History 104: Western Civilization since 1648

Lecture: Romanticism and Socialism

Ludwig von Beethoven
Portrait by J.K.Stieler 1819-20
Karl Marx
Karl Marx

There just isn't anything like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (Symphony in D Minor, opus 125), completed in 1824. Using Friedrich Schiller's poem Freude (Joy), the last movement is as much an ode to freedom as to joy. Beethoven himself had been a supporter of Napoleon, until he crowned himself emperor; freedom was Beethoven's creed. (Lyrics for this section in German and English)

Unlike some other music selections in this course, I have grave misgivings about putting up a "clip" of this symphony. If you get a chance, get the whole thing, on CD. Lie down on the floor and turn it up loud. I wish I could remember who said this was a cure for depression; I think it was Garrison Keillor.

Lecture contents:

Romanticism as a concept
Romantic Literature
Romantic Art and Dance

Some day the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit!

-- Mother Jones (1903)

Romanticism as a concept

First, forget whatever you think the word "romantic" means: it has only to do with romantic love in very small portion.

Rejecting neo-classicism and industrialization

In general, romanticism was a reaction against the rationalism of the 18th century, the foundation of the Enlightenment, and its result: the industrial world. In fact, some reacted directly. Those wishing to reform conditions were often direct in their criticism:
bookWorkbook document: Charles Dickens' A Walk in the Workhouse (1850)

Most would consider Charles Dickens a realist writer rather than a romantic one. But in his understanding of human feelings, in his Rousseau-like reliance on humanity, he's also a romantic.

Romantic values

In the tradition of Rousseau, romantics valued human intuition and nature. They valued the wild over the tame, the savage over the civilized, the emotional over the rational. Industrialization seemed the ultimate poor result of man's dominion over nature, thus in many ways romantics sought an alternative to the industrial world.

The gardens of the elites provide an excellent contrast between rational and romantic values. Take a look at those at Versailles:

Versailles Notice the orderly, geomentric beds of perfectly cut grass with perfectly conical trees. Ever twig is tended, presenting the ultimate symbol of man's domination over the natural world.

The map of the gardens at Versailles show very clearly the organized layout. Gardens represented the comprehension of the natural world, its divine order as organized by human beings.

Most elite Enlightenment gardens, though not as grand as this, included strictly geomentric arrangements, paved pathways, and elegant fountains. They were tended continually by gardeners.

Romantic gardens emphasized nature, though they also required tending. In this case, the tending was needed to keep them looking natural: flowers spilling out of beds, curving pathways, windblown trees. It was a visual rejection of order and human control of nature. Notice also the "ruins"; romantics valued the old, and deliberately installed "ruins" in their gardens to establish a connection to the past. The country gardens of Europe had profusions of perennial herbs and flowers, with vegetables tucked among the flowering plants. romantic garden

Romantic literature

Literature is the natural expression of a literate culture, and the Romantics were often well-educated, even as they rejected the foundations of neo-classical education. The literature of the Enlightenment had been witty, polished, elegant. Like the gardens, romantic writing ws designed to be natural, emotional, intuitive. Poetry was popular:

book Workbook document: George Gordon, Lord Byron: On This Day I Complete My Thirty-sixth Year (1824)
Lord Byron Lord Byron, like most romantics, was romantic in life as well as work. He had torrid affairs. He fought for the Greek side in its war for independence from the Ottoman Empire, and died in Missolonghi the same year he wrote this poem. That's romantic.

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) was the daughter of Jacques Necker, Swiss financial advisor to Louis XVI of France. Her mother Suzanne Curchod raised her according to Rousseau's theories and ran a popular salon. After her marriage to a Swedith baron, Germaine ran her own salon in Paris. Napoleon exiled her in 1803, because her salon had become a hotbed of new ideas that criticized militarism and because she had published works he considered objectionable in their support of individual freedom.

Most objectionable to Napoleon were the writings focused on Germany, which give us the first evidence of nationalism. In her discussion of German morals, culture, philosophy and literature she denoted these accomplishments as particularly German. For me, her most interesting work was about literature, which she insisted was always influenced by its historical context.

