“Magnificent Rebels” is an illuminating exploration of the life of the mind and the sometimes-fraught production of art1. The book is set in Jena, a small German town that became the intellectual capital of Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries2. This period saw the congregation of a group of novelists, poets, literary critics, philosophers, essayists, editors, translators, and playwrights, who were inspired by the French Revolution and placed the self at the center stage of their thinking3.
The book focuses on the “Jena Set”, a group of mainly young writers and poets, including the Schlegels, Friedrich von Hardenberg (“Novalis”), and the philosopher Friedrich Schelling2. These individuals saw themselves as cleverer, wittier, and more poetic than anyone else2. Their irreverence led to feuds, first between the upstart Schlegels and the venerable poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller, and later between Schelling and Fichte2.
Wulf’s writing is clear and flowing, making the book a pleasure to read4. She provides vivid portraits of the characters and their dynamic narrative, sparking ideas4. The book is a spirited re-creation of the world of the German founders of the post-Enlightenment movement1. It’s an exhilarating book that tells the story of what Wulf calls “the Jena set” in a lovely crazy little corner of the world2.
Overall, “Magnificent Rebels” is a delightful and invigorating book that is attentive to Jena’s social as well as its intellectual glitter5. It’s a worthy successor to Wulf’s acclaimed study of Alexander von Humboldt, “The Invention of Nature”5. The book offers an ambitious, engaging, and effusive account of the first Romantics and the invention of the self6.
Author is Andrea Wulf
Here the Book Review of the Guardien