Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Madam de Stael: The First Modern Woman review

Madame de Stael: The First Modern Woman

Madam de Stael: The First Modern Woman by Francine du Plessix Gray is billed as being a biography about a French woman who defied a woman's role. It sounded very interesting and I'm always looking for good biographies to read so I took a chance. Unfortunately, the book didn't work for me on a couple of levels.

First, the writing style was not what I enjoy. There was a lot of jumping around in time and place instead of a linear story of de Stael's life. That combined with the author's refusal to simply use first names for the people in the book made for a confusing read. 

Second, Madam de Stael was not someone who defied the role of women in her society if this book is accurate.While she supported more egalitarian rights for the people of France, this did not necessarily translate to a larger, more participatory role for women. The only non-conformist action she ever took was to take lovers outside her marriage - and as any student of French history knows, this is not exactly a shocking occurrence among the elites. 

While it was very interesting to read about a period, people, and place that I haven't spent much time learning about, I would not recommend this book. It simply was too confusing and about a woman who isn't as interesting as the synopsis would lead you to believe.


"A writer of scintillating style and resonant substance," ("Publishers Weekly"), bestselling author Francine du Plessix Gray chronicles the incandescent life of the most celebrated woman of letters of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era. 

The daughter of the second most important man in France, Louis XVI's Minister of Finances, Jacques Necker, Madame de Stael was born into a world of political and intellectual prominence. Later, she married Sweden's ambassador to the French court, and for a span of twenty years, she held the limelight as a political figure and prolific writer. Despite a plain appearance, she was notoriously seductive and enjoyed whirlwind affairs with some of the most influential men of her time. She always attracted controversy, and was demonized by Napoleon for her forthrightness, the sheer power of her intellect, and the progressiveness of her salon, which was a hotbed for the expression of liberal ideals. The emperor exiled her, on and off, for the last fifteen years of her life. 

Madame de Stael--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 Europe a legacy of enlightened liberalism that radiated throughout the continent during the nineteenth century.

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