Tag Archives: Romanticism

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong…

 Sir Joseph Banks, Bt

Sir Joseph Banks, Bt

The age of wonder : how the romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science  Richard Holmes  New York : Pantheon Books, c 2008  Hardcover. 1st American ed., later printing. xxi, 552 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

A history of some of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science.

 Sir William Herschel

Sir William Herschel

When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook on his first Endeavour voyage in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery — astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical — swiftly follow in Holmes’s evocation of what emerges for him as an Age of Wonder.

A relay of scientific stories, The Age of Wonder investigates the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of “dynamic science,” of an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered. Three lives dominate the book: William Herschel and his sister Caroline, whose dedication to the study of the stars changed the public conception of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the meaning of the universe; and Humphry Davy, who, with only a grammar school education stunned the scientific community with his near-suicidal gas experiments that led to the invention of the miners’ lamp and established British chemistry as the leading professional science in Europe. This age of exploration was exploited by writers and poets as well as scientists, all relishing in moments of high exhilaration, boundary-pushing, discovery and the desire to claim their share of the glory and its rewards.

Holmes’s evocation of this age shows how ideas and experiments — both successes and failures — were born of singular and often lonely dedication, and how religious faith and scientific truth collided through a lack of understanding and the desire for power.


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Behold Phaedra as she is – insane

Usually considered the greatest of French classical tragediennes, she made her American debut in 1855 as Camille in Corneille’s Horace. The Albion reported, “There came in a severe classic figure, a polychrome statue, gliding past the columns, and breathing rather than articulating. . . . So deep, vibrant and magnetic were the first tones of [her] voice that they sent a thrill through the vast assembly, a thrill which at once opened communication between the genius of Rachel and her new hearers.”

Tragic muse : Rachel of the Comedie-Francaise    New York : A.A. Knopf, 1993   Rachel M. Brownstein Theater France History 19th century, Comedie-Francaise, Rachel, 1821-1858 Hardcover. 1st. ed. xiii, 318 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 363-305) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Rachel Felix (1821-58), the homely daughter of poor Jewish peddlers, was the first stage actress to achieve international stardom – and the last person one would have expected to resurrect the cultural patrimony of France. Yet her passionate, startling performances of the works of Racine and Corneille saved them from almost certain obsolescence after the fall of Napoleon and the emergence of Romanticism.

Audiences in Paris, London, Boston, and Moscow thrilled to her voice, and devoured the rumors of her offstage promiscuity and extravagance. Her fame – equal parts popularity and notoriety – was so great that she could nonchalantly dispose of her last name. La grande Rachel virtually invented the role of the superstar, while remaining a symbol of the highest art and most serious cultural pursuits. Indeed, her identity was fraught with such contradictions – which intrigued the public all the more.

From the moment she was discovered playing the guitar on the streets of Lyons, to her debut on the Parisian stage at the age of fifteen, to her critical and commercial triumphs as Camille, Phedre, and other tormented women, Rachel’s career was exhaustively “managed”. A series of theater gurus, influential reviewers, and impresarios – including her brash and opportunistic father – claimed the credit for her astonishing success.

What this abundance of male managers has always obscured is Rachel’s own decisiveness and control over her time and money – not only did she play her various champions against one another, she openly defied them. Some called her stubborn, even perverse; in these pages, we come to recognize her as a woman ahead of her time, a charismatic individual very much in charge of her own destiny.

As her fascination with all things Napoleonic suggests, Rachel liked power – both personal and professional – and had the talent to command it. This  biography explores the themes of Rachel’s brief, intense life and tragic death, as well as her afterlife as a character in novels and a figure of legend. Rachel’s appearances – more or less disguised – in Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Henry James are crucial to an understanding of her profound appeal.

On later evenings she presented her Phèdre, Adrienne Lecouvreur, and Andromaque, among others. Apparently she caught a cold that aggravated her tubercular condition, and her last performance was in Charleston, where she was barely able to perform. She then sailed for France, where she died just over two years afterward.

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