Germaine de Staël

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Germaine de Staël
Marie Eleonore Godefroid - Portrait of Mme de Stael.jpg
"Madame de Staël" by Marie-Éléonore Godefroid (1813)
Anne-Louise Germaine Necker

(1766-04-22)22 April 1766
Paris, France
Died14 July 1817(1817-07-14) (aged 51)
Paris, France
Notable work
  • Delphine (1802)
  • Corinne (1807)
  • De l'Allemagne (1813)
School Romanticism
Main interests

Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein (French:  [an lwiz ʒɛʁmɛn də stal ɔlstajn] ; née  Necker; 22 April 1766 14 July 1817), commonly known as Madame de Staël ( /dəˈstɑːl/ STAHL, French:  [madam də stal] ), was a French woman of letters and historian of Genevan origin [3] whose lifetime overlapped with the events of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era. For many years she lived as an exile under the Reign of Terror and under Napoleonic persecution. Known as a witty and brilliant conversationalist, often dressed in flashy and revealing outfits, she participated actively in the political and intellectual life of her times. She was present at the Estates General of 1789 and at the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. [4] Her intellectual collaboration with Benjamin Constant between 1795 and 1811 made them one of the most celebrated intellectual couples of their time. They discovered sooner than others the tyrannical character and designs of Napoleon. [5] In 1814 one of her contemporaries observed that "there are three great powers struggling against Napoleon for the soul of Europe: England, Russia, and Madame de Staël". [6] Her works, both novels and travel literature, with emphasis on passion, individuality and oppositional politics made their mark on European Romanticism.

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Napoleonic era Wikimedia disambiguation page

The Napoleonic era is a period in the history of France and Europe. It is generally classified as including the fourth and final stage of the French Revolution, the first being the National Assembly, the second being the Legislative Assembly, and the third being the Directory. The Napoleonic era begins roughly with Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'état, overthrowing the Directory, establishing the French Consulate, and ends during the Hundred Days and his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. The Congress of Vienna soon set out to restore Europe to pre-French Revolution days. Napoleon brought political stability to a land torn by revolution and war. He made peace with the Roman Catholic Church and reversed the most radical religious policies of the Convention. In 1804 Napoleon promulgated the Civil Code, a revised body of civil law, which also helped stabilize French society. The Civil Code affirmed the political and legal equality of all adult men and established a merit-based society in which individuals advanced in education and employment because of talent rather than birth or social standing. The Civil Code confirmed many of the moderate revolutionary policies of the National Assembly but retracted measures passed by the more radical Convention. The code restored patriarchal authority in the family, for example, by making women and children subservient to male heads of households.



Germaine Necker by Carmontelle Carmontelle - Germaine Necker.JPG
Germaine Necker by Carmontelle

Germaine (or Minette) was the only child of Swiss-born Suzanne Curchod, who hosted in Rue de la Chaussée-d'Antin one of the most popular salons of Paris [7] and prominent Genevan banker and statesman Jacques Necker, who was the Director-General of Finance under King Louis XVI of France. Mme Necker wanted her daughter educated according to the principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and endow her with the intellectual education and Calvinist discipline instilled in her by her pastor father. [8] On Friday's she regularly brought Germaine as a young child to sit at her feet in her salon, where the guests took pleasure in stimulating the brilliant child. [9] At the age of 13, she read Montesquieu, Shakespeare, Rousseau and Dante. [10] This exposure occasioned a nervous breakdown in adolescence, but the seeds of a literary vocation had been sown.

Suzanne Curchod French-Swiss salonist and writer

Suzanne Curchod was a French-Swiss salonist and writer. She hosted one of the most celebrated salons of the Ancien Régime. She also led the development of the Hospice de Charité, a model small hospital in Paris that still exists today as the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital. She was the wife of French finance minister Jacques Necker, and is often referenced in historical documents as Madame Necker.

Rue de la Chaussée-dAntin street in Paris, France

This "quartier" of Paris got its name from the rue de la Chaussée-d'Antin in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. It runs north-northwest from the Boulevard des Italiens to the Église de la Sainte-Trinité.

