Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant

Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant
    Book Description:

    When they first met in 1794, shortly after the Reign of Terror, Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant were both in their twenties, both married, and both outsiders. She was already celebrated and a published writer, whereas he, though ambitious, was unknown. This compelling dual biography tells the extraordinary story of their union and disunion, set against a European background of momentous events and dramatic social and cultural change. Renee Winegarten offers new perspectives on each of the protagonists, revealing their rare qualities and their all-too-human failings as well as the complex nature of their debt to one another.

    Their passionate and productive relationship endured on and off for seventeen years. Winegarten traces their story largely through their own words-letters and autobiographical writings-and illuminates the deep intellectual and visceral bond they shared despite disparate personalities and gifts. Exploring their relationships with Napoleon and the Bourbons, their different responses to the momentous upheavals of postrevolutionary France, their support of individual liberty with order, and more, the book concludes with an appreciation of de Staël's and Constant's singular contributions to a new literature and to the history of liberty.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17624-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Prologue
    (pp. 1-5)

    On December 13, 1830, the day after Benjamin Constant’s funeral, a friend recalled the deceased’s extraordinary association with Germaine de Staël: “You have not known Mme de Staël at all,” declared the historian Sismondi, “if you have not seen her with Benjamin Constant. By means of a mind equal to hers, he alone had the power to put all her intelligence into play, to make her grow more great through their combat, to awaken an eloquence, a depth of spirit and thought that were never manifest in all their brilliance except opposite him, just as he was never truly himself...

  4. CHAPTER ONE A Chance Encounter
    (pp. 6-32)

    It was “by chance,” Benjamin Constant was later to affirm, that he met for the first time a great celebrity. Filtering his own experience through that of the narrator of his unfinished autobiographical novelCécile, he described his encounter with “the most famous person of our age through her writings and her conversation. I had never seen anything comparable.”¹ That encounter between Benjamin Constant and Germaine de Staël, daughter of Jacques Necker, the egregious former finance minister to Louis XVI, was to have an enduring influence on his life—as it did on hers—and on the course of European...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Prodigies
    (pp. 33-66)

    What emotional and intellectual baggage did Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant bring to the journey of their partnership? What family background and situation, what upbringing and education, molded their sensibility, individuality, and outlook on life?

    Benjamin, like Germaine, was an only child. Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker was the sole issue of the marriage of Suzanne Curchod and Jacques Necker; Benjamin Constant was the sole issue of the marriage of Henriette de Chandieu and Juste Constant de Rebecque. The essential and dominating fact of Benjamin’s early life was the death of his mother, a fortnight after his birth. Consequently, he was left...

  6. CHAPTER THREE A Bold Throw
    (pp. 67-97)

    Nobody wanted Germaine de Staël to come to Paris in the spring of 1795. She was well aware of this unpromising state of affairs. So why did she embark on such a dangerous adventure, and what did she—as distinct from Benjamin Constant—gain from it?

    It was only after much agitation, hesitation, and troubled reflection that she decided to leave Coppet, her beloved father, and her younger son, Albert, and make the risky journey to Paris. Accompanying her were her elder son, Auguste, aged four; her trusty valet de chambre and confidential man of all tasks, Joseph Uginet, known...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Enter the Hero
    (pp. 98-124)

    Throughout the year 1796, and throughout all the comings and goings between Coppet and Paris and the provinces, Germaine and Benjamin could hear the thundering reverberations of French victories. General Napoleon Bonaparte, appointed commander in chief of the French army in Italy in March of that year, entered Milan soon afterward, in May. From Montenotte to Castiglione, Roverdo and Bassano to Arcole and Rivoli, Napoleon’s campaign against Austria looked like one long triumph up to the peace of Campo Formio (in October 1797). Other French generals, such as Moreau and Hoche, were also supremely successful in defeating the Austrians, but...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE A New Order
    (pp. 125-154)

    The world was changing fast, but in the beginning Germaine and Benjamin did not fully apprehend the nature of that change. How could they, when they were being challenged by a number of contradictory messages? The First Consul had solemnly sworn to uphold the liberties of the Republic and representative government. Yet the two companions would see him whittle away these liberties one by one in his gradual advance to dictatorship—and he would be a very different kind of dictator from those of the past: a ruler who had his eye on the minutest details in the lives of...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Journey into the Unknown
    (pp. 155-179)

    Benjamin decided to do his disgraced friend a great favor—after considerable initial reluctance. In spite of his desire to enjoy the peace and quiet of Les Herbages, his new estate not far from Paris, he would disregard his own plans and accompany her on a risky journey in the direction of Germany. Risky, because it was a journey into the unknown—she had no friends in that country, nor did she know how she would be received. “I am scared of the new, the unknown,” she admitted to her father, but this fear did not prevent her from setting...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Corinne and Adolphe
    (pp. 180-217)

    Corinne and Adolphe: these two charismatic fictional characters were indelibly associated with their respective creators from the moment that they became known to the public, in 1807 and 1816 respectively. CorinneisMme de Staël, and AdolpheisBenjamin Constant, people said. Yet in essence each one is a somewhat distorted imaginative projection of its author’s self-image. The independent, multitalented Corinne, stunningly beautiful, ardently passionate, adored and admired in Italy as a poet, enthusiastic lover of the arts and music and all that is highest and noblest in humanity, represents the best qualities of Germaine, whose shortcomings can be glimpsed...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Flight to Freedom
    (pp. 218-246)

    As freedom of expression was stifled with growing consistency under Napoleon’s authoritarian rule, Germaine and Benjamin would, separately, make their escape abroad—but in very different circumstances. Benjamin took flight into what he called voluntary exile in an attempt to recover his personal freedom. Germaine, on the other hand, was forced into exile by persecution and by threat to her very existence.

    At a time when there was genuine despotism and oppression, when some were languishing in prison for years without trial while others were summarily banished at the ruler’s arbitrary command, Benjamin spoke of the “tyranny” and “despotism” of...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Reunion in Paris—and After
    (pp. 247-276)

    Germaine was looking forward most keenly to meeting Benjamin again in Paris, as she repeatedly told him in her letters from London. After alluding to her poor health and, in a socially acceptable, roundabout way, to pains due to menopause, she assured him, “I really should like to see you again, in case I am to die soon…. So write to me about what you will be doing…. Adieu, remember me.” And to encourage and sustain him, as she often did, she enthused about his qualities: “Your intelligence and your talents will always arouse my admiration, and to talk with...

  13. CHAPTER TEN The Death of Corinne
    (pp. 277-287)

    The winter season in Paris was as brilliant as ever. Although Germaine’s health was visibly failing, she went on entertaining her large circle of guests from all over Europe and accepting invitations to grand balls and soirées. On February 21, 1817, while attending a reception given by the minister Decazes, she collapsed on the staircase, paralyzed by a stroke. Carried to her house on the rue Royale, she could still speak, her mind was clear, but she was scarcely able to move and fell into a kind of torpor. She was gripped by premonitions of death more intense than those...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 288-300)

    Benjamin’s career as a daring and formidable liberal politician did not really take off until after Germaine’s death. All those long, intense discussions of theirs, often into the small hours when he wanted an early night, left their mark on him. It was she who had the bold flashes of imaginative insight and poetic enthusiasm and who in the beginning helped him to give shape to his perceptions. If, in her novels and her works of nonfiction she defended, propagated, and popularized the notion and value of what she called “liberal ideas,” it was he who elaborated on these ideas,...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 301-318)
    (pp. 319-326)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 327-343)