The best books on Romanticism

3 authors have picked their favorite books about Romanticism and why they recommend each book.

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Natural Supernaturalism

By M. H. Abrams,

Book cover of Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature

When I was a student I found this book an inspiration. Beautifully written, it brings out deep affinities between the poetry and ideas of Wordsworth, Shelley, and other poets in England and the idealist philosophers in Germany, and the ways both groups rewrote the cosmic ideas of Christianity and ancient esoteric systems. It continually sets off sparks with its surprising comparisons. In the fifty years since it appeared, scholars have complained about how many writers the book leaves out, but given that its theme is “The High Romantic Argument” and not all of Romanticism, I am still impressed by how much it takes in.


Who am I?

I fell in love with the British Romantic poets when I took a course about them, and I fixated like a chick on the first one we studied, William Blake. He seemed very different from me, and in touch with something tremendous: I wanted to know about it. Ten years later I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Blake, and then published quite a bit about him. Meanwhile there were other poets, poets in other countries, and painters and musicians: besides being accomplished at their art, I find their ideas about nature, the self, art, and society still resonate with me.


I wrote...

Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

By Michael K. Ferber,

Book cover of Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

In this book I explore Romanticism during the period of its incubation, birth, and growth, covering the years from 1760 to 1860. It incorporates not only the English but the Continental movements, and not only literature but music, art, religion, and philosophy. It sheds light on such subjects as the "Sensibility" movement, which preceded Romanticism; the rising prestige of the poet as inspired prophet; the rather different figure of the "poetess"; Romanticism as a religious trend; Romantic philosophy and science; and Romantic responses to the French Revolution, the Orient, and the condition of women. Some two hundred people are cited or quoted, many at length, including Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Emerson, Hugo, Goethe, Pushkin, Beethoven, Berlioz, Chopin, and Delacroix.

The Roots of Romanticism

By Isaiah Berlin,

Book cover of The Roots of Romanticism

Though he declines to define it, Berlin says “The importance of romanticism is that it is the largest recent movement to transform the lives and the thought of the Western world.” In this brief set of lectures he dwells mainly on German writers, since Germany was arguably the homeland of romanticism. Berlin seems to know everything, but his erudition does not interfere with his lively style. What the book lacks in thoroughness it more than makes up with sharp and provocative ideas.


Who am I?

I fell in love with the British Romantic poets when I took a course about them, and I fixated like a chick on the first one we studied, William Blake. He seemed very different from me, and in touch with something tremendous: I wanted to know about it. Ten years later I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Blake, and then published quite a bit about him. Meanwhile there were other poets, poets in other countries, and painters and musicians: besides being accomplished at their art, I find their ideas about nature, the self, art, and society still resonate with me.


I wrote...

Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

By Michael K. Ferber,

Book cover of Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

In this book I explore Romanticism during the period of its incubation, birth, and growth, covering the years from 1760 to 1860. It incorporates not only the English but the Continental movements, and not only literature but music, art, religion, and philosophy. It sheds light on such subjects as the "Sensibility" movement, which preceded Romanticism; the rising prestige of the poet as inspired prophet; the rather different figure of the "poetess"; Romanticism as a religious trend; Romantic philosophy and science; and Romantic responses to the French Revolution, the Orient, and the condition of women. Some two hundred people are cited or quoted, many at length, including Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Emerson, Hugo, Goethe, Pushkin, Beethoven, Berlioz, Chopin, and Delacroix.

Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries

By Marilyn Butler,

Book cover of Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and Its Background, 1760-1830

This is much more interesting than its dull subtitle would suggest. In fewer than 200 pages Butler gives a surprisingly thorough account of the major British writers of the time, not only their works but their lives, their connections with each other, and their opinions about politics as well as literature. She deals with many more writers than Abrams does, though unlike him she does not explore themes at much length. The “background” in the subtitle includes the French Revolution and the industrial revolution, the two greatest events of the modern world, not over yet. 


Who am I?

I fell in love with the British Romantic poets when I took a course about them, and I fixated like a chick on the first one we studied, William Blake. He seemed very different from me, and in touch with something tremendous: I wanted to know about it. Ten years later I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Blake, and then published quite a bit about him. Meanwhile there were other poets, poets in other countries, and painters and musicians: besides being accomplished at their art, I find their ideas about nature, the self, art, and society still resonate with me.


I wrote...

Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

By Michael K. Ferber,

Book cover of Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

In this book I explore Romanticism during the period of its incubation, birth, and growth, covering the years from 1760 to 1860. It incorporates not only the English but the Continental movements, and not only literature but music, art, religion, and philosophy. It sheds light on such subjects as the "Sensibility" movement, which preceded Romanticism; the rising prestige of the poet as inspired prophet; the rather different figure of the "poetess"; Romanticism as a religious trend; Romantic philosophy and science; and Romantic responses to the French Revolution, the Orient, and the condition of women. Some two hundred people are cited or quoted, many at length, including Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Emerson, Hugo, Goethe, Pushkin, Beethoven, Berlioz, Chopin, and Delacroix.

Romanticism

By David Blayney Brown,

Book cover of Romanticism

Art history also knows a Romantic movement, as does music history. Brown’s book has 250 color plates, mostly of painting from Constable, Turner, Blake, Friedrich, Delacroix, Goya, and many others, but also of some architectural wonders. Brown makes continual connections to the poetry and philosophy of the time, and to political events, as he organizes his chapters by theme: the cult of the artist, the religion of nature, the sense of the past, orientalism, and the exotic, and so on. There are several fine books on Romantic painting, but this is probably the best place to begin.


Who am I?

I fell in love with the British Romantic poets when I took a course about them, and I fixated like a chick on the first one we studied, William Blake. He seemed very different from me, and in touch with something tremendous: I wanted to know about it. Ten years later I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Blake, and then published quite a bit about him. Meanwhile there were other poets, poets in other countries, and painters and musicians: besides being accomplished at their art, I find their ideas about nature, the self, art, and society still resonate with me.


I wrote...

Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

By Michael K. Ferber,

Book cover of Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

In this book I explore Romanticism during the period of its incubation, birth, and growth, covering the years from 1760 to 1860. It incorporates not only the English but the Continental movements, and not only literature but music, art, religion, and philosophy. It sheds light on such subjects as the "Sensibility" movement, which preceded Romanticism; the rising prestige of the poet as inspired prophet; the rather different figure of the "poetess"; Romanticism as a religious trend; Romantic philosophy and science; and Romantic responses to the French Revolution, the Orient, and the condition of women. Some two hundred people are cited or quoted, many at length, including Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Emerson, Hugo, Goethe, Pushkin, Beethoven, Berlioz, Chopin, and Delacroix.

The Girl with the Golden Eyes

By Honoré de Balzac,

Book cover of The Girl with the Golden Eyes

Do you want the gritty, pungent beauty of Paris during the heyday of the Romantics—the 1830s? You want perversion, decadence, a crazy, kinky plot revolving around sex, dominance, Sapphic passion, murder, and intrigue, set in the Trocadero neighborhood? Only Honoré de Balzac could dream up something this wild and get away with it. One of the wonders of this short novel is how, through casual descriptions, Paris comes to life. It’s not a picture-postcard version of the city. Au contraire. It’s a seamy, real place I recognize after 35 years living there. While I was reading The Girl with the Golden Eyes, I actually went out and found the locations. The city has changed less than you’d think in 190 years. Above all, the seamy, perverse side remains.


Who am I?

I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s watching Alfred Hitchcock movies and reading Dashiell Hammett—I’m from San Francisco. Then opera got hold of me. So, I dropped out of my PhD program, left Dante’s Inferno behind, and moved to Paris to live a modern-day La Bohème. Because I’m half-Italian, I decided I had to divide my life between Paris and Italy. Mystery, murder, romance, longing, and betrayal were what fueled my passions and still do. To earn a living, I became a travel, food, and arts reporter. These interests and the locales of my life come together in my own crime and mystery novels.


I wrote...

Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation

By David Downie,

Book cover of Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation

What is my book about?

Red Riviera is a gripping detective novel set on the Italian Riviera, featuring female sleuth Daria Vinci. 

Its jaws open wide, a firefighting seaplane skims the Gulf of Portofino on Italy’s jagged Ligurian coast, scooping up lone swimmer Joe Gary. The super-rich Italian-American has mob connections and a dirty political past. Is it an accident or murder? It is a wild ride from the tangled trails of the Cinque Terre to glamorous Portofino and roistering Genoa. It’s a Riviera made red by riotous bougainvillea and spilled blood. Half-American, Daria Vinci is an outsider, the rising star of Genoa’s secretive Special Operations Directorate DIGOS. To solve her case, Daria must face down a Fascist police chief, the CIA’s local mastermind, a former World War Two Spitfire fighter pilot, and a plucky hundred-year-old marquise whose memory is as long as it is vengeful.