Salon (gathering) Social gathering

A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate". Salons in the tradition of the French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries were carried on until as recently as the 1920s in urban settings.

Her father "is remembered today for taking the unprecedented step in 1781 of making public the country’s budget, a novelty in an absolute monarchy where the state of finances had always been kept a secret," [11] leading to his dismissal in May. The family eventually took up residence in 1784 at Château Coppet, an estate her father purchased on Lake Geneva. The family returned to the Paris region in 1785, and Mlle Necker continued to write miscellaneous works, including the three-act romantic drama Sophie (1786) and the five-act tragedy, Jeanne Grey (1787).

<i>Compte rendu</i> report from Jacques Necker to King Louis XVI of France (1781)

The Compte rendu was a document published in February 1781 by Jacques Necker, finance minister to the King, in which he presented the state of France's finances.

Absolute monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the monarch holds supreme autocratic authority, principally not being restricted by written laws, legislature, or customs. These are often hereditary monarchies. In contrast, in constitutional monarchies, the head of state's authority derives from and is legally bounded or restricted by a constitution or legislature.

Coppet Castle

Coppet Castle is a château in the municipality of Coppet of the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance.


The Swedish Embassy, Hotel de Segur, later Hotel de Salm-Dyck Paris Hotel de Salm-Dyck 42.JPG
The Swedish Embassy, Hôtel de Ségur, later Hôtel de Salm-Dyck

Aged 11, Germaine proposed to her mother to marry Edward Gibbon, who was fancied by her mother. Then he would always be around for her. [12] In 1783, she was courted by William Pitt the Younger and by the fop Comte de Guibert, whose conversation, she thought, was the most far-ranging, spirited and fertile she had ever known. [13] When she did not accept their offers Germaine's parents became impatient. Finally, a marriage was arranged with Baron Erik Magnus Staël von Holstein, an attaché of the Swedish legation to France . It took place on 14 January 1786 in the Swedish embassy at 97, Rue du Bac; Germaine was 20, her husband 37. On the whole, the marriage seems to have been acceptable to both parties, although neither seems to have had any or little affection for the other. The baron, a gambler, obtained great benefits as he received 80,000 pounds and was confirmed as lifetime ambassador to Paris, although his wife was almost certainly the more effective envoy. [14]

Edward Gibbon English historian and Member of Parliament

Edward Gibbon FRS was an English historian, writer and Member of Parliament. His most important work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788 and is known for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its polemical criticism of organised religion.

William Pitt the Younger 18th/19th-century British statesman

William Pitt the Younger was a prominent British Tory statesman of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. He became the youngest Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1783 at the age of 24 and the first UK Prime Minister in January 1801. He left office in March 1801, but served as Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer for all of his time as Prime Minister.

Fop pejorative

Fop became a pejorative term for a foolish man excessively concerned with his appearance and clothes in 17th-century England. Some of the many similar alternative terms are coxcomb, fribble, popinjay, fashion-monger, and ninny. Macaroni was another term of the 18th century more specifically concerned with fashion.

Revolutionary activities

On 4 and 5 May 1789 Germaine de Stael watched the meetings of the Estates-General in Versailles, where she met with the young Mathieu de Montmorency. Couder Stati generali.jpg
On 4 and 5 May 1789 Germaine de Staël watched the meetings of the Estates-General in Versailles, where she met with the young Mathieu de Montmorency.
"Dix Aout 1792. Siege et prise du Chateau des Tuileries": French soldiers and citizens storming the Tuileries Palace to take hold of the royal family and put an end to the monarchy. Tuileriensturm.jpg
"Dix Août 1792. Siege et prise du Chateau des Tuileries": French soldiers and citizens storming the Tuileries Palace to take hold of the royal family and put an end to the monarchy.

