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Romantic Agony (1930)- Mario Praz
First published: 1930
Author: Mario Praz
Related: decadent movement - 19th century literature - literary criticism - romanticism
La carne, la morte, e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica/Romantic Agony (1930) - Mario Praz [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Mario Praz's best-known work, Romantic Agony, is a comprehensive survey of the erotic and morbid themes that characterized European authors of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. [Jul 2006]
Philippe Jullian's Dreamers of Decadence (1969) does for the visual arts what Mario Praz's Romantic Agony (1930) does for literature. Dreamers of Decadence is dedicated to Mario Praz. [Dec 2006]
There is a suggestion by Mario Praz in The Romantic Agony that what Blake, De Sade, Nietzsche, Swinburne, Dostoyevsky, Gide, essentially have in common is that they were all sadists, sadism being at best a mere psychological quirk of certain personalities. But then it could well be that the kind of temperament here labelled 'sadistic' is the best equipped for the kind of insight that is at issue. --Introduction to Nietzsche, John S Moore, 1974
Themes and tropes: algolagnia - androgyny - bloodshed - decadence - decadent movement - exoticism - femme fatale - fatal man - the French "frenetic" school - incest - lesbianism - masochism - necrophilia - persecuted maiden - perversion - picturesqe - rebel type - romanticism - sadism - Salome - satan - sexuality in literature - terror - vampirism
Protagonists: Gabriele D'Annunzio - Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly - Honoré de Balzac - Maurice Barrès - Charles Baudelaire - Aubrey Beardsley - Petrus Borel - Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly - Restif de la Bretonne - Byron - Jacques Cazotte - Chateaubriand - Delacroix - de Quincey - Diderot - Dostoevsky - Dumas père - Flaubert - Gautier - Goethe - Goncourt - Gourmont - Heine - Victor Hugo - J. K. Huysmans - Villiers de l'Isle-Adam - Janin - Keats - Laclos - Lautréamont - Lewis - Claude Lorrain - Pierre Louÿs - Maeterlinck - Maturin - John Milton - Octave Mirbeau - Gustave Moreau - Musset - Charles Nodier - Walter Pater - Péladan - Poe - Prévost - Rachilde - Ann Radcliffe - Samuel Richardson - Félicien Rops - Rossetti - Sade - Sainte Beuve - Schiller - Shelley, P. B. - Eugène Sue - Swinburne - Thérèse Philosophe - Richard Wagner - Oscar Wilde
In 1930 Praz produced this study of romantic or decadent responses to modernism, titled, in Italian, La carne, la morte, e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica which would literally translate into English as Flesh, Death, and the Devil in Romantic Literature, but was published in 1933 in English as The Romantic Agony. The preface to the first English edition defines this as "a study of certain states of mind and peculiarities of behavior, which are given a definite direction by various types and themes that recur as insistently as myths engendered in the ferment of blood" (p. vii). This book traces a certain the psychopathological sensibility in nineteenth century literature. Praz codifies the deviant bourgeois imagination in search of the frisson; sex, horror, the supernatural, making this one of the earliest works of thematic literary criticism of Western literature. [Nov 2006]
Table of Contents
Introduction, 1-22;The introduction is largely concerned with tracing the roots of the romantic sensibility and of the terms and romantic and romantique in English and French. Much like Todorov did in the first chapter of The Fantastic, this is a genre-theoretical delineation of his subject matter. It places Sade as a forerunner to the romantics. It also puts forward the romantic-classic antithesis by Benedetto Croce, and it mentions notions such as the picturesque, although it does not seem to mention the connected sublime.
Chapter I, “The Beauty of the Medusa,” 23-52;Chapter I traces the roots of the combination of the concepts pleasure and pain; beauty and death. Points to such essays as On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror, An Inquiry into those Kinds of Distress which Excite Agreeable Sensations, "On Objects of Terror" by Nathan Drake and "Ode to Fear" by William Collins.
Chapter II, “The Metamorphoses of Satan,” 53-94;Chapter II "traces the metamorphosis of the satan of Tasso, Marino and John Milton as a literary figure into the "fatal man" of the romantics - the Byronic hero, the male vampire, the criminal erotic." --Howard Mumford Jones, Modern Language Notes, Vol. 51, No. 6 (Jun., 1936)
Chapter III, “The Shadow of the Divine Marquis,” 95-197.Chapter III is by far the largest chapter and its protagonist is the Marquis de Sade. Here, Praz "enters into an elaborate argument to show that this tendency towards delight in criminal and sexual suffering the novels of the Marquis de Sade gave a special impetus , since, to the type of the fatal man, the romantics added the type of persecuted woman, and under the spell of their admiration for Justine and its companion works, found a special delight in erotic pain." --Howard Mumford Jones, Modern Language Notes, Vol. 51, No. 6 (Jun., 1936)In chapter III, Praz also marks the fault line between Romanticism and Decadence:
"Baudelaire and Flaubert are like the two faces of a Herm planted firmly in the middle of the century, marking the division between Romanticism and Decadence, between the period of the Fatal Man and that of the Fatal Woman, between the period of Delacroix and that of Moreau."
