In Pursuit of the “Real” Chateaubriand


31 points | by apollinaire 136 days ago


  • pmoriarty 136 days ago

    A disappointing essay which barely mentions Chauteaubriand's writing and dismisses it in a few words as "high-flown and formal". Yet his writing was his greatest contribution and was exactly the reason that Chauteabriand held such a great fascination for his contemporaries, for he founded a literary movement which shook the world of his time and whose echoes reverberate down to the present day: Romanticism.

    The word "romantic" and "romanticism" has been trivialized today as synonymous with the sentimentality of Hallmark cards, yet the literary movement to which the term refers bears little resemblance to today's colloquial meaning. Instead, it was a mystical, nature-worshiping reaction against mechanization and the Enlightenment, which elevated the world of nature, the imagination, genius, and the supernatural.

    Out of the seeds that Chauteaubriand planted grew the Gothic novel, and from there eventually the modern horror novel, to cite but one small influence. From the pen of Alexandre Dumas, another Romantic, came books like the Count of Monte Cristo, from which masked avengers like Batman and other superheroes eventually grew. The Surrealists with their fascination with dream and the irrational also had their root in the Romantics, and the Surrealists' influence thoroughly pervades contemporary culture, from surreal advertisements we see every single day to movies with dreamlike imagery to books and films that question reality.

    None of this or the many, many other influences of Romanticism or what Romanticism even was is touched on by this essay, so in it Chateaubriand's contribution remains opaque, as does the value of his books, which are well worth reading for their awe-inspiring vistas of nature and their alienated protagonists, which in some ways prefigured much later existentialist heroes.

    Pick your favorite tragic, tortured, brooding, rebellious, misunderstood, alienated anti-hero from contemporary fiction, film, anime, comic books, or music, and then read Chateaubriand and the other Romantics to see where their archetype, along with much else of contemporary culture, was forged.

    • ggambetta 136 days ago

      I thought this would be about steak :(