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Germaine de Staël

Staël, Germaine de (zhĕrmĕnˈ də stäl) [key], 1766–1817, French-Swiss woman of letters, whose full name was Anne Louise Germaine Necker, baronne de Staël-Holstein. Born in Paris, the daughter of Jacques Necker and Suzanne Necker, she early absorbed the intellectual and political atmosphere of her mother's salon. In 1786 she married Baron Staël-Holstein, a Swedish diplomat. Though moderately sympathetic to the French Revolution, she left France in 1792. Returning to Paris under the Directory, she made her salon a powerful political and intellectual center. She separated, amicably, from her husband and became intimately associated with Benjamin Constant. Her love life remained, to the end, both complicated and unconventional. In 1803 her spirited opposition to Napoleon caused her exile from Paris. Mme de Staël retired to her estate at Coppet, on the Lake of Geneva, where she attracted a brilliant circle.

Already the author of a successful novel, Delphine (1802), and of a study of the influence of social conditions on literature ( De la littérature considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales, 1800), Mme. de Staël was inspired by a trip to Italy to write the novel Corinne (1807), whose heroine became an international symbol of romanticism. Her principal work, the three-volume De l'Allemagne (1810), was the result of a tour through Germany. Napoleon, who resented the book as an invidious comparison between German and French culture and mores, ordered the destruction of the entire first edition (1811) on the ground that it was "un-French." Threatened by Napoleon's police, Mme de Staël fled to Russia and England; in 1815 she returned to Coppet. Republished, De l'Allemagne tremendously influenced European thought and letters, which became imbued with Mme de Staël's enthusiasm for German romanticism. Among her other works are Considérations sur les principaux événements de la Révolution française (1818) and the autobiographical Dix Années d'exil (1818). There are English translations of most of her works.

See her correspondence (tr. 1970), Selected Correspondence (2000), tr. by K. Jameson-Cemper; her memoirs (new ed. 1968); biographies by J. C. Herold (1958, repr. 1981, 2000), R. Winegarten (1985), A. Gooden (2008), and F. du P. Gray (2008) ; M. Levaillant, The Passionate Exiles (1958, repr. 1971) and R. Weingarten, Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant: A Dual Biography (2008).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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