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  • Sculptural Blockages: Wilhelm Heinse’s Ardinghello, Clemens Brentano’s Godwi, and the Early Romantic Novel
  • Catriona MaCleod

When Friedrich Schlegel hailed the “Roman” as “ein romantisches Buch” (335), he was alluding among other things to the novel’s experimental capaciousness for other genres and media – to the very hybridity, that is, that Classical theorists had viewed with suspicion, as exemplified by Schiller’s comments in a letter of 20 October, 1797 to Goethe on the novel as an “unreines Medium” (432). The Romantic novel fulfills perfectly – or promises to fulfill perfectly – what word and image theorist W. J. T. Mitchell more recently has claimed to be the case for all media and all representational systems, namely, that even in the face of “purity” aesthetics such as Classicism or Modernism, they are inherently mixed (5). As I will elaborate in this essay via readings of two paradigmatic novels, however, it is above all the medium of sculpture that acts as a stumbling block for the early Romantic novel in its theory as well as in its experimental practice.

On the face of it, Clemens Brentano’s early Romantic novel Godwi (1800/01), emerging as it does from the context of Jena, manifests the principle of heterogeneity that is one of the credos of the movement as well as of the genre, and it has been viewed conventionally, for example by Eugene E. Reed, as typifying the emerging Romantic ideals of aesthetic synthesis and combination, in the theoretical tradition of Friedrich Schlegel.1 Marked by generic hybridity, the novel contains epistolary sections, dialogue inserts, poetry, comic interludes, diary entries, geometric diagrams, songs, footnotes, and illustrations, among other forms. Indeed, the inclusion of images, with the burgeoning of the illustrated book around the turn of the century, heralds a new conception of the Romantic book as a multi-media production, with illustration not merely to be understood as supplemental or secondary to meaning, but constitutive of it (Ionescu). Godwi also notably includes a lengthy reflection on the aesthetic principles of Romanticism, a passage to which I return shortly. What I want to stress here, however, is the competitive nature of the relationship between two particular representational systems in the novel, specifically that between sculptural and narrative modes. [End Page 232] The novel in this case proves capacious enough to make a home for every other discourse and medium, with the sole exception of the sculptural. The tension between sculpture as a medium and the vegetative chaos of the novel genre is indeed already presented to the reader in the dual and dueling subtitles of the work: Godwi, das steinerne Bild der Mutter. Ein verwilderter Roman, as well as in the illustrations by Johann Heinrich Ramberg that preface each of the two books structuring the novel. If, following Louis Marin, we consider frontispiece illustrations as discursive interventions or instructions framing how a text will be read – the frontispiece a visual counterpart to a verbal preface – there is all the more reason to dwell on the contradictions between the visual figurations of sculpture that precede the two books of the novel.2

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Figure 1.

Johann Heinrich Ramberg, title vignette, Clemens Brentano, Godwi. Yale Collection of German Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

In the first, a female statue, gaze downcast and averted, securely occupies its appointed place on a pedestal, anchored in a landscape and within a classicizing oval frame (Figure 1). In the second, a chaotic scene taking place in an eroticized [End Page 233] domestic space, the crucifix, a male statuesque form that displays its own stigmata, has toppled to the ground from its proper display position and occupies a peripheral position alongside an object of banal domesticity, a broom (Figure 2; MacLeod 187–89). These disjunctive illustrations already point to the difficulties that this highly self-reflexive Romantic novel will have in accommodating the very image of Classical corporeal wholeness, the statuesque Gestalt, within the organic, vegetative chaos suggested by the term “Verwilderung.”

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Figure 2.

Johann Heinrich Ramberg, title vignette, Clemens Brentano, Godwi. Yale Collection of German Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale...


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