“‘This is the sort of book which will drive the professors mad,’ begins Richard Holmes’s enthusiastic review of Romantic Affinities in the Evening Standard. ‘It is a history of the Romantic Movement, told in the episodic style of an inspired, intellectual soap-opera.’
“The book opens as the young Andre Chenier dashes off his last poem—on the brown paper used for wrapping dirty linen – before he is carted off to the guillotine, and concludes as a restless band of students and artists – shouting and stamping – waits five hours in a cold, dark Comedie-Francaise for the opening of Victor Hugo’s Hernani. In between, Paganini plays a violin whose G string is said to have been made from the innards of his murdered mistress; the poet Holderlin shrouded in a white sheet frightens a servant in the middle of the night; and Coleridge, Shelley, and Byron mingle on the page – as they never did in life – with the likes of Goethe, Kleist, and Madame de Stael.
“These are the characters who people the tales of long walks, failed love, bank loans, slammed doors, seedy hotels; who play out the scenes of moments that changed lives, of bitterness choked back, of music heard over the water, and of notes scribbled at attic windows. Theirs are the stories of hunger, lies, and carnage; of waiting beyond the appointed hour; of running down empty corridors; of confronting death and grasping at joy.
“‘Both scholarly and funny’ – again in the words of Richard Holmes – Romantic Affinities is ‘a brilliant, sultry evocation . . . a flamboyant work of popularization . . . a stylish, spirited, and provoking extravaganza. The professors may rail, but it is well worth cramming.’”
Romantic Affinities: Portraits from an Age, 1770-1830 (1988) by Rupert Christiansen. From the jacket.