In 1788, she published Letters on the works and character of J.J. Rousseau. [15] In this fervid panegyric, at first written for a limited number of friends (in which she accused his housekeeper Thérèse Levasseur of having been unfaithful), she demonstrated evident talent, but little in the way of critical discernment. De Staël was at this time enthusiastic about a mixture of Rousseau's ideas about love and Montesquieu in politics. In December 1788 her father instigated the king to double the number of deputies from the Third Estate in order to gain enough support for raising the taxes as the support the revolutionaries in America had been too costly. This approach had serious repercussions on Necker's reputation; he appeared to consider the Estates-General to be a facility designed to help the administration rather than to reform government. [16] In an argument with the king, whose speech on 23 June he didn't attend, Necker was dismissed and exiled on 11 July. On Sunday, 12 July the news became public and an angry Camille Desmoulins suggested the storming of the Bastille. [17] On 16 July he was reappointed; Necker entered Versailles in triumph. His efforts to clean up public finances were unsuccessful and his idea of a National Bank failed. Necker was attacked by Jean-Paul Marat and Count Mirabeau in the Constituante, when he did not agree with using assignats as legal tender. [18] He resigned on 4 September 1790. Accompanied by their son-in-law, her parents left for Switzerland, without 2 million livres, half of his fortune, invested in the public treasury in 1778. [19] [20] [21]

A panegyric is a formal public speech, or written verse, delivered in high praise of a person or thing, a generally highly studied and undiscriminating eulogy, not expected to be critical.

Thérèse Levasseur Domestic partner of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Marie-Thérèse Levasseur was the domestic partner of Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Montesquieu French social commentator and political thinker

Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French judge, man of letters, and political philosopher.

The increasing disturbances caused by the Revolution made her privileges as the consort of an ambassador important safeguards. Germaine held a salon in the Swedish embassy, where she gave "coalition dinners", that were frequented by moderates such as Talleyrand and De Narbonne, monarchists (Feuillants) as Antoine Barnave, Charles Lameth and his brothers Alexandre and Théodore, the Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, Pierre Victor, baron Malouet, the poet Abbé Delille, Thomas Jefferson, the one-legged Minister Plenipotentiary to France Gouverneur Morris, the leftish Paul Barras and the radical Condorcets. "The issue of leadership, or rather lack of it, was central to Staël's preoccupations at this stage of her political reflection. The death of Comte de Mirabeau, a royalist, she experienced as a sign of great political disorientation and uncertainty. He was the only man with necessary charisma, energy, and prestige to keep revolutionary movement on the path of constitutional reform." [22]

Louis, comte de Narbonne-Lara French noble, soldier and diplomat

Louis Marie Jacques Amalric, comte de Narbonne-Lara was a French nobleman, soldier and diplomat.

Feuillant (political group) political party

The Society of the Friends of the Constitution, better known as Feuillants Club, was a political grouping that emerged during the French Revolution. It came into existence on 16 July 1791 when the left-wing Jacobins split between moderates (Feuillants), who sought to preserve the position of the king and supported the proposed plan of the National Constituent Assembly for a constitutional monarchy; and radicals (Jacobins), who wished to press for a continuation of direct democratic action to overthrow Louis XVI. It represented the last and most vigorous attempt of the moderate constitutional monarchists to steer the course of the revolution away from the radical Jacobins.

Antoine Barnave French politician

Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave was a French politician, and, together with Honoré Mirabeau, one of the most influential orators of the early part of the French Revolution. He is most notable for correspondence with Marie Antoinette in an attempt to set up a constitutional monarchy and for being one of the founding members of the Feuillants.

Louis-Marie de Narbonne by Herminie Deherain Louis Marie de Narbonne-Lara.png
Louis-Marie de Narbonne by Herminie Déhérain

After the 1791 French legislative election was held, and the French Constitution of 1791 was announced in the National Assembly, she resigned from a political career and decided not to be re-eligible. "Fine arts and letters will occupy my leisure." [23] Though, in the succession of Comte de Montmorin the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the appointment of Narbonne as minister of War she played an important role and became the center of the stage. [24] Marie Antoinette wrote to Hans Axel Fersen: "Count Louis de Narbonne is finally Minister of War, since yesterday; what a glory for Mme de Staël and what a joy for her to have the whole army, all to herself." [25] In the year 1792 the French Legislative Assembly saw an unprecedented turnover of ministers, six ministers of the interior, seven ministers of foreign affairs, and nine ministers of war. [26] On 10 August 1792 Clermont-Tonnere was thrown out of a window at the Louvre and trampled to death. De Staël offered Malouet a plan to escape for the royal family. [27] She helped De Narbonne, dismissed for plotting, to hide under the altar in the chapel of the Swedish embassy, and then lectured the sans-culottes in the hall. [28] [29] [30] [10]

