Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant

A Dual Biography

Renee Winegarten

View Inside Price: $35.00


June 18, 2008
352 pages, 5.5 x 8.25
2 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300119251
Cloth

The first full-length exploration of the tempestuous relationship between two leading writers, thinkers, and political activists of the French revolutionary age

When they first met in 1794, shortly after the Reign of Terror, Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant were both in their twenties, both married, and both outsiders. She was already celebrated and a published writer, whereas he, though ambitious, was unknown. This compelling dual biography tells the extraordinary story of their union and disunion, set against a European background of momentous events and dramatic social and cultural change. Renee Winegarten offers new perspectives on each of the protagonists, revealing their rare qualities and their all-too-human failings as well as the complex nature of their debt to one another.

Their passionate and productive relationship endured on and off for seventeen years. Winegarten traces their story largely through their own words—letters and autobiographical writings—and illuminates the deep intellectual and visceral bond they shared despite disparate personalities and gifts. Exploring their relationships with Napoleon and the Bourbons, their different responses to the momentous upheavals of postrevolutionary France, their support of individual liberty with order, and more, the book concludes with an appreciation of de Staël’s and Constant’s singular contributions to a new literature and to the history of liberty.

Renee Winegarten is a writer and literary critic who publishes frequently on French literature and civilization. She is the author of six previous books, including The Double Life of George Sand: Woman and Writer, and Accursed Politics: Some French Women Writers and Political Life, 1715-1850. She lives in England.

“The protagonists’ unique romantic and intellectual partnership, set against the backdrop of one of history’s most dramatic eras, is enriched by Winegarten’s characteristically succinct prose and subtle judgments.”—Brooke Allen, author of Twentieth Century Attitudes

“Renee Winegarten provides a lucid account of the complex relation between two major actors on the intellectual and political scene in the wake of the French Revolution. A swiftly paced, well informed study of two independent minds.”—Victor Brombert, Princeton University

"A thoroughly researched and engaging dual biography of two of Europe's most distinguished writers. Winegarten's case for the importance and appeal of these two figures is forcefully argued and completely convincing."—William C. Carter, author of Proust in Love

"Winegarten uses letters, diaries, and published accounts to reveal the pair's innermost thoughts and feelings on love, marriage, and politics, skillfully interweaving the story of their parallel lives against the backdrop of the social and political maneuverings of post-revolutionary France. . . . An important contribution to the field. . . . Students of French literary and cultural history will best appreciate this highly . . . readable narrative."—Library Journal

"Winegarten tells the story of de Staël and Constant's 'marriage of true minds' with absorbing detail. . . . de Stael's books about literature and Germany merit rediscovery. . . . For many readers, I suspect that the names Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant are, in effect, just names. If that's the case, take heart: Renee Winegarten's fine dual biography will bring them to blazing life."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant, champions of liberty and republican government in Paris during the revolutionary tumult of the late 18th century, are superbly captured in Renee Winegarten's 'dual biography'"—Louis Auchincloss, Wall Street Journal

"[A] fast-paced and entertaining book. . . . If Ms. Winegarten had dwelled more on their [de Staël and Constant] public careers and their writings, rather than their private lives, Constant and de Staël might have emerged as more admirable figures. But then, her book wouldn't have been so entertainingly scandalous."—Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

"Renee Winegarten's new book examines the Staël-Constant relationship in detail, providing an elegantly written guide to their meetings, movements, union, tensions, and disunion. It provides an excellent narrative account of the relationship. . . . One of the things that makes this book so compelling is that, along with deep sympathy for both Constant and Staël, Winegarten is willing to be critical of the actions of both parties."—K. Steven Vincent, H-France Reviews

"Set against the background of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the story of [de Staël and Constant's] relationship, and of their struggle to secure for France a political regime grounded by individual liberty and moderated by checks and balances on the exercise of power, is a compelling one. . . . [The] way the author interweaves the public and private lives of these important writers is most effective, and she gives the curious reader much to ponder."—Patrick Coleman, The French Review