Cover image for Romanticism and its discontents
Romanticism and its discontents
Brookner, Anita.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
Physical Description:
ix, 198 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), portraits (some color) ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Romanticism: a change of outlook -- Gros: hero and victim -- Alfred de Musset: enfant du siècle -- Baudelaire: the black frock coat -- Delacroix: romantic classicist -- Ingres: art for art's sake -- The Brothers Goncourt: the breakdown of joy -- Zola: art for like's sake -- Huysmans: the madness of art.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N6847.5.R6 B76 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
N6847.5.R6 B76 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In Romanticism and Its Discontents, Booker Prize-winning novelist and celebrated art historian Anita Brookner offers a stunning reassessment of the masters of French Romantic painting in the context of nineteenth-century poetry, literature, and criticism.

Examining the works of these artists, Brookner traces the way in which French Romanticism evolved from the political turmoil of the late eighteenth century and the defeat at Waterloo in 1815, and replaced the agnosticism of the Enlightenment and the Revolution with a new heroism. She argues that the Romantics in France made the heroism of modern life their creed and "transferred their idealism to the domain of art, either as practitioners or as critics".

Here is Gros as hero and victim, Alfred de Musset as enfant du siecle, Delacroix as Romantic classicist, and, later in the century, Zola as an advocate of life for art's sake and Huysmans indulging in the madness of art.

In Romanticism and Its Discontents, Anita Brookner takes us on a fascinating tour of these artists, poets, and critics, bringing unfamiliar works brilliantly to life and casting new light on more recognizable ones.

Author Notes

Anita Brookner was born in London, England on July 16, 1928. She received a BA in history from King's College London in 1949 and a doctorate in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 1953. She went on to lecture in art at Reading University and the Courtauld Institute, where she specialized in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French art. She became the first woman to be named as Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge University in 1967.

Her first novel, A Start in Life, was published in 1981. Some of her other works include The Bay of Angels, The Next Big Thing, The Rules of Engagement, Latecomers, Leaving Home, Incidents in the Rue Laugier, Look at Me, and Strangers. Hotel du Lac won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1984 and was adapted for television in 1986. She has also written scholarly works about Jacques Louis David, Jean Baptiste Greuze, and Jean-Antoine Watteau. She died on March 10, 2016 at the age of 87.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Brookner is best known as a novelist, but she is an art historian, too, and this graceful and tightly focused interpretation of nineteenth-century French Romanticism showcases her considerable literary skill, sharp attunement to social mores, and X-ray vision into the psyche. Characterizing Romanticism as an expression of "infinite longing," Brookner deftly traces its rise and fall in a time of upheaval during which tradition was challenged, the personal took precedence over the social, and the spiritual was invested in the artistic. She then vigorously analyzes these paradigm shifts in lively profiles of a handful of influential painters and writers and, along the way, chronicles the birth of serious art criticism. In the visual realm, she portrays the pioneering Antoine-Jean Gros, and contrasts the dramatic and searching Delacroix with the more serene and content Ingres. As to writers, so insightful and eloquent are her linked studies of Alfred de Musset, Baudelaire, Zola, Huysmans, and the Goncourt brothers, they become poignant figures worthy of Brookner's intensely psychological fiction but are all the more haunting for being real. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Following her earlier biography of the neoclassicist painter Jacques-Louis David, acclaimed novelist and art historian Brookner (Hotel du Lac; Falling Slowly; etc.) here tackles the French Romantics. As a brief outline of the movement, this study breaks no new ground, but it is a fluent and shapely introduction that covers the major names, with chapters devoted to artists Ingres, Delacroix and Gros, writers Musset, Baudelaire, Zola and Huysmans, and the Goncourt brothers. As in the David biography, which focused on how the artist's later career was ruined by his homosexuality, and as in Brookner's novels of the rich, sensitive and depressed, the latter part of the title (a takeoff on Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents) rules the interpretations here. With artists like Baron Gros, Brookner wonderfully integrates psychobiography with social history, implying that during the Terror following the French Revolution, this artist's paranoia was sensible and lifesaving. The Goncourt brothers are lauded for their "unflinching pessimism which cannot quite conceal a sorrowing outlook." Brookner overrates Madame de Sta‰l and misleadingly calls the tyrannically gifted 18th-century epistolary artist Madame du Deffand "a modest and discreet person." Despite a novelist like Zola, who personified "Romanticism as energy," the final word is given to the "constitutionally depressed" critic Sainte-Beuve. (Surprisingly, there is no bibliography or list of suggested reading.) Brookner definitely paints the Romantics with her own brushÄmaking sure that no one has too good a timeÄbut she communicates her highly personal view with the sureness of a professional in literary low spirits. Illus. not seen by PW. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Art historian and novelist Brookner here discusses Romanticism as it existed in the arts in France from 1800 to 1880. She views Romanticism as the fruition of the artist/writer's despair and doubt, which resulted from the collapse of idealism in the aftermath of the French Revolution and Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Turning away from life's disenchantment and ennui, the artist plunged into the realm of the imagination in order to achieve personal fulfillment. Brookner examines how the work of eight artists and writers of this period reflected these aspects of Romanticism. While her thesis works for artists up to Delacroix, Brookner seems to be straining a bit with Ingres, the Brothers Goncourt, and Zola. While she does say that Ingres negates the idea of the disillusioned Romantic, it is hard to understand why he is included at all in this selection of artists. Brookner's thesis aside, valuable information is given on all of these artistic figures, making this a good accompanying text to an undergraduate survey on 19th-century French art and culture. Recommended for academic and art libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/00.]DSandra Rothenberg, Framingham State Coll., MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
1 Romanticism: A Change of Outlookp. 1
2 Gros: Hero and Victimp. 21
3 Alfred de Musset: Enfant du Sieclep. 41
4 Baudelaire: The Black Frock Coatp. 60
5 Delacroix: Romantic Classicistp. 80
6 Ingres: Art for Art's Sakep. 100
7 The Brothers Goncourt: The Breakdown of Joyp. 120
8 Zola: Art for Life's Sakep. 140
9 Huysmans: The Madness of Artp. 161
10 Conclusionp. 182
Indexp. 185