RA Conference 2017
Strasbourg, Alsace, France, 1-3 August 2017
Alsace is separated from Germany by the Rhine and the rest of France by the mountains of the Vosges, and has been contested between France and Germany for centuries, with the border ever shifting between the mountains and the river. The Lorelei, made famous in Heine’s poem (1823), lies a little further north on the Rhine as does the Burg Frankenstein.
In the 1600’s Alsace came gradually under French control, but retained a significant German-speaking culture. During the Romantic era, it was caught up in the conflicts of Europe, with displacements of people due to the Revolution and Napoleonic wars (as commemorated in Goethe’s poem Hermann und Dorothea). The town-hall of Strasbourg was stormed by an angry crowd in 1789, and La Marseillaise was composed in Strasbourg in 1792. It was occupied by foreign forces between 1815-1818, but remained under French rule until the Franco-Prussian war, which started in 1870 and saw Alsace and the Moselle (Northern Lorraine) annexed to the newly formed German Empire in 1871. Alsace and the Moselle remained under German rule until the Treaty of Versailles saw the region ceded once again to France in 1919.
Goethe finished his legal studies in Strasbourg (1770-71), and he wrote some of his formative poetry there (eg Willkommen und Abschied, Sesenheimer Lieder and Heidenröslein), as well as indulging in a famous romance with Frédérique Brion. He also met Herder there, a meeting which is seen as the beginning of the Sturm und Drang movement, and a key moment in the development of German Romantic literature.
In 1814 Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley) and Claire Clairmont travelled the Rhine from Switzerland to the North Sea. This journey past Burg Frankenstein and the Lorelei is a famous influence on Mary’s creation of Frankenstein as well as on the travelogue they published about their journeys, and indeed Victor Frankenstein also follows the same course during the novel.
In 1816, Lord Byron left England forever, in a self-imposed exile, and travelled up the Rhine to Switzerland. The same year he published the third Canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, in which Childe Harold does the same thing. The result was that trips on the Rhine became immensely popular in England. And many others travelled the middle Rhine region, writing about it or painting it, including Turner, Friedrich Schlegel, Clemens Brentano and Ludwig Achim von Arnim.
Alsace is one of the forgotten landscapes of Romanticism and a border zone of the Revolution. A conference there will allow us to explore this landscape, throwing into relief the geographies, and geo-political forces that shaped both.