February or March, 1799: Mme. de Staël on Constitutionalism and Dictatorship
Mme. de Staël, daughter of the former Minister of Finances, Necker, became a celebrated literary critic and writer who combined talent with an irrepressible personality and a life that provided one of the most privileged vantage points from which to observe the era. Her mother’s literary salon in the old regime, her marriage at twenty to the Baron de Staël-Holstein, Swedish Ambassador to France, her father’s fame, and her own salon in the early revolutionary years provided a beginning. Then, between 1792 and 1795, came residence in Switzerland, where the wealthy Necker family had a home, and in England, and her return to Paris in 1795: too soon, for the Directory feared the political effects of her reopened salon and forced her to retire to Switzerland, from which she returned to Paris and the thick of things in 1797. All this gave her voracious intelligence unexampled opportunities for reflection. Her future was to see more exile and much travel, thanks to Napoleon, who could not stand aggressive female intellectuals and, more important, distrusted Mme. de Staël’s circle of moderate liberal friends, including Benjamin Constant, with whom she had a liaison that lasted from 1794 until 1808. She was to be in Russia when Napoleon invaded in 1812, and was to return to France with the Restoration, heralded by works that were to assure her a lasting place in French literature.
KeywordsEurope Assure Defend Hate Salon
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