Friday, 29 March 2013

Medievalism


The Gothic novel embraced the Medieval ("Gothic") culture so disdained by the early 18th century. Whereas classical art looked back constantly to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Romantics celebrated for the first time since the Renaissance the wilder aspects of the creativity of Western Europeans from the 12th through the 14th centuries: stained glass in soaring cathedrals, tales of Robin Hood and his merry men, and--above all--the old tales of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. This influence was to spread far beyond the Gothic romance to all artistic forms in Europe, and lives on in the popular fantasy novels of today. Fairies, witches, angels--all the fantastic creatures of the Medieval popular imagination came flooding back into the European arts in the Romantic period (and all are present in Faust).

The longing for "simpler" eras not freighted with the weight of the Classical world gave rise to a new form: the historical novel. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was by far its most successful practitioner. Although credit for writing the first historical novel should probably go to Madame de Lafayette for her La Princess de Clèves(1678), Scott is generally considered to have developed the form as we know it today. Almost forgotten now, his novels like The Bride of Lammermoor and Ivanhoe nevertheless inspired writers, painters, and composers in Germany, France, Italy, Russia and many other lands.

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