Germaine de Staël. A Political Portrait

ImagesHugh Gough at the Dublin Review of Books:

Madame de Staël has attracted the attention of historians and biographers alike, not only because of her flamboyant lifestyle and unwavering sense of self importance but also because of her sheer energy and impressive literary output. Her life had all the characteristics of a romantic novel, launched as she was into the privileged world of Parisian salons before revelling in the turmoil of the French Revolution, spending years of exile in the family château near Geneva, and travelling through central and eastern Europe before finally returning to France in the early years of the Bourbon restoration. Her interests straddled the Enlightenment and early Romanticism and she was one of the few French-language authors of the late eighteenth century to immerse herself in both German and Italian culture. She met Goethe and Schiller in Weimar, was a close friend of the philosopher and founder of the University of Berlin Wilhem von Humboldt, and had her children educated by the romanticist and orientalist Auguste Wilhelm von Schlegel. Her novels Delphine (1802) and Corinne (1807) have enjoyed lasting success and De l’Allemagne, published between 1810 and 1813, was a highly original analysis of the literature, history and philosophy of a culture that her nemesis, Napoleon Bonaparte, briefly dominated but never understood.

She was a lady born into wealth and privilege, and now has a society dedicated to her memory which publishes her complete works, encourages research and hosts annual meetings in the château in Coppet which has been the home of the Necker family since the eighteenth century. Her political ideas are less well known than her novels but she was an intelligent and reflective commentator on the twists and turns of events in France until Napoleon finally sent her into exile.

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