Thursday, July 14, 2011

Madame de Stael

Germaine de Stael may have wished to become the first woman in France during the French Revolution, but ran into a minor impediment; Napoleon’s disdain.  The author of Corinne, who was a part of the lives of Napoleon, Talleyrand and others, died on Bastille Day, July 14th, in the year 1817.  Madame de Stael adds some flavor to Walter Scott’s “Life of Napoleon Buonaparte”:

‘When he talked with the purpose of pleasing, Bonaparte often told anecdotes of his life in a very pleasing manner; when silent, he had something disdainful in the expression of his face; when disposed to be quite at ease, he was, in Madame de Stael's opinion, rather vulgar. His natural tone of feeling seemed to be a sense of internal superiority, and of secret contempt for the world in which he lived, the men with whom he acted, and even the very objects which he pursued. His character and manners were upon the whole strongly calculated to attract the attention of the French nation, and to excite a perpetual interest even from the very mystery which attached to him, as well us from the splendour of his triumphs. The supreme power was residing in the Luxembourg ostensibly; but Paris was aware, that the means which had raised, and which must support and extend that power, were to be found in the humble mansion of the newly-christened Rue de la Victoire.

Some of these features are perhaps harshly designed, as being drawn resentibus odiis. The disagreement between Bonaparte and Madame de Stael. from whom we have chiefly described them, is well known. It originated about this time, when, as a first-rate woman of talent, she was naturally desirous to attract the notice of the Victor of Victors. They appear to have misunderstood each other; for the lady, who ought certainly to know best, has informed us, "that far from feeling her fear of Bonaparte removed by repeated meetings, it seemed to increase, and his best exertions to please could not overcome her invincible aversion for what she found in his character."   His ironical contempt of excellence of every kind, operated like the sword in romance, which froze while it wounded. Bonaparte seems never to have suspected the secret and mysterious terror with which he impressed the ingenious author of Corinne; on the contrary, Las Cases tells us, that she combined all her efforts, and all her means, to make an impression on the general…’

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