Historical Crossroads

Seasoned by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, Paris of the 1840s was, not unlike 80 years later, a magnet for artists, intellectuals, and radicals from across Europe. It was a decade when the world was out of balance: a crisis of the old society coincided with a crisis of the new, spawning great political and cultural ferment. Among those drawn to the city in that decade were three lions of 19th-century German history: Karl Marx, Richard Wagner, and poet Heinriche Heine. Working in the tradition of such cerebral, history-minded playwrights as Michael Frayne and Tom Stoppard, American literary critic and essayist Jonathan Leaf imagines the interaction of these three men in The Germans in Paris, an intriguing though tendentious play about the dueling of men and their ideas that is based loosely on actual events.

In fact, two actual duels

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