticism took its flight by a kind of rebellion against both classicism and Enlightenment in the late 18th century and spread throughout Europe and the Americas. And then with a precise argument, Ferber proves how simplistic, too generalized and misleading it is to say that Romanticism was a direct reaction against Enlightenment. At this point, he successfully takes home the idea that “Romanticism was an episode within the larger movement of Sensibility” by dwelling on Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads and Blake’s Songs of Innocence. Ferber also informs the reader that though romanticism might be an episode of Enlightenment in a larger sense, it did not emerge from Enlightenment alone.
As Romanticism as a literary movement stormed especially in the realm of poetry, it is the third chapter namely The Poet where Ferber is at his best when he describes that the most prominent characteristic of Romanticism is that it glorifies a poet. Here, with his punching but easy-going wordsFerber asserts Romanticism’s image or self-image of the poet. In Romanticism’s view the poem composed by a poet expresses ideas through the punching words that are chimeric, and fantastic but are awe-inspiring which tantalizes the readers. And then the poet who is in communion with some higher spirit, with the transcendent illuminates the soul like Moses. Ferber goes on to say that Romanticism confers upon the poet the status of the prophet and while the poet is in communion with the transcendent the poet is illuminated or elevated to a state where his metamorphosis as a prophet takes place. Moreover, Ferber here, depicts an exact portrayal of a poet infused with the spirit of Romanticism. This is such a spirit that has made poets like Lamartine believe in the sublimity of language that makes a poet larger than he is in his spirit, arms the poet with spirituality in his communion with the ultimate superpower i.e. God and interprets both God and Nature to the common people. Besides, Ferber shows the readers how poets like Milton, Wordsworth, Keats in England, Lamartine in France, and Pushkin in Russia have attained the grandeur of being bards while celebrating the songs of the Nightingale or of the Lark or of the Cuckoo and at the same time depicts how these poets, in their flight to transcendent, draws the image of the eagle. Here, the eagle is, as Ferber says, genius whose “prey is the readers”. Then Ferber perfectly moves on to present the readers with a very common trait of the Romantic poets that most of them die quite young. And someone very easily comprehends how true Ferber is in his depiction of the sufferings of poets like Torquato Tasso. And then with his poignant choice of words Ferber portrays the form of banishment, exile or self-exile of the poets. He describes how poets like Pushkin, Lermontov, Adam Mickiewicz & Ugo Foscolo had to face banishment for political reasons & for believing in the Other.