Inspiring Purpose

Mme de Staël

The greatest woman of her period. The first great political woman. Liberal, courageous, she resisted Napoleon unceasingly.
The life of Madame de Staël is doubtlessly her own best novel, curious about everything, she is one of the most enlightened persons of the nineteenth century. Her intelligence gained her entry into otherwise exclusively masculine political circles. Even more, she herself organized in Paris, in Switzerland, even throughout Europe resistance to the imperial power, the negation of all the liberties she defended.

Daughter of the banker Necker, minister of Louis XVI, she passed her childhood in an intelligent, moderate, and ambitious environment. At the age of twenty she married a man sixteen years older, Baron of Staël-Holstein, Swedish ambassador to France. She greeted the Revolution with joy. However, beginning in 1792 her position became untenable; she supported the constitutional monarchy and turned her back on the republicans and the nobility.

Following the September massacres she fled to Coppet (Switzerland) with her father, but she remained faithful to republican ideas. She began to defend a sort of English parliament to which she would remain faithful all her life. She advocated educating everyone and giving them complete political power. In fact, Madame de Staël is the first woman officially recognized as a political philosopher.

In 1797 she met the victorious general of the Italian campaign. She wanted Bonaparte to be the liberal who would make liberty, triumph after the Revolution. Bonaparte did not know how to react. He handled her as if he sensed a danger which he could not see. Madame de Staël had to continue her promotion of her forbidden political philosophy secretly, for little by little her arguments turned into open opposition. Her salon became the gathering place of malcontents.

The ideas of Madame de Staël spread rapidly. A new book, published in 1800, promoted the right of the writer to her liberty. This was an idea which Napoleaon could not accept and which made him fearful. He forbade the author to publish. Bonaparte began to see everywhere around him the influence of Madame de Staël. His chief rivals, didn't they frequent her salon?

Delphine, a novel she published in 1802, was a beehive of social, political, and religious ideas which exasperated him. Napoleon let Madame de Staël know that her presence in the capital was undesirable. In 1803 she left the country. The hostility Napoleon showed toward her made her famous. The courts in Germany gave her a reception fit for a head of state. Her meeting with the greatest German intellectuals was decisive; Goethe, Schiller, Schlegel (who became the tutor of young Augustus Staël, her son) were her friends. Her dissident group grew considerably larger. The different members came from quite different backgrounds. It was in this salon that the very idea of the plurality of nations, a concept so important later on, was forged.

Following threats which became more and more concrete Madame de Staël settled in Germany in 1808 and began to write again. In 1810 she completed Germany. She returned to Paris incognito to have the book published. The Government had the complete edition seized. The two thousand copies were burned. It would not be published until three years later, in London. Back in Switzerland, she was closely watched and was forbidden to publish anything whatsoever.

In 1812, after having married the young Swiss officer de Rocca she fled. She reached Vienna, then Russia. At the end of September she reached Stockholm, where she visited Bernadotte, her friend of long standing. In London she met the future King Louis XVIII. She wanted to see him as the man capable of realizing the ideal constitutional monarchy, only to realise the disastrous influence which the arrogant French aristocrats would have on the king.

After the Restoration she settled permanently in France. The end of her life was occupied in editing Considerations of the French Revolution (1818).

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