On Sunday 2 September, the day the Elections for the National Convention and the September massacres began, she fled herself in the style of an ambassadress. Her carriage was stopped and the crowd forced her to go to the Paris town hall, where Robespierre presided. [31] Robespierre, as well as Marat were militant members of the Insurrectionary Commune who had got power from the provisional, executive council, as there was no government "extensive police powers to detain, interrogate and incarcerate suspects without anything resembling due process of law". [32] In the evening she was conveyed home, escorted by the procurator Louis Pierre Manuel. The next day the commissioner to the Commune of Paris Jean-Lambert Tallien arrived with a new passport and accompanied her to the barrier. [33] [34]

Salons at Coppet and Paris

Chateau de Coppet near Nyon Coppet Schloss.jpg
Château de Coppet near Nyon
In 1797 Germaine de Stael and Benjamin Constant lived in the remains of the Abbey of Herivaux. Luzarches - Herivaux 13.jpg
In 1797 Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant lived in the remains of the Abbey of Herivaux.

After her flight from Paris, Germaine moved to Rolle where Albert was born. She was surrounded by De Montmorency and the Marquis de Jaucourt. [35] In January 1793, she made a four months visit to England to live with her lover, the Comte de Narbonne at Juniper Hall. (Since 1 February France and Great Britain were at war.) Within a few weeks she got pregnant, apparently one of the reasons she caused a scandal in England. According to Fanny Burney her father urged his daughter to avoid De Staël and the group of French Émigres in Surrey. [4] She met with Horace Walpole, James Mackintosh, Lord Sheffield, a friend of Edward Gibbon, and Lord Loughborough, the new Lord Chancellor. [4] De Staël was not favourably impressed by the conditions of women in English society. [4] Personal freedom was evidently as important to her as abstract political liberties. [36]

In the summer of 1793, she returned to Coppet Castle perhaps while De Narbonne stopped loving her. She wrote a biased depiction of the character of queen, named "Reflections on the Trial". For De Staël France had to follow England's example from absolute to limited royalty. [37] Living in Jouxtens-Mézery, Germaine was visited by Adolph Ribbing in July 1793. [10] [35] Count Ribbing was living in exile, after being sentenced for taking part in a conspiracy to murder the Swedish king Gustav III. Late 1793 her parents moved to Beaulieu Castle. In September 1794 she was visited by the divorced Benjamin Constant. In May 1795 she moved with her new "colleague" to Paris. [38] De Staël had rejected the idea of the right of resistance – which had been introduced by the French Constitution of 1793, but removed from the Constitution of 1795. [39] In 1796 she published Sur l'influence des passions, in which she praised suicide; a book that attracted the attention of the German authors Schiller and Goethe. [40]

Germaine had also an obsession with French politics, [41] and reopened her salon. It was during these years that Mme de Staël was of chief political importance. For a time she was conspicuous in the motley and eccentric society of the mid-1790s. On the 13 Vendémiaire the Comité de salut public ordered her to leave Paris after accusations of politicking, and locked up Constant for one night. [42] Germaine spent that autumn in Forges-les-Eaux, a spa. She was trusted by neither side and a threat to political stability. [43] The couple moved to Ormesson-sur-Marne where they lived with Montmorency. In Summer 1796 Constant founded "Cercle constitutionnel" in Luzarches; De Staël supported him. [44] In May 1797 she was back in Paris and eight months pregnant. She succeeded in getting Talleyrand from the list of Émigrés and in July in his appointment as minister of Foreign Affairs. [45] Since the coup of 18 Fructidor anyone wishing to restore the monarchy or the French Constitution of 1793 would be shot without a trial. [46] Germaine moved to Saint-Ouen, on her father's estate and became friends with the beautiful and rich Juliette Récamier to whom she sold the parental house in the Rue de la Chaussée-d'Antin.

