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French Literature Of The 19th Century:
 Glance At The Eighteenth Century


 Madame De Stael

 The Ideologists



 Beyle (stendhal)

 De Vigny

 Classicism And Romanticism


 Read More Articles About: French Literature Of The 19th Century

Madame De Stael

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

From a different starting-point and in a different way Madame de StaŽl contributed to infuse new ideals and methods into French literature. It is impossible here to give full consideration to the genius and unique personality of this extraordinary woman. She was born at Paris in 1766, Anne Louise Germaine Necker, daughter of the famous Swiss banker and financier, Jacques Necker, who had been made a baron and minister of France. Her mother was Suzanne Curchod, with whom the historian Gibbon had once been in love. As a child the daughter was trained by her mother in rather a rigid way, but at her more liberal father's instance she was early permitted to converse with the distinguished men of the time. Her precocity was extraordinary and her vivacity baffled her mother's efforts to control it. At the age of twenty she was married to Eric Magnus, Baron of StaŽl-Holstein, who was preferred by her father to other suitors, but for whom she had no real affection. She obtained by this marriage a privileged place at court, as her husband was the Swedish Ambassador. After his death in 1802, if not even before, she professed enthusiastic attachments to various distinguished public characters, not excepting Napoleon himself, who hated her as a woman that had departed from her sphere and as a political idealist. Her mental development, social experiences and philosophical aims must be rehearsed.

In 1788 she published "Letters on Rousseau" and other short papers on literary topics, in which her coming powers are discernible. During the Reign of Terror she made courageous and successful efforts to save the lives of some proscribed persons. In 1793 she withdrew to England, where she lived with Talleyrand and other exiles. But in 1795 she returned to Paris to wield considerable influence under the Directory. In 1800 was published her import-ant treatise "De la Littťrature considťrťe dans ses Rap-ports avec les Institutions Sociales" (On Literature Considered in its Relations with Social Institutions). Here she contended nobly for the greater liberty asserted, claimed, and ultimately won by the patriots of the American Revolution. She declared her faith in human nature, in progress, and in republican principles, which would inspire a grand world-literature, uniting the practical and the ideal. So far she still adhered to the philosophical style then in vogue. In her first novel "Delphine" (18o2) she bewailed the lot of gifted women with ambitions. The heroine's free will, free speech and free acts are all misinterpreted by a stupid community so that despairing of liberty with a good name, she flies to the wilds of America.

Madame de StaŽl was herself banished by Napoleon's order from Paris and forbidden to reside within forty leagues of that capital. She went to Germany and sought the society of Goethe, Schiller and Schlegel at Weimar. The great German poet listened to her brilliant conversation "with vast admiration and not a little fatigue." She insisted on philosophizing in society, and gave her hearers, who were expected to reply, not a moment for reflection on the most important topics. They must dispatch the deepest concerns as lightly as in a game of shuttlecock. After a tour in Italy, this swift-witted woman produced, in 1807, her best-known novel, "Corinne," in which she herself, somewhat idealized, is the heroine, a woman of genius hemmed in by conventional restrictions. She has a faithless lover, and dies of a broken heart. The author had returned to France to attend to the publication of this work, but its success drew from Napoleon an order banishing her from France. She had incurred his enmity persisting in severe criticisms of his actions in spite of warning. After traveling in Germany, she settled at Coppet, in Switzerland, where several of her friends went to console her. Her book on Germany "De l'Allemagne" was printed at Paris in 181o, but seized by the police, and not reprinted until 1813 in London. In it she portrayed intellectual and political Germany with keen feminine intuition. Contrasting the literatures of France and Germany she showed that the former concerned itself mainly with a limited society and consequently lacked the element of growth and elevation traceable in the literature of the Northern races, marked by imagination, introspection, and religious sentiment. Goethe declared the work ought to be "a powerful battery making a wide breach in the wall of superannuated prejudices between the two nations." By this tribute to the rising German literature and by example in her mature writings, Madame de StaŽl gave a strong impulse to the Romantic movement. Though aristocratic in sentiment, she was not hostile to the Revolution. She admired the German temperament and believed that reason and philosophy made steady progress despite the innumerable misfortunes of the human race. She inveighed against social restrictions which prevented her from living in freedom from conventional rules. Her timely exposition of German intellectual power had considerable effect on French thought. Among her other works are autobiographic memoirs, entitled "Ten Years of Exile," and "Considerations on the French Revolution," which was published after her decease in July, 1817. She had returned to Paris after Napoleon's abdication. Her daughter became the Duchess de Broglie. Madame de StaŽl was formerly considered the greatest authoress of modern times, but her fame has declined in recent years. Critics now maintain that in style she is too diffuse, and in mattet she had little originality, but great power of absorption of the best ideas of others, which she then expressed with admirable vigor and clearness.

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