Chapter IV, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” 199-300;
On the fatal woman
La Belle Dame Sans Merci is also the title of a poem by Keats and a painting by Frank Cadogan Cowper (1877–1958), a British artist, described as "The last of the Pre-Raphaelites". -- [Sept 2006]
Chapter V, “Byzantium,” 303-434;
On the last phase of decadence, which professor Praz appropriately calls "Byzantium," ...
Appendix, “Swinburne and ‘Le Vice Anglais,” 437-457.
"Baudelaire en vers et Flaubert en prose"
""Baudelaire en vers et Flaubert en prose" said Péladan in 1885: the analogy could not be juster and is today taken for granted. Baudelaire and Flaubert are like the two faces of a Herm planted firmly in the middle of the century, marking the division between Romanticism and Decadence, between the period of the Fatal Man and that of the Fatal Woman, between the period of Delacroix and that of Moreau." --The Romantic Agony, page 154
On Delacroix, the Romantic, and Moreau, the decadentDelacroix, as a painter, was fiery and dramatic; Gustave Moreau strove to be cold and static. The former painted gestures, the latter attitudes. Although far apart in artistic merit (after all, Delacroix in his best work is a great painter), they are highly representative of the moral atmosphere of the two periods in which they flourised -- of Romanticism, with its fury of frenzied action, and of Decadence, with its sterile contemplation. The subject-matter is almost the same -- voluptuous, gory exoticism. But Delacroix lives inside his subject, whereas Moreau worships his from outside, with the result that the first is a paniter, the second a decorator. --Romantic Agony (1930) - Praz, page 303
Review by Janine C. Hartman
In 1933  Praz produced this impressionistic and encyclopedic study of romantic or decadent responses to modernity, titled, in Italian, La carne, la morte, e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica. The preface to the first English edition defines this as "a study of certain states of mind and peculiarities of behavior, which are given a definite direction by various types and themes that recur as insistently as myths engendered in the ferment of blood" (p. vii). This book traced patterns of consciousness in nineteenth century and Renaissance sensibilities. Praz codified the deviant bourgeois imagination in search of the frisson; sex, horror, the supernatural, in chapters with evocative formulations: "the beauty of the Medusa, metamorphoses of Satan, la belle dame sans merci, Byzantium, Swinburne and 'le vice anglais." But most importantly, this study of poetry, plays and novels falls under "the shadow of the divine marquis"-the marquis de Sade. Though deploring the infant Sade publishing industry, then under the aegis of French Surrealism, Praz accepts Sade as the mythmaker of the educated erotic sensibility, the imaginative grotesquerie, the advocate of pain for aesthetic appreciation of all experience. --Reviewed by: Janine C. Hartman , Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Cincinnati. Published by: H-Ideas (August, 2000), http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=26206966636723 [Jan 2005]
Review by Jerome J. McGann
In the introductory chapter of his famous study, The Romantic Agony, "The Beauty of the Medusa," Mario Praz lays the foundations for the entire work that follows--a learned and demonstrative complaint against the radically aberrant quality of much Romantic art. Praz is a compelling critic of his subject, not because his moral judgments are the same as Eliot's (though they are), but because his methodology--to collect and compare the images, themes and motifs which preoccupied Romantic minds--is both unimpeachable and highly suggestive. The genius of his book is in its categories, the chapter headings. --http://www.rc.umd.edu/editions/shelley/medusa/mcgann.html [Jan 2005]
Mario Praz seems to disapprove of much of the late Romantic and Symbolist, mostly French, writing from the late nineteenth century. It astounds me that Mario Praz would take the trouble to write an entire book about authors he doesn't seem to like very much. But he was at least thorough about it, and we can share in the fruits of his labours even if we cannot share in his judgments.
In fact, as in all works of this sort, a commentary telling us how decadent, sadistic, and depraved all of the sorts of fantastic fiction he collects is just the thing to whet a reader's interest. He condemns major authors like Flaubert, for his - Temptation of St. Anthony. - But he also introduces us to relatively less well known writers like Jean Lorrain; and to minor poets like Maurice Rollinat, the Alice Cooper or Marilyn Manson of fin-de-siecle France. Without Mr. Praz to tell me how eeeevil they are, I'd never have heard of 'em; and I'd be the poorer for it.
Works like this also serve the purpose of anthologising the more intriguing excerpts from these writers. Mr. Praz's work is no exception. Fortunately, entire poems are often quoted, and extensive passages from short stories, in both the original (usually French) and in English translation.
I can't entirely -endorse- this, but it is a fun and informative read, that you should have a look at if you have any interest at all in the period. --S. Gustafson "Holy Roman Emperor" via Amazon.com
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