Light in Germany: Scenes from an Unknown Enlightenment by T J Reed - review by Ben Hutchinson

Ben Hutchinson

Loosening the Chains

Light in Germany: Scenes from an Unknown Enlightenment


University of Chicago Press 284pp £28 order from our bookshop

In the intellectual history of Europe, the term ‘Enlightenment’ does not readily evoke associations with Germany. The Parisian model of rational sobriety, worldly wit and – not least – increasing secularisation struggled to gain traction in the fissiparous city-states of 18th-century Germany, where centres of intellectual activity were only ever as influential as their neighbours’ prejudices. The French, the Scottish, even the English Enlightenments carry specific connotations to the historically literate non-specialist; it is far from obvious that this is the case for Germany. Establishing a clear identity for the ‘German Enlightenment’ is thus no small task.

Step forward T J Reed, one of the most distinguished of modern Germanists. A leading authority on Goethe and Thomas Mann (to name but two of his areas of expertise), Reed sets out to redefine what he calls ‘an unknown Enlightenment’. Vigorously defending the importance of 18th-century German culture within

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