De Staël completed the initial part of her first most substantial contribution to political and constitutional theory, "Of present circumstances that can end the Revolution, and of the principles that must found the republic of France". [11] On 6 December 1797 at Talleyrand's office and 3 January 1798 during a ball she met with Napoleon. She made clear she did not agree with his planned French invasion of Switzerland. He showed no interest and would not read her letters. [47]

Conflict with Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 by Francois Gerard Chateau de Chantilly, Francois Gerard, portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte.JPG
Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 by François Gérard

In January 1800 Benjamin Constant was appointed by Napoleon as a member of the Tribunat but not long after he became the first consul's enemy. Two years later Napoleon Bonaparte forced him to withdraw because of the speeches that he thought were actually written by Mme de Staël. [48] Both personal and political reasons threw her into opposition to Napoléon, in August 1802 elected as first consul for life. For De Staël, Napoleon started to resemble Machiavelli; for Napoleon, J. J. Rousseau was the cause of the French Revolution. [49] It culminated when Jacques Necker had published his "Last Views on Politics and Finance" and his daughter "De la littérature considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales". It was her first philosophical approach to Europe, that dealt with such important factors as nationality, history and social institutions. [50] Napoleon started a campaign against this publication. He did not like her cultural determinism and generalizations, in which she stated that "an artist must be of his own time". [48] [51] For him a woman should stick to knitting. [52] He said about her, according to the Memoirs of Madame de Rémusat, that she "teaches people to think who never thought before, or who had forgotten how to think". [53] It became pretty clear that the first man in France and the De Staël were not likely to get on together. [54]

De Staël published a provoking (anti-catholic) novel Delphine , in which the femme incomprise (misunderstood woman) living in Paris between 1789 and 1792, is confronted with conservative ideas about divorce after the Concordat of 1801. In this tragic novel, influenced by Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther and Rousseau's Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse , she reflects on the legal and practical aspects on divorce, the arrests and the September Massacres, and the fate of the émigrés. The main characters have traits of the flippant Benjamin Constant, and Talleyrand is depicted as an old woman, herself as the heroine with the liberalist view of the Italian aristocrat and politician Melzi d'Eril. [55]

When Constant moved to Maffliers in September 1803 De Staël went to see him and let Napoleon know she would be wise and careful. Immediately the house became popular among her friends, but Napoleon, informed by Madame de Genlis suspected a conspiracy. "Her extensive network of connections – which included foreign diplomats and known political opponents, as well as members of the government and of Bonaparte's own family – was in itself a source of suspicion and alarm for the government." [56] Her protection of Jean Gabriel Peltier – who wished the death of Napoleon – influenced his decision on 13 October 1803 to exile her without a trial. [57] For ten years De Staël was not allowed to settle within a distance of 40 leagues (almost 200 km) from Paris. She accused Napoleon of "persecuting a woman and her children". [58] On 23 October she left for Germany "out of pride", [59] in the hope to gain attention and to be able to return as soon as possible. [60]

German travels

Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in 1805 by Georg Melchior Kraus Carl August Sachsen-Weimar G.M.Kraus@ Goethe Nationalmuseum 01.jpg
Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in 1805 by Georg Melchior Kraus
Madame de Stael as her character Corinne (posthumously) by Francois Gerard Corinne au Cap Misene.jpg
Madame de Staël as her character Corinne (posthumously) by François Gérard
Chateau de Chaumont Chaumont sur Loire.jpg
Château de Chaumont

With her children and Constant she stopped off in Metz and met with Kant's translator Charles de Villers. In mid-December, they arrived in Weimar, where she stayed for two and a half months at the court of the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and his mother Anna Amalia. Germaine was constantly on the move, talking and asking questions. [61] [48] Goethe, in fact, became ill and hesitated about seeing her. After becoming acquainted with her, Goethe referred to her as an "extraordinary woman" in his private correspondence. [62] Schiller complimented her intelligence and eloquence, but her frequent visits distracted him from completing William Tell. [63] [64] Constant decided to abandon her in Leipzig and return to Switzerland. De Staël traveled to Berlin, where she made the acquaintance of August Schlegel who was giving lectures on literature. She appointed him on an enormous salary as the private tutor to her children. On 18 April they all left Berlin when the news of her father's death reached her.