Germaine de Stael

From Germany came romantics like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), who wrote on the spur of the moment, providing his works with a sense of immediacy and enthusiasm. His greatest work was:

book Workbook document: Goethe: Faust (1832)

The story was based on the medieval legend of a man selling his soul to the devil in return for magical powers (the Middle Ages were a strong influence on romantics everywhere).

Delacroix's image
Engraving of Méphistophélès appearing to Faust, by romantic artist Eugœne Delacroix

In Part I of the play, Faust's experiences are personal, as he uses his powers to get women and wealth. It is clear that Méphistophélès is using Faust to get the best of the deal.

But in Part II, which was published posthumously, Faust represents a wider humanity. Méphistophélès seems to be used by Faust, instead of the other way around. Ultimately, Faust is saved by the divine love of a "goddess". Love is revealed as a kind of emotional faith.


George Sand









George Sand

But I've saved the best for last. George Sand (Aurore Dupin) (1804-76), like Byron, shows the close relationship between life and art for the romantic set. She married, at 16, Baron Dudevant, a stupid country squire whom she left to move to Paris and live "a free life". She wore men's clothes, smoked in public, and took famous lovers. Her two-year affair with romantic writer Alfred de Musset scandalized Paris. His jealousy was characteristic of her lovers, whom she tended to leave devastated even as the affairs seemed to have little effect on her. She was part of the romantic circle that included artist Eugœne Delacroix, composer Franz Liszt, and writer Gustav Flaubert. She had an intense love affair with Chopin.

Her many essays and novels were influential, and also combined life with art. Her novel Consuelo (1843) was designed to show a similar character to Germaine de Staël's Corrine (1803), a woman abandoned by her lover because of her personal complexity, who ends in self-destructiveness. Consuelo uses her abandonment to become an independent artist in the cause of revolutionary France, achieving self-fulfillment and social purpose.

"The world will know and understand me someday," Sand wrote. "But if that day does not arrive, it does not greatly matter. I shall have opened the way for other women."

Romantic Art and Dance


View this slideshow first. I'll let the art speak for itself as much as possible.

Romanticism from Lisa M Lane on Vimeo.

Romanticism was a multi-faceted movement. It was a reaction against the sterile and controlling neo-classical style. It was an effort to de-emphasize the forces of reason, science, and industry, and emphasize passion, humanity, and nature. It was an exploration into the exotic and the unconscious, into the violence of the natural world, and the futility of human efforts to control what cannot be controlled. Romantic art reflects these themes and more.

You can then see the images separately if you wish, and a few extras, using this art list:

Sources: Mark Harden's Artchive
Tigertail Virtual Museum
Boston College Digital Archives of Art
CGFA -- A Virtual Art Museum
ibiblio: WebMuseum, Paris


Marie Taglioni

Since the 17th century, when court masques provided the opportunity for theatrical dance, dancing had evolved. In the 18th century, professional dancers had emerged who did more than imitate the graceful poses begun on the dance floors of elite gatherings. Neo-classical dancing had been done primarily by men, with women hampered by full-skirted costumes. But by the 19th century, dance performances could relay the emotion of romanticism as well or better than any other art form, and ballet became the premiere form of dance.

The ballets of the 19th century told romantic stories of many kinds. Russian choreographer Marius Petipa (1855-1881) of the Maryinsky Theater collaborated with composers like Tchaikovsky and ballet soloists to create such classics as Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, and La Bayadere. Ballerinas like Marie Taglioni became the toasts of Europe, dancing en pointe (on the tips of their toes). The press wrote in 1827 that she was "Romanticism applied to dance".

One of the best examples of romantic ballet is Giselle, choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, with music by Adolphe Adam.

It opened in 1841 at the Paris Opera with Carlotta Grisi in the starring role.

Giselle saving Albert's life

Giselle is the story of a peasant girl with a weak heart. She falls in love with a nobleman, Albert, who is in disguise as a peasant. He dances with her and swears undying love. Upon discovering he is noble and betrothed to another, she goes crazy and dances herself to death in front of everyone. In the second act, she is in the land of the Willies, the souls of women who died before marriage. These women lure men into the woods and kill them. Giselle is ordered to kill Albert when he comes to the woods, but she saves his life and dies again.

What makes Giselle romantic is, well, everything. Unrequited love, spooky setting, death by heartbreak.

And it's become the ultimate ballet by which a prima ballerina's mettle is tested.