The Romantic Pact

By Meghan Quinn,

Book cover of The Romantic Pact

Meghan Quinn’s books are the reason I chose to be a romantic comedy author. No other author has made me almost pee my pants laughing in one chapter, then turn me on in another chapter only to reduce me to tears in the next chapter! Her writing is brilliant!

The Romantic Pact tells the story of two family friends, and their adventure together in a foreign country at the request of the Hero’s grandfather who has passed away. Not only do the characters experience several hilarious adventures together but they rediscover themselves in an emotional and heartfelt way. As someone who has had to rediscover myself in my adult life, this story personally struck a chord with me in a very strong way.


Who am I?

I like a good steamy emotional romance just like any other romance reader, but there’s nothing I love more than reading a romance that can make me laugh so hard I cry and then turn around and have a storyline with an unexpected twist that stomps on my heart a little before putting it all back together. Romantic comedies can be crazy and convoluted but I appreciate the fun release a good rom-com can deliver. That’s what I strive to provide through my rom coms as well. Relatable characters experiencing crazy life moments while finding their happily-ever-afters. 


I wrote...

Smooch

By Susan Renee,

Book cover of Smooch

What is my book about?

One Night. No Names. No Rules. Just Fun. This was my attempt to escape love, but Chett Hayes, my very talented one-night-stand, has other plans. He makes me a deal my friends won’t let me refuse.

Four blind dates - each one followed by a date with Chett. Choose him in the end and win my happily ever after, or don’t and continue my happy single life, never seeing Chett again. Rules are set. Lines are drawn, but when those lines are crossed, the playing field becomes blurry. Chett is adamant this is a deal he can’t lose. And I’m terrified he might win.

The Lost Melody

By Joanna Davidson Politano,

Book cover of The Lost Melody

Sometimes you need a good read to curl up with on a rainy day, one that’s a bit melancholic yet romantic at the same time. I know I do, and The Lost Melody checked both those boxes. My heart ached for heroine Vivienne Mourdant, for have we not all struggled with reality now and then? And who wouldn’t if trapped within an insane asylum? This one kept me guessing until the very end as to how poor Vivienne would ever escape in one piece. 

Definitely more Jane Eyre than Jane Austen.


Who am I?

Though I live in the foothills of the Ozarks, I’m an Anglophile at heart, loving all things Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. I spent much of my angsty adolescence tucked away in Regency and Victorian England with my nose stuck in a book. As a result, I now jump at every chance I get to skip across the pond and roam the English countryside, listening hard to hear all the voices from the past—which is why my stories are always tied to British history. So whether you love ballrooms or shadowy tales set in gothic manors, here’s a great list for you.


I wrote...

Lost in Darkness

By Michelle Griep,

Book cover of Lost in Darkness

What is my book about?

Even if there be monsters, there is none so fierce as that which resides in man’s own heart. Travel writer Amelia Balfour’s dream of touring Egypt is halted when she receives news of a revolutionary new surgery for her grotesquely disfigured brother. She must remain in England—which changes everything...in the worst possible way.

Surgeon Graham Lambert has suspicions about the doctor he’s gone into practice with, but he can’t stop him from operating on Amelia’s brother. Will he be too late to prevent the man’s death? Or to reveal his true feelings for Amelia before she finally sails to Cairo?

The Devil's Elixir

By E. T. A. Hoffmann,

Book cover of The Devil's Elixir

Once I started reading this I was unable to put it down. If you’re unfamiliar with the tales of Hoffmann you owe it to yourself to become acquainted. If you are intrigued by the sort of tale in which a young man meets a traveler in an inn who has seen the devil and he follows him into a dark and lonely wood, then this is the book for you.

The plot is an elaborately tangled labyrinth. The monk Medardus was brought up in a monastery to atone for his father’s wicked ways, but he knows only fragments of his family’s history. Forced to flee the monastery he sets out on a fantastical quest in which he encounters his lunatic doppelganger, becomes entangled in Vatican intrigues, commits a murder, is condemned to death, and much, much more. This is an early work of the German Romantic movement and had an…


Who am I?

I’ve been a lover of fantasy fiction ever since as a 12-year-old boy I lived in Oxford near the great J. R. R. Tolkien and read The Lord of the Rings and loved it so much I wrote to the author and he wrote back to me. I have no interest in the current commercialized fantasy genre. When I came to write a novel I wanted to write one that was actually imaginative, that had some philosophical heft, that an intelligent adult could enjoy. I wanted to write a book that mattered, that had some of my ideas about the nature of God and – yes – the devil.