On 19 May she arrived in Coppet and found herself its wealthy and independent mistress, but her sorrow for her father was deep and certainly sincere. She spent the summer at the chateau arranging his writings and published an essay on his private life. In July Constant wrote: "She exerts over everything around her a kind of inexplicable but real power. If she could only govern herself, she might have governed the world." [65] In December 1804 she travelled to Italy, accompanied by her children, Schlegel and the historian Sismondi. She met with the poet Monti and the painter, Angelica Kauffman. "Her visit to Italy helped her to further develop her theory of the difference between northern and southern societies..." [4]

She returned to Coppet in June 1805, moved to Meulan (Château d'Acosta) and spent nearly a year writing her next book on Italy's culture and history. In Corinne, ou L'Italie (1807) the female hero appears to have been inspired by the Italian poet Diodata Saluzzo Roero. [66] She showed all of Italy's works of art still in place, rather than plundered by Napoleon and taken to France. [67] The book's publication acted as a reminder of her existence, and Napoleon sent her back to Coppet. Her house became, according to Stendhal, "the general headquarters of European thought" and was a debating club hostile to Napoleon, "turning conquered Europe into a parody of a feudal empire, with his own relatives in the roles of vassal states". [68] Madame Récamier, also banned by Napoleon, Prince Augustus of Prussia, Charles Victor de Bonstetten, and Chateaubriand all belonged to the "Coppet group". [69] Each day the table was laid for about thirty guests. Talking seemed to be everybody's chief activity.

For a time she lived with Constant in Auxerre (1806), Rouen (1807), Aubergenville (1807). Then she met with Friedrich Schlegel, whose wife Dorothea had translated Corinne into German. [70] The use of the word Romanticism was invented by Schlegel, but spread more widely across France through its persistent use by Madame de Staël. [71] Late in 1807 she set out for Vienna and visited Maurice O'Donnell. [72] She was accompanied by her children and August Schlegel who held his famous lectures. In 1808 De Staël set to work on her book about Germany – a country that did not exist until Bismarck – in which she presented the idea of Germany as an ethical and aesthetic model and praised German literature and philosophy. [73] The exchange of ideas and literary and philosophical conversations with Goethe, Schiller, and Wieland inspired de Staël to write one of the most influential books of the nineteenth century. [74]

Pretending she wanted to emigrate to the US, de Staël was given permission to re-enter France. Looking around in Chaumont-sur-Loire de Staël moved into the Château de Chaumont (1810) owned by the heirs of Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, but then moved on onto Fossé and Vendôme. She was determined to publish De l'Allemagne in France, a book in which she called French political structures into question, so indirectly criticizing Napoleon busy promoting French culture and theatre. Constrained by censorship, she wrote the emperor a somewhat provocative and perhaps undignified letter.[ citation needed ] The minister of police Savary had emphatically forbidden the publication of her book as being “un-French". [75] [74] In October 1810 de Staël was exiled again and had to leave France within three days. Also August Schlegel was ordered to leave Swiss Confederation as an enemy of the French literature. She found consolation in a wounded officer named Albert de Rocca, twenty-three years her junior, to whom she got engaged privately in 1811 and would marry him publicly in 1816. [48]

Eastern European travels

Madame de Stael in 1812 by Vladimir Borovikovsky Germaine de Stael by Vladimir Borovikovsky.png
Madame de Staël in 1812 by Vladimir Borovikovsky

The operations of the French imperial police in regard to Mme de Staël are rather obscure. She was at first left undisturbed, but by degrees, the chateau itself became a source of suspicion, and her visitors found themselves heavily punished. François-Emmanuel Guignard, De Montmorency and Mme Récamier were exiled for the crime of visiting her. She remained at home during the winter of 1811, planning to escape to England or Sweden with the manuscript. On 23 May 1812 she left Coppet almost secretly, and journeyed through Bern, Innsbruck and Salzburg on her way to Vienna, where she met with Metternich. There she obtained an Austrian passport up to the frontier, and after some trepidation and trouble, received a Russian passport in Brody.