Anarchy symbolMost people consider anarchy to mean "total chaos". But that is not its original definition, and it is a precise political theory.

Webster's defines it as "a political theory opposed to all forms of government and governmental restraint and advocating voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups in order to satisfy their needs." Thus anarchy is voluntary government.

The origin of anarchy was apparently something called "Libertarian Socialism", advocated by radicals in Mexico during the 18th century. In Europe, the first study of it was done in 1793 by William Godwin, husband of Mary Wollstonecraft. But Pierre Proudhon is often given credit for inventing anarchism, because he added to the definition the abolition of property rights.
bookWorkbook document: Pierre Proudhon's What is Property? (1840)

One way to help understand Proudhon is to look at his assertion that "property is theft". Try reversing the equation:

no property = no theft

If no one owns anything privately, than nothing can be stolen from an individual. If all is shared, there can be no stealing, because everything belongs to everyone. Paris commune

In 1870, this theory was attempted in practice in Paris, with the Paris Commune. At the end of the Franco-Prussian War, which you'll learn about later, the National Guard in Paris refused to admit defeat. When the government tried to disarm them, they revolted and became the support for the Third Republic, which called for city elections and became the Paris Commune, full of radicals voted in by working people. They voted in elementary education for all, education for women, day nurseries to help working women. But they were constantly attacked by the French army, against which women and children put up barricades in the street. Every time a barricade fell, defenders were put against the wall and shot. As many as 30,000 Parisians were killed before the government of Napoleon III regained authority (this is more people than died in the Terror or the Franco-Prussian War).

After the Commune, anarchism became more associated with violent resistance against violent oppression. Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin took 15 pages to define anarchism in the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1910. Here he discussed briefly whether the state is really needed as a form of social control:

Web document: Kropotkin: Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal (1896)

Kropotikin noted that in an anarchist society, harmony is achieved "not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of the needs and aspirations of a civilized being. . ."

Imagine a world where everyone has what s/he needs, not just in terms of material goods like food and shelter, but in terms of job satisfaction and self-fulfillment. Where individuals can achieve this because the only authorities they answer to are those they join voluntarily, and from which they are excluded if they can't agree. To anarchists, this is the ultimate in human liberty, not a beourgois constitutionalist government under laws made by and for the middle class.


The socialist response to industrialization we have already seen, in the last lecture. Socialism was based on the idea of cooperative, rather than competitive, norms for society. Socialists like Fourier, Owen, and Saint-Simon also worked to undermine the competitive nature of the 19th century.

bookWorkbook document -- Marx and Engels: Communist Manifesto (1848)

Karl Marx's influences were several. His theories of history were based on the German philosopher Hegel, who believed that all history moved in a pattern of thesis -> antithesis -> synthesis. This was developed into Marx's two-class system, where one class is the thesis, the other the antithesis. The two clash and produce a synthesis. The battle between the beourgeoisie and the proletariat would be the end of history, because Marx saw it as the final battle, and the synthesis of a classless society would be the end of the Hegelian dialectic.

Marx's ideas of economics came from Adam Smith, and classical economist David Ricardo, who had developed the ideas of industrial development. Through the competitive system of Smith, and the analyses of labor developed by Ricardo, Marx could see the proletariat's development within the system of capitalism.

Influenced also by earlier socialists, Marx saw their efforts as utopian, and counter to the nature of human beings. He felt that revolution would be the result of the clash between beourgeois and proletarian interests, and that only revolution would change the system. His historic example was the French Revolution, of which he was an avid student. In the French Revolution, during the Terror, France got as close as anywhere in history to a communist system. But then the revolution turned back toward liberal, beourgeois values. Marx felt that could not happen again.

Marxism was not, of course, the only form of socialism, but it did inspire the Russian Revolution that was to come, in 1917. In the meantime, during the 19th century, it was simply another philosophical possibility. Socialism was an appealing idea generally to those desiring to counter the abuses of industrialization in a political, rather than romantic or cultural, way. It continues in Europe as a vibrant, vital concept.



All text, lecture voice audio, and course design copyright Lisa M. Lane 1998-2018. Other materials used in this class may be subject to copyright protection, and are intended for educational and scholarly fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the TEACH Act of 2002.