~Madame de Stäel
of the Restoration
of Victor Hugo
of Printed Materials
Viewed by Foreigners
~Parisians Viewed by
de Stäel (1766-1817)
1.5 Engraving of Mme. de Stäel,Thomas Phillips, Bibliothèque
National. Estampes (Bezard, 36).
has been said that Madame Stäel may have been the cleverest and
most extraordinary woman of her time" (Ravenel,
The daughter of the
famous salonnière Suzanne Necker and James Necker, the
Swiss Director of Finance under Louis XVI, Anne Marie Louise Germaine
Necker had a amazing childhood.
Growing up in a setting
so rich in intelligence and learning, surrounded by all the facilities
of affluence, it is no wonder that Gibbon, a historian and family
visitor, writes this of Germaine in his own Memoires:
was learned without pedantry, lively in conversation, pure in sentiment,
and elegant in manners: her wit and beauty were the theme of universal
The demanding system
of education Germaine's mother designed for her daughter included
having Germaine join the table of her mother's salon, one
of the favorite gathering places for the philosophes of Paris
and often foreigners. Here Germaine had the opportunity to take
interest in various subjects and learn to converse at a level beyond
her age. It is no wonder that as early as twelve, Germaine revealed
incredible literary and social talents.
Married at twenty to
the Baron von Stäel
Holstein, Swedish Ambassador to France, Mme. Stäel developed
into a woman of many abilities including:
With her marriage to
de Stäel, Germaine gained an influential position in the social
world of Paris. As statesmen passed through her salon at
the Swedish Embassy in the rue de Bac, she was given the opportunity
to express herself with authority on public affairs.
1.6 Portrait of Mme. de Stäel, François Gerárd,
Château de Coppet, (Bezard, 37).
In observing this portrait
of the great salonnière, Mme. de Stäel, imagine
that in the early years of the Revolutionary period she ran a
salon considered the "most brilliant in Paris...at the
height of its vogue" (Ravenel, 102).
She is not an incredibly
handsome woman yet her large dark eyes and the loose ebony ringlets
that adorn her face are quite becoming and attract interest. She
appears very gentle and angelic as she stares off into the distance.
Rather than take the typical seated pose, she stands in her portrait,
possibly hinting at her great ambition to run and maintain her
salon through France's turbulent times.
Yet based on Gerárd's
portrayal of Mme. de S, it is still surprising that it was in
fact this dull, modest-looking woman who supposedly caused a great
sensation when appearing in the brilliant circles of Paris.
exactly did Mme. Stäel
create a stir of excitement in Paris?
How did she attract much notice?
Guests of Mme.
Stäel's salon were dazzled with:
- her eloquent
and fascinating style of conversation
- her animated
- her kindness
- her clever tact
(as she knew how to adapt herself to every variety of character
in her salons)
was unlike the typical hostess of an 18th century salon,
as it has been said that Stäel's guests were not there
to talk to each other but to listen to her. "In other salons,
it was the men who made history but not at Mme. de Stäel's
However, Mme. de Stäel
was not entirely content with her life. She wrote of a dinner to
which she was invited by Marie Antoinette and was well received
by the king and queen. Nevertheless, she considered the glorious
court to be a demoralizing life with "utter recklessness pervading
everything" (Watson, 103). All the men
about her, including her husband, were ruining themselves by gambling.
In addition, approximately four thousand of the political offices
owned by the nobility were being corruptly bought and sold.
The winter after Mme.
de Stäel's marriage, her father was exiled forty leagues (approximately
310 miles) from Paris because he was regarded as a friend of liberty
and the people. Upon his recall to power, Mme. de Stäel transferred
her salon to her father's house where it quickly became "a
forum for the spread of liberal ideas" (Watson,