During Napoleon's invasion of Russia de Staël, her two children and Schlegel, journeyed through the Habsburg empire from Brno to Łańcut where Rocca, having deserted the French army and having been searched by the French gendarmerie, was waiting for her. The journey continued to Lemberg, capital of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. On 14 July 1812 they arrived in Volhynia. In the meantime, Napoleon, who took a more northern route, had crossed the Niemen River with his army. In Kiev, she met Miloradovich, governor of the city. De Staël hesitated to travel to Odessa, Constantinople, and onto Greece, and decided instead to go north. In Moscow, she was invited by the governor Fyodor Rostopchin. [76] She left only a few weeks before Napoleon arrived. Until the end of September, her party stayed in Saint Petersburg. She met twice with the tsar Alexander I of Russia who "related to me also the lessons a la Machiavelli which Napoleon had thought proper to give him."

"You see," said he, "I am careful to keep my ministers and generals at variance among themselves, in order that each may reveal to me the faults of the other; I keep up a continual jealousy by the manner I treat those who are about me: one day one thinks himself the favourite, the next day another, so that no one is ever certain of my favour." [77]

For de Staël that was a vulgar and vicious theory. [77] General Kutuzov sent her letters from the Battle of Tarutino [78] and before the end of that year he would succeed in chasing the Grande Armée out of Russia.

August Wilhelm von Schlegel by Adolf Hohneck August Wilhelm von Schlegel.png
August Wilhelm von Schlegel by Adolf Hohneck

After four months of travelling, she arrived in Sweden. The crossing of the Bothnian Gulf by boat frightened her. In Stockholm she started "Ten Years' Exile", giving details of whom she had met and explained what she had seen. She never finished the manuscript and after eight months she set out for England, without August Schlegel who had been appointed as secretary to general Bernadotte. (She supported Bernadotte as new ruler of France, who she hoped would introduce a constitutional monarchy.) [79] In London she received a great welcome. She met with Lord Byron on the first evening (27 May). The next day they dined at Sir Humphry Davy's, the chemist and inventor. In the evening de Staël had made long speeches, according to Byron. She preached English politics to the first of our English Whig politicians ... preached politics no less to our Tory politicians the day after." [80] Her stay was marred by the death of her son Albert, who as a member of the Swedish army had fallen in a duel with a Cossack officer in Doberan as a result of a gambling dispute. In October John Murray published De l'Allemagne both in a French and English translation, in which she reflected on nationalism and suggested a re-consideration on cultural rather than on natural boundaries. [81] In May 1814, after Louis XVIII had been crowned (Bourbon Restoration) she returned to Paris. She undertook Considérations sur la révolution française, based on Part One of "Ten Years' Exile". Again her salon became a major attraction both for Parisians and foreigners.

Restoration and Death

Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips Lord Byron in Albanian dress.jpg
Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips

When news came of Napoleon's landing on the Côte d'Azur, between Cannes and Antibes, early in March 1815, she fled to Coppet, and never forgave Constant for approving of Napoleon's return. [82] Although she had no affection for the Bourbons she succeeded in obtaining restitution for the loan Necker had made to the French state before the Revolution. [83] In October, after the Battle of Waterloo, she set out for Italy, not only for the sake of her own health but for that of her second husband, Rocca, who was suffering from tuberculosis. In May her 19-year-old daughter Albertine married Victor, 3rd duc de Broglie in Livorno.

