Who would not want to meet a woman born in 1766, who lived until 1817, who not only survived the French Revolution, and who Napoleon Bonaparte repeatedly sent into exile!
At a dinner party, Madame Germaine de Stael proclaimed, “Ought not every woman, like every man, to follow the bent of her own talents?” Her familynurtured her formation of opinions such as this from a young age. Madame de Stael’s mother, Suzanne Curchod, ran an extremely well-regarded salon in Paris, entertaining such luminaries as Voltaire and Diderot. She was a woman of letters steeped in the liberal principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and well-read in authors such as Montesquieu, Shakespeare and Dante. These experiences strengthened her intellect and encouraged her emotional intensity. She learned to live her life with a wholehearted enthusiasm, and grew to become a popular salonnière in her own right, captivating foreign dignitaries, liberals, nobles, wives, and mistresses. Her dinners included such personages as Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette, Thomas Paine, and Gouverneur Morris (American envoy to Paris).
Madame de Stael supported the French Revolution in its early days and eventually backed the more moderate elements in the Revolutionary cause. During the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille, Madame De Staël remained in Paris. She was protected by her relationship with an ambassador, and continued to hold her salon, which was frequented by moderates and monarchists. After the declaration of the French Republic in September 1792, Madame De Staël tried to flee Paris with her full entourage. The crowd stopped her carriage and forced her to the Paris town hall. Robespierre, an influential figure in the French Revolution interrogated her, but eventually, she was allowed to leave the city with a new passport.
For a time, she was constantly on the move, traveling from France to Sweden, Germany and England. Even while she traveled, she was always writing, as she said, “The search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.”
She is generally recognized as a defender of Republican and liberal values: equality, individual freedom – especially for women, and the limitation of power by constitutional rules. She asserted that “Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man’s power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened.”
Lord Byron who she met in England, described her as Europe’s greatest living writer, ‘with her pen behind her ears and her mouth full of ink’. He also wrote she was ‘sometimes right and often wrong about Italy and England – but almost always true in delineating the heart, which is of but one nation of no country, or rather, of all.’ Sadly, after travelling in Europe and England she returned to Paris only to die in disillusionment, on Bastille Day, July 14, 1817.
Of all that she said and wrote, I will remember her assertion that “In matters of the heart, nothing is true except the improbable. Love is the emblem of eternity; it confounds all notion of time; effaces all memory of a beginning, all fear of an end.”
Ah, yes. Let there be love.