2008, Atlas & Co.
One of the great literary forces of her age, or any age,
Germaine de Staël was born into the political and intellectual
aristocracy of her time. The daughter of Jacques Necker, Louis
XVI's finance minister, she marrieed Sweden's ambassador to
the French court and for two decades held the limelight as a
political figure and prolific writer. Admittedly not a beauty,
she was nonetheless notoriously seductive and enjoyed whirlwind
affairs with some of the most influential men of her time. She
was demonized by Napoleon for her forthrightness, her powerful
intellect, and her prestigious salon, a hothouse of subversive
ideas and sexual intrigue. The emperor exiled her, on and off,
for the last two decades of her life. Madame de Staël -
force of nature, exuberant idealist, and ultimate enthusiast
- waged a lifelong struggle against all that was tyrannical,
cynical, or passionless in her time, and left a legacy of enlightened
liberalism that radiated throughout Europe during the nineteenth
Francine du Plessix Gray does a marvelous job in Madame de
Stael, filling us in on the French Revolution as though it were
(almost) easy to understand, recognizing de Stael's faults (delusions
of grandeur, mostly), while steadfastly commending her talents,
her sweet nature, her generosity. I loved this book!
Carolyn See, The Washington Post
Faithful to de StaŽl's incessant energy, Gray follows her movements
at a forceful pace, masterfully commanding a wide cast of characters
while streamlining the frantic narrative of her subject's life.
Gray's absorbing work joins only a handful of biographies dedicated
to the life of this remarkable woman. Highly recommended for
all libraries that support French history and literature collections.