The whole family returned to Coppet in June. Lord Byron, a womanizer and a gambler in debt, left London in great trouble and frequently visited Mme de Staël during July and August. For Byron, she was Europe's greatest living writer, but "with her pen behind her ears and her mouth full of ink". [84] "Byron was particularly critical of de Staël's self-dramatizing tendencies". [85] Byron was a supporter of Napoleon, but for de Staël Bonaparte "was not only a talented man but also one who represented a whole pernicious system of power", a system that "ought to be examined as a great political problem relevant to many generations." [86] "Napoleon imposed standards of homogeneity on Europe that is, French taste in literature, art and the legal systems, all of which de Staël saw as inimical to her cosmopolitan point of view." [85] Byron wrote she was "sometimes right and often wrong about Italy and England – but almost always true in delineating the heart, which is of but one nation of no country, or rather, of all." [87]

Benjamin Constant by Lina Vallier Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque.png
Benjamin Constant by Lina Vallier

Despite her increasing ill-health, she returned to Paris for the winter of 1816–17, living at 40, rue des Mathurins. Constant argued with de Staël, who had asked him to pay off his debts to her. A warm friendship sprang up between Madame de Staël and the Duke of Wellington, whom she had first met in 1814, and she used her influence with him to have the size of the Army of Occupation greatly reduced. [88]

She had already become confined to her house, paralyzed since 21 February. She died on 14 July 1817. Her deathbed conversion to Roman Catholicism, after reading Thomas a Kempis, was reported[ citation needed ] but is debated. Wellington remarked that, while he knew that she was greatly afraid of death, he had thought her incapable of believing in the afterlife. [88] Wellington makes no mention of de Stael reading Thomas a Kempis in the quote found in Elizabeth Longford's biography of the Iron Duke. Furthermore, he reports hearsay, which may explain why two modern biographies of de Staël – Herold and Fairweather – discount the conversion entirely. Herold states that "her last deed in life was to reaffirm in her "Considerations, her faith in Enlightenment, freedom, and progress." [89] Fairweather makes no mention of the conversion at all. [90] Rocca survived her by little more than six months.


Albertine Necker de Saussure, married to her cousin, wrote her biography in 1821, published as part of the collected works. Auguste Comte included Mme de Staël in his 1849 Calendar of Great Men.

Her political legacy has been generally identified with a stern defence of "liberal" values: equality, individual freedom and the limitation of power by constitutional rules. [91] "Yet although she insisted to the Duke of Wellington that she needed politics in order to live, her attitude towards the propriety of female political engagement varied: at times she declared that women should simply be the guardians of domestic space for the opposite sex, while at others, that denying women access to the public sphere of activism and engagement was an abuse of human rights. This paradox partly explains the persona of the “homme-femme” she presented in society, and it remained unresolved throughout her life." [92]

Comte's disciple Frederic Harrison wrote about de Staël that her novels "precede the works of Walter Scott, Byron, Mary Shelley, and partly those of Chateaubriand, their historical importance is great in the development of modern Romanticism, of the romance of the heart, the delight in nature, and in the arts, antiquities, and history of Europe."


Madame de Stael and her daughter Albertine by Marguerite Gerard Mme de Stael avec sa fille Albertine.png
Madame de Staël and her daughter Albertine by Marguerite Gérard

Beside two daughters, Gustava Sofia Magdalena (born July 1787) and Gustava Hedvig (died August 1789), who died in infancy, she had two sons, Ludwig August (1790–1827), Albert (November 1792 – July 1813), and a daughter, Albertine, Baroness de Staël von Holstein (June 1797 – 1838). It is believed Louis, Comte de Narbonne-Lara was the father of Ludvig August and Albert, and Benjamin Constant the father of red-haired Albertine. [93] With Albert de Rocca, de Staël then aged 46, had one son, the disabled Louis-Alphonse de Rocca (April 1812 – 1842), who would marry Marie-Louise-Antoinette de Rambuteau, daughter of Claude-Philibert Barthelot de Rambuteau, [48] and granddaughter of De Narbonne. [94] Even as she gave birth, there were fifteen people in her bedroom. [95]

After the death of her husband, Mathieu de Montmorency became the legal guardian of her children. Like August Schlegel he was one of her intimates until the end of her life.


Delphine, 1803 edition. Delphine, Madame de Stael, Paris, 1803 04.jpg
Delphine, 1803 edition.
De l'Allemagne, 1813 edition. Germaine de Stael - De l'Allemagne.jpg
De l'Allemagne, 1813 edition.

See also

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