Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant A Dual Biography Renee Winegarten

Publication date:
27 Jun 2008
Yale University Press
352 pages: 210 x 140mm
2 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

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

"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

"If Ms. Winegarten had dwelled more on their 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. . . . It provides an excellent narrative account of the relationship. . . . [What] makes this book so compelling is that . . . Winegarten is willing to be critical of the actions of both parties."— K. Steven Vincent, H-France Reviews