I wrote...

The Devil's Workshop

By Donnally Miller,

Book cover of The Devil's Workshop

What is my book about?

My book is subtitled A Metaphysical Extravaganza because it explores many metaphysical concepts such as the true nature of God, and just exactly what are life, love, and death?  One of the characters concludes that God is language, in which case the Devil wants to free us by draining all meaning from the sounds that come from our mouths.

Of course, the novel is also a ripping pirate yarn with star-crossed lovers, pirates, Indians, and rebellious slaves as well as a quick trip through the Devil’s workshop. Come aboard and join Tom and Katie as they traverse the treacherous reefs of the Coast.

Those Who Write for Immortality

By H.J. Jackson,

Book cover of Those Who Write for Immortality: Romantic Reputations and the Dream of Lasting Fame

Those Who Write for Immortality is, simply put, a remarkable book. It’s an in-depth study of British writers whose work was written with the goal of surviving what Horace called “the teeth of time.” It confronts the literary careers of authors who managed to be remembered after their deaths to the failed attempts of gifted, but ultimately unsuccessful rivals. This study illuminates both the romantic period and the quest for literary fame in our own time. A must-read for anyone interested in Austen, Keats, Blake, and Lord Biron, it is also indispensable for readers willing to explore the theoretical issues associated with the goal of writing for those who are yet to be born, people whose values and aesthetic preferences might very well become completely different from our own.


Who am I?

I grew up in Bordeaux, a city that became prominent during the eighteenth century. My hometown inspired my love of eighteenth-century French studies, which led me to the Sorbonne, then to Yale University where I earned a PhD. Today, I am an Associate Professor at The Ohio State University. I am the author of eight novels and monographs published in France and the US, including American Pandemonium, Posthumous America, and Sentinel Island. My work explores numerous genres to question a number of recurring themes: exile and the representation of otherness; nostalgia and the experience of bereavement; the social impact of new technologies; America’s history and its troubled present.


I wrote...

The Paradoxes of Posterity

By Benjamin Hoffmann, Alan J. Singerman (translator),

Book cover of The Paradoxes of Posterity

What is my book about?

Why do people write? It has everything to do with being remembered by posterity. The Paradoxes of Posterity argue that the impetus for literary creation comes from a desire to transcend the mortality of the human condition through a work addressed to future generations. Refusing to turn their hope towards the spiritual immortality promised by religious systems, authors seek a symbolic form of perpetuity granted to the intellectual side of their person in the memory of those not yet born while they write. 

Benjamin Hoffmann illuminates the paradoxes inherent in the search for symbolic immortality: paradoxes of belief, identity, and mediation. Theoretically sophisticated and convincingly argued, this book contends that there is only one truly serious literary problem: the transmission of texts to posterity. 

The Stranger Diaries

By Elly Griffiths,

Book cover of The Stranger Diaries

The Stranger Diaries is closer to one of my other favorite genres, gothic romance, but it, too, is a witty, literate puzzle. English teacher Clare Cassidy is an expert on the Gothic writer R.M. Holland, so when one of her colleagues is found murdered with a line from Holland’s most famous story beside their body, Clare turns to her diary to make sense of their death. Her grief rapidly turns to fear when she finds the message, “Hallo, Clare, you don’t know me,” written in her diary by someone else. The message is, of course, frightening in The Stranger Diaries, but it is also the magical moment that I always hope for as both a reader and a writer, when I begin a book and the characters step out of their world and into my own.  


Who am I?

My favorite childhood summertime memory is being allowed to choose a stack of Agatha Christies to take with me to summer camp and on vacation. As I moved on to academia and the “serious” study of literature, I quickly discovered that mysteries are every bit as serious as James Joyce—and are a lot more fun to read. Now that I have turned to writing the stories myself, I enjoy diving into a world of afternoon tea, well-read detectives, and impeccably mixed cocktails, and I love to find readers who want to join me there.


I wrote...

The Brooklyn North Murders

By Erica Obey,

Book cover of The Brooklyn North Murders

What is my book about?

The Brooklyn North Murders is a tart take on gentrification in the Hudson Valley. The small-town traditions of Morgansburg, NY are rapidly being replaced by Brooklyn hipsters, who are determined to turn this sleepy college town into the next Silicon Valley. When a tech entrepreneur dives into a lake in full view of a triathlon crowd and never emerges, it is up to computer whiz Mary Watson and Doyle, the AI bot she has programmed to write mysteries, to solve the impossible crime.  

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