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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

50 - Romanticism: art, literature, and history


Qu'est-ce que le romantisme? (What Is Romanticism?) When the young Baudelaire posed this question in a chapter-heading of his first major publication, the Salon de 1846, French Romanticism was at least a quarter-century old. Indeed, he was reopening a question which had already been debated in some highly celebrated works by Hugo, Stendhal, and Musset, and which Stendhal in particular had seemingly answered: a famous chapter of the latter's Racine et Shakespeare of 1823 was entitled ‘Ce que c'est que le romanticisme’ (‘What Romanticism Is’). Baudelaire's return to this question long after the fact suggests to what extent Romanticism designated more than a group of individuals devoted to particular artistic practices or even to particular conceptions of art. As Charles Rosen and Henri Zerner observe, the history of Romanticism is a history of redefinitions. Many scholars have referred to ‘Romanticisms’: different conceptions of the term according to period, nationality, art form, or discipline. Not least is the problem of defining a movement which was based on a refusal to establish and apply norms.

Yet, as Baudelaire's Salon shows, debates about Romanticism continued, well into the nineteenth century, to concentrate and define the terms of a modern art and aesthetics. ‘To say Romanticism is to say modern art’, he wrote: ‘that is, intimacy, spirituality, colour, aspiration toward the infinite, expressed by all the means that the arts possess’.

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