Letter: Romanticism should not be sneered at

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The Independent Online
Sir: What Dominic Kirkham and other supporters of the 'romanticism is fascism' theory (Letters, 1 October) fail to grasp is the sheer variety of political theories that were spawned by the Romantic movement. If it is true that the Nazis hijacked part of it for their own warped purposes, it is equally true that opposing revolutionary movements exploited it, too. The poet and academic David Wright has described the Communist Manifesto of 1848 as 'that essentially Romantic document' and nobody who has sung the 'Red Flag' or the 'Internationale' can seriously doubt it.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Romanticism developed from the idealism and bloodshed of the French Revolution and created, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, all of the movements for social reform and equality that we know today. Even the revolutionary zeal of our Green movement was foreshadowed by European Romantics such as Heine, Stendhal and Leopardi, who saw the threat of authoritarian societies arising from the industrial revolution. Adolescents today still read the verse of the English Romantic poets Blake and Shelley for their radical humanism.

Father Kirkham may also be interested in the theory of Professor Chris Baldick, who, in his introduction to the Oxford Book of Gothic Tales, considers the 'homeopathic' function of Romantic/Gothic fiction. Gothic writers, he believes, 'borrowed the fables and nightmares of a past age in order to repudiate their authority'.

These nightmares included (in the eyes of the 'rational' Protestant readers of the time) the worst excesses of Roman Catholic history with its 'scheming Franciscan poisoners, depraved abesses, fearsome Inquisitors and diabolical murderers from every monastic order'. In other words, there is a part of every human psyche that enjoys a healthy shudder at whatever it fears the most.

Yours faithfully,


London, N19

1 October