Madame de Staël and the French Revolution
‘A true moderate’, Madame de Staël sought ‘to formulate the theory and effect the practice of real political freedom’. By M.J. Sydenham and Frances S. Montgomery.
As first consul of France, Napoleon Bonaparte was constantly irritated by the failure of his government to retain the support of one of the most controversial figures of the day, the great writer and conversationalist Madame de Staël.
‘What does she want?’ he demanded of his brother Joseph; ‘Is it the restitution of her father’s deposit? I’ll have it done. Is it the right to stay in Paris? I’ll grant it to her. What does she want?’ On hearing of this, however, Madame de Staël dismissed such concessions with her customary candour. ‘Good Lord!’, she exclaimed, ‘It’s not a question of what I want, but of what I think.’
Madame de Staël’s sustained championship of the liberal ideal against the authoritarianism of Napoleon has always attracted attention: yet the part she played in an earlier period, the years 1794-97, may well be thought at least equally important.
In all probability, the complex and turbulent politics of those years presented an even greater challenge of her ability to use the power of her pen and the attraction of her salon in the best interests of the cause of liberty.