The Literary Existence of Germaine de Staël

The Literary Existence of Germaine de Staël

The Literary Existence of Germaine de Staël

The Literary Existence of Germaine de Staël

Synopsis

Against the wishes of her parents and the traditions of upper-class French society, Germaine de Staël (1766- 1817) struggled to be accepted as a serious writer. At a time when ladies wrote a little poetry and small stories, Staël insisted on writing about politics and philosophy.

In an effort to abide by the rules of her society, she wrote in two styles- that of a woman and that of a man- but as Charlotte Hogsett points out, Staël's efforts to write as a man could not disguise the woman behind the pen. Hogsett treats both the expository and fictional works in the Staël canon. The male canon reflects her respect for Rousseau and Chateaubriand; the female, her own courage and intelligence, for there was no one to emulate. Hogsett provides a vivid analysis of Staël's maturation as both woman and writer.

Excerpt

Madelyn Gutwirth

"Women," Germaine de Staël would declare in one of her plainer characterizations of their plight, "have the means neither to make the truth plain, nor to improve their lot." Aware as she was of their disbarment from discourse and from action, she yet chose to become a writer so as to effect both these ends. But the very times in which she lived and wrote--revolutionary France--had mitigated the impact of discourse, as she commented, through its inflation of vehemence in litanies of sloganeering as well as its sophistries in defense of the Terror. "Once we are constrained to abstain from the truth, we cannot be eloquent" (Litt., ii, viii), she claimed. Thus both the repressive political climate and the malevolence of public opinion toward women who dared to break the established social code played their part in the formulation of her writing posture.

The Revolutionary fin de siècle , in fact, proved an extraordinarily inauspicious moment for a woman to endeavor to carry out a writing project like hers. Three interrelated factors external to personal biography impinged upon it, forcing it into deviations, strategic withdrawals, sullen or ringing rebellions--conflicts expressed overtly or covertly or simply repressed. the first of these was an increase in open hostility to the role of women in culture. It was Rousseau who proved to be most influential in fuelling this incipient resentment. His ambivalent anxiety toward the women of Paris appears in his Nouvelle Héloïse, in which Saint-Preux writes to Julie that "all depends upon them: nothing is done except through or for them." He does point out at the same time that the mode of French courtship tends to denigrate women rather than to serve them. For . . .

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