Why the Romantics Matter


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Peter Gay

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A renowned scholar’s reflections on the romantic period, its disparate participants, and our unacknowledged debt to them

With his usual wit and élan, esteemed historian Peter Gay enters the contentious, long-standing debates over the romantic period. Here, in this concise and inviting volume, he reformulates the definition of romanticism and provides a fresh account of the immense achievements of romantic writers and artists in all media.
Gay’s scope is wide, his insights sharp. He takes on the recurring questions about how to interpret romantic figures and their works. Who qualifies to be a romantic? What ties together romantic figures who practice in different countries, employ different media, even live in different centuries? How is modernism indebted to romanticism, if at all?
Guiding readers through the history of the romantic movement across Britain, France, Germany, and Switzerland, Gay argues that the best way to conceptualize romanticism is to accept its complicated nature and acknowledge that there is no “single basket” to contain it. Gay conceives of romantics in “families,” whose individual members share fundamental values but retain unique qualities. He concludes by demonstrating that romanticism extends well into the twentieth century, where its deep and lasting impact may be measured in the work of writers such as T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf.
Peter Gay is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University, and former director of the New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers. He is the author of dozens of books and has won numerous awards for his scholarship, including the National Book Award and a Gold Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York City.

"With his usual deft, even chatty style, Peter Gay leads us through the paradoxes of the major European Romantics and documents their impact on Modernism. There is no page in his book that is not thoughtful and witty."—Geoffrey Hartman, author of The Eighth Day: Poems Old and New

“In this instructive and insightful book, a capstone to a career that has now spanned more than six decades, Peter Gay muses with characteristic brilliance and learning about the deep connections between Romanticism and Modernism, and how they have shaped the way the modern age thinks and feels.”—David A. Bell, Princeton University

“Peter Gay, a brilliant scholar of both the Enlightenment and Modernity, turns now to Romanticism.  Drawing on a lifetime of reading and thinking, he is perfectly situated to explain to a new generation Why the Romantics Matter.”—Valerie Steele, Director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology

“With Peter Gay's characteristic elegance and erudition, Why the Romantics Matter celebrates the power of Romanticism from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth—a movement whose energies are inseparable from the self-image of men and women today.”—David Bromwich, Yale University

‘On its favoured territory of high culture the book is learned and wide-ranging. It recounts a series of life stories and cultural events of extraordinary diversity, and explores with fluent authority the worlds of painting, music, and literature in several different European countries.’—Peter Swaab, the Daily Telegraph.

‘Until now the Romantic period was almost the only one about which prolific cultural historian Gay (now in his 90’s) had not written. Part of the Yale Why X Matters series, his erudite and idiosyncratic narrative argues the importance of Beethoven, Wilde and Kadinsky (his favoured exemplars, among many) to the developing story of art.’—Peter Swaab, the Sunday Telegraph.

“Highly readable.”—Robert Fulford, National Post

Why the Romantics Matter is genuinely charming and divertingly anecdotal; it is in every way an enjoyable read, carrying its undoubted learning with an unobtrusively light air.’—Seamus Perry, Literary Review.

“As a cultural historian, Gay surveys his terrain from a wide angle. . . . [T]here are particular treasures to be found in the book, not the least of which is the pleasure of reading Gay's blessedly jargon-free prose.”—Lisa M. Steinman, Review 19

"An accessible, engaging introductory overview of ways in which Romanticism exceeds historical and geographical boundaries as a critical mode and creative disposition."—Margaret Linley, European Romantic Review

Winner of the 2015 Jean-Pierre Barricelli Prize given by the International Conference on Romanticism.
ISBN: 9780300144291
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
176 pages, 5.25 x 7.75
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