Making Way for Genius

Making Way for Genius: The Irish Aristocracy in the Seventeenth Century

Kete Kathleen
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npgwk
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  • Book Info
    Making Way for Genius
    Book Description:

    Examining the lives and works of three iconic personalities -Germaine de Staël , Stendhal, and Georges Cuvier-Kathleen Kete creates a groundbreaking cultural history of ambition in post-Revolutionary France. While in the old regime the traditionalist view of ambition prevailed-that is, ambition as morally wrong unless subsumed into a corporate whole-the new regime was marked by a rising tide of competitive individualism. Greater opportunities for personal advancement, however, were shadowed by lingering doubts about the moral value of ambition.

    Kete identifies three strategies used to overcome the ethical "burden" of ambition : romantic genius (Staël ), secular vocation (Stendhal), and post-mythic destiny (Cuvier). In each case, success would seem to be driven by forces outside one's control. She concludes by examining the still relevant (and still unresolved) conundrum of the relationship of individual desires to community needs, which she identifies as a defining characteristic of the modern world.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18343-6
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 THE ASPIRING SELF IN FRANCE FROM THE OLD REGIME TO THE NEW
    (pp. 1-22)

    “Great, unregulated, furious, horrible, execrable, pernicious.” This was how the Académie française, responsible for control over the French language, modified its definition ofambitionin 1694. The connotation remained negative into the next century, the “excessive desire for honor and greatness” becoming an “uncontrolled passion for glory and fortune” in the 1760s and into the new regime.¹ This book about the aspiring self in France begins broadly with an abstract of old regime efforts aimed at regulating this passion, at least on the part of elites, so that we might see how modern views of competition—highly ambivalent, and drenched...

  5. 2 GENIUS, MADAME DE STAËL, AND THE SOUL OF PRODIGIOUS SUCCESS
    (pp. 23-72)

    WhenCorinne, or Italyby Germaine de Staël was published in 1807, five years before Byron’sChilde Harold’s Pilgrimage, it was an overnight success. The romantic hero was initially cast as feminine.¹ Its message about the link between female genius and doom resonated throughout the nineteenth century and echoes into our own, taking on a life of its own. Like Frankenstein’s monster, John Isbell suggests, “Corinne has led a mythic life independent of her creator and her text.”²

    Corinne’sinfluence has been traced in George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Sand, Willa Cather, and Kate Chopin, who “was...

  6. 3 VOCATION, STENDHAL, AND THE ART OF LIVING ETHICALLY
    (pp. 73-106)

    The most audacious act in French literature may be the most misunderstood. To be sure, Julien Sorel’s attempted murder of Mme de Rênal—at the elevation of the host, at the sacrifice of the Mass—was an act of passion, the act of a man maddened by ambition, thwarted at the moment of its climax by the woman he had loved. The story of “un ambitieux” presents itself inThe Red and the Blackas a nightmare of democracy, of aspirations grasped and lost. Julien stands in the chapel, at his trial as, in the words of Michel Crouzet, “witness...

  7. 4 DESTINY, CUVIER, AND POST-REVOLUTIONARY POLITICS
    (pp. 107-144)

    Georges Cuvier was called the “Napoleon of the intellect” (if not the “Napoleon of science”) for his success in riding the revolutionary tide to power.¹ In 1795 he was a poor tutor in Normandy. By the time of his death in 1832, he was professor at the Museum of Natural History, professor of the Collège de France, grand officer of the Legion of Honor, chancellor of the University of France, and permanent secretary of the Academy of Science. He was also a member of the Council of State, the Académie française, and “every other scientific association in the world,”² as...

  8. 5 FRIENDSHIP MATTERS; ARGUMENTS FROM EGYPT; CODA ON NAPOLEON
    (pp. 145-167)

    The famous debate between Cuvier and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire on the floor of the Academy of Science in July 1830 remains good copy. Almost all its historians relate the following exchange between Goethe and his friend Frédéric Soret, with its unforgettable punch line:

    The news of the Revolution of July, which had already commenced, reached Weimar today, and set everyone in a commotion. I went in the course of the afternoon to Goethe’s. “Now,” he exclaimed as I entered, “what do you think of this great event? The volcano has come to an eruption: everything is in flames, and we...

  9. 6 AMBITION IN POST-REVOLUTIONARY LIVES
    (pp. 168-180)

    The breakdown of corporatism in France that accelerated from the middle of the eighteenth century onward heralded the unprecedented possibilities for self-invention and achievement that have come to define the modern world. At the same time, it prompted a set of anxieties no less constitutive of the modern self. Jan Goldstein identifies the imagination as one of these flashpoints and “the problem for which psychology [in the nineteenth century, as she argues] furnished a solution.”¹ This book, traveling the same revolutionary ground, has explored others. A self no longer contextualized through membership in the corporate order was liable to wander,...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 181-228